THEMES OF RADICALISATION REVEALED THROUGH THE PERSONAL CONSTRUCTS OF JIHADI TERRORISTS
Sudhanshu Sarangi*, David Canter**, Donna Youngs**
University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
** International Research Centre for
Investigative Psychology, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK
To contribute to an understanding of the individual psychologies that characterise
people who carry out acts of terrorism, four distinct themes are proposed that
can each dominate Islamic terrorist’s conceptualisations of his/her own
actions: Islamic Jihad, Political Jihad, Social and Criminal. These themes are
illustrated from interviews with people convicted of Jihadi-related acts of
terrorism within India. The interviews utilised Kelly’s Repertory Grid
procedure, thus allowing the Personal Construct System of the interviewees to
be explored in association with their accounts of their lives. These case
studies provide rare insights from the terrorists themselves, indicating
important similarities across individuals as well as distinct differences in
the structure of their thinking that inform considerations of radicalisation
and approaches to facilitating disengagement.
Keywords: Terrorism, repertory
grid, jihad, radicalisation
different explanations have been offered for what leads a person into terrorism
(for reviews see Atran, 2003: Dalgaard-Nielsen,
2010; Hutson, Long & Page, 2009; McCauley and Moskalenko, 2008;
Ranstrop, 2009; Silke, 2008). These explanations can be broadly categorised as
individual, social, ideological and political.
explanations emphasise an individual’s choice that has roots in his or her
unique, personal experiences. In their model of Jihadi radicalisation in the
Middle East, Hutson, Long and Page (2009) articulate a ‘Personal Dynamic’ form
of radicalisation, discussing internal processes such as locus of control
(Rotter, 1954), learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975) and self-efficacy
(Bandura, 1997). In relation to Chechnya, Speckhard and Akhmedova (2005)
concluded on the basis of interviews with the family members of the 34 Chechen
terrorists involved in Moscow’s Dubrovka theatre attack, that all of them had
suffered from personal loss and the trauma of losing someone near to them. It
was concluded that ideological factors may be post hoc justifications for essentially personal, traumatic
has criticised such personal explanations on the grounds that “egoistic and
anomic motives are insufficient; altruistic motives, either alone or in
conjunction with others, play an important role” (p.184). This perspective gives emphasis to
explanations that are broadly ideological. Atran (2003) supports this by
drawing on “Interviews with surviving Hamas bombers and captured Al-Qaida
operatives [to] suggest that ideology and grievance are factors for both
groups but relative weights and consequences may differ” (p.1538). Central to this is what Houston,
Long and Page (2009; p21) refer to as the “single
narrative of global jihad”, the positioning of contemporary Muslim politics by
al Qaeda as a worldwide ideological battle.
A third set
of explanations relate to social factors which has been paraphrased by
Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman and Orchek (2009) as “social duty and
obligations whether internalized or induced by peer pressure” (page 333). Such
explanations are highlighted in the writings of Bloom (2005), Goodwin (2006),
Gambetta (2005) and Merrari (2007) and have their roots in the social
psychology of group processes. They build upon the many studies that show the power
of normative values induced by group membership, and the role of social
approval/disapproval in influencing a person’s attitudes and actions.
Relatedly, in the context of political radicalisation, McCauley and
Moskalenko (2008) emphasise the importance of group identification in relation
to ten of the twelve radicalisation mechanisms they advance.
al (2009) have suggested the umbrella term ‘a quest for personal significance’
to aggregate the three broad motives ‘ideological, personal and social’
proposed by various researchers. They see terrorist attacks, especially
suicidal bombings, as a restoration of personal significance. The inevitability
of death, reducing a person to a ‘speck of dust’, is transcended by a socially
glorified death, with the promise of death as a transition to a position in
heaven. This quest for significance “could encourage a ‘collective switch’ to a
terrorism-justifying ideology” (Kruglanski et al, 2009, p.353).
(2005) identifies the lack of democratic and peaceful forms of redress and the
associated frustration as the root cause for radicalisation. These connect with
explanations emphasising socio-economic-political ‘root causes’ for various
forms of terrorism, including unemployment and relative deprivation (Gurr,
1970). This general perspective is
elaborated in the writings of Kepel (2004), Khosrokhavar (2005) and Roy (2004)
discussing in particular the radicalisation of young Muslims in the West. A
limitation of these explanations is that there is no way of differentiating the
very small minority who decide to join terrorism and the majority who avoid
can be little doubt that each of these explanations has some validity as Silke
(2008) notes, “even the
best available research on this subject is almost all based on secondary
analysis of data, more specifically of archival records” (p101). For example,
Kruglanski et al (2009) developed their powerful concept of ‘quest for
significance’ mainly through examination of video clips of the last ‘Will and
Testament’ of suicide bombers. These videos were a justification for the
actions the person was about to carry out, with the clear objective of
demonstrating the significance of that action. The psychological conceptual
system that led to the action can only be hinted at in an activity aimed at
creating a public image.
argued the limits of many of the sources of data used in explanations of
terrorism lies in their being taken from ‘highly politicized Israeli or
Pro-Israeli sources’ which draw mostly on propaganda material created by
terrorist organisations. Such information is not made available within a
careful research context and has overt public relations objectives. So although
material drawn on is doubtless endorsed by the leaders of terrorist groups it
throws only a little light on the psychology of the foot-soldiers who carry out
consequently of value to consider two critical issues in order to further
develop the psychology of terrorism. Firstly, there is a need for a conceptual
framework that embraces a number of different possible personal
conceptualisations, allowing for differentiation among terrorists in terms of
their individual pathways, whilst still recognising central processes within
which these themes operate. Secondly, a methodology is needed for gathering
empirical data, in this highly politicised and emotive area, that connect
directly with the world-view of terrorists; data which have not been distorted
by the need to present a particular face to the world, or to justify or
exonerate violent actions.
PERSONAL CONSTRUCT PSYCHOLOGY AND THE
The value of
obtaining information directly from a terrorist himself is illustrated by the
recent account of radicalisation into an al Qaeda-affiliated Tunisian network
(Vidino, 2011). However, such terrorist
narratives can be enhanced from more formal psychological responses drawn from personal
construct psychology, responding to Taylor and Horgan's (2007) call for
research on the ‘decisional contexts’ of individuals.
The basis of personal
construct psychology is Kelly’s (1955/1991) proposal that a person’s
actions are based on judgements of the similarity or dissimilarity between
entities, such as people, things or events, what Kelly calls ‘elements’. The conceptualisations of these comparisons
are called ‘constructs’. Constructs are
altered, rejected or reinforced by real life experience. The most important ‘elements’ in a person’s
life are key other people. So the constructs assigned to these people and how
the elements are distinguished from each other are proposed by Kelly
(1955/1991) to be the central route into understanding a person’s construct
(1955/1991) developed the ‘Repertory Grid’ technique as a method for exploring
personal construct systems that shape people’s actions. The repertory grid is
an exploration of an individual’s construct system in a way that minimises the
scope for introducing biases stemming from the researcher’s assumptions. It is
a widely used procedure. Fransella, Bell, and Bannister (2004, pp 168-229)
listed more than 240 published research papers that have used the repertory grid
method in contexts as diverse as
clinical settings, child abuse, market research and looking at the way people
study elaborated the personal construct systems of convicted terrorists. This
will allow cross reference to psychological explanations derived from other
data sources and test the applicability of the individual, social, ideological
and political theories that have been offered. It further enables comparisons
to be made between individuals in order to determine if each theory may be more
appropriate for one person than for another.
(13 Pakistani and 36 Indians) involved in high profile terrorist crimes in
India were asked to provide a narrative life story account. The narrative life
story method, discussed by McAdams (1993), is based on the assumption that
narrating a life story is a normal human activity and through the narrative
accounts people reveal who they are, who they want to be and provide
justification, meaning and efficacy to their lives. It also provided a basis
for developing rapport with interviewees facilitating the use of the more
psychologically intensive repertory grid. The life story account provides
detailed background information of utility in elaborating the meaning of the grid
interviews were conducted in private with each person on his own in prisons
visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross and with individuals
who had full access to due process of law. Interviewees signed informed consent
forms in the knowledge that they were free to decline answering any question or
to bring the interview to a close at any point. It was made clear to
respondents that participating in the interview or not carried no implications
for their future inside or outside the prison. Complete confidentiality was
maintained by anonymising all reference to the names of the participants and
any other specific reference that may reveal their identity.
interviews were carried out in the language that the interviewee was most
comfortable with. This was usually Hindi, often in the Urdu variant, but in a few cases was Punjabi and in
one case was English. They were all tape recorded with the agreement of the
participant and the authorities. The tapes were transcribed and the
transcriptions translated into English for analysis with cross-reference to the
audio recordings when the transcripts were unclear.
stage of the repertory grid procedure involved asking each participant to name
persons/entities who he considered had played a significant role in his life.
These significant persons/entities became elements for preparation of the
grid. For example they could be ‘my
father’, ‘the judiciary’, ‘the person who encouraged me to join the terrorist
group’. Three self-elements were added to the elements supplied by the participants.
They are ‘me as I was before involvement in Jihad’, ‘me as I became after
involvement’ and ‘me as I would like to be’. All the elicited elements were
written on cards. Using the well-established method of triads (Fransella et al.,
2004), three elements were selected at random and presented to the respondent.
The participant was then required to describe an important way in which he
thought two of the elements were similar to each other and different from the
third. This criterion became a construct. He was asked to supply the polar
opposite of the construct, producing a bi-polar construct such as
‘spiritual-material’, or ‘wishes the well-being of others-full of hatred’.
In the next
stage a grid was prepared by placing the respondent’s elements in columns and
his constructs in rows. The participant was then asked to rate each of the
elements on each of the constructs using a scale of 1 to 5, such that a score
of 5 meant a high level of similarity with the construct and a score of 1 meant
a high level of similarity with the polar opposite. The participant was
informed that he could give intermediate scores of 2, 3 or 4 representing the
degree to which a person could be characterised by the construct.
many ways of analysing repertory grids but one of the most powerful is to use a
special variant of Principal Component Analysis (Fransella et al., 2004). This
determines the two major axes underlying the judgements inherent in the grid,
known as the principal components.
SELECTION OF CASE STUDIES
exploration of the 49 cases showed that there tended to be a dominant
conceptualisation for each individual.
Examples were therefore sought to relate to the dominant theories
outlined above. These examples covered the full range present across the 49 individuals.
who had a dominant Islamic ideology was selected to illustrate the form this
construct system took. The political perspective emphasised in so many studies
was also clearly present in a number of examples, allowing a typical one to be
selected. Individuals whose construct systems related to their social contacts
were also apparent, allowing a representative case to be identified. However,
no examples could be found of the very personal, construct systems proposed by
Speckhard and Akhmedova (2005). A
somewhat unexpected construct theme did emerge that is not reflected in the
explanations explored above. This is the relationship to criminal activity.
Gupta, Horgan and Schmid (2009) do draw attention to the overlap of organised
crime and terrorism, but the possibility
of criminality being a dominant aspect of a terrorist’s construct system has
not been highlighted in general explanations. This
case therefore provides an interesting insight into some terrorist psychology
and as will be seen offers a new perspective on Kruglanski et al.’s (2009)
‘quest for personal significance’.
the present sample were not part of what might be better termed
‘insurgency’. The respondents were part
of informal terrorist networks, not highly organised guerrilla movements. They
therefore did not have access to the range of criminal activities that have
been consciously developed to fund militaristic campaigns. This individual, and
a few others of those interviewed, started as a criminal gang leader and used
his influence within the criminal underworld to connect with terrorist groups.
He therefore illustrates an aspect of terrorism not often explored.
CASE 1: THE ISLAMIC
JIHAD MJ 27
belonged to a well-to-do family in Kashmir. He was an average student and a
keen sportsman. He studied in a prestigious college and then worked for a major
international organisation. He was convicted of one of the most high profile
attacks in India, having provided logistic support for the attack.
MJ 27's Account
describes the atmosphere at home as “not
so religious, not so conservative, but usual Muslim family. We were modern
Muslims…not fanatic….you can say moderate”. He defines fanatic to mean that
“they will say that they are right and
others are not”. MJ 27 described himself as stubborn from childhood. “If I wanted to do something I did it,
otherwise not”. He also claimed that he was selfish and self-centred.
MJ 27 says
that he was spiritual from childhood. “My
attitude as a child was the same as it is now. The approach to my life,
thinking of higher things was there in my childhood also”. He recounts
looking at the sky for hours forgetting that the tea was getting cold. He says
with “exposure and studies” he
matured, but his approach to life was always an attempt to search for a higher
life and that was “inborn”, a matter of personal nature.
MJ 27 started to engage his mind, “The
discussion was invigorating and I was attracted to the intellectual
atmosphere”. He reacted more and more philosophically at a “metaphysical
level”, a term that he used often during the interview.
From my childhood I used to look at the stars
and wonder. But after coming to University I became more conscious of the other
world. With maturity and education one becomes more aware…. I remember God
always. So it was more to do with maturity or becoming more aware rather than
becoming fanatical. But the awareness of God was always there when I was 13 or
30. That was a personal issue…. You can say I am a person who has a loving
relationship with God…. I see everything on earth as creation of God…
He was always
aware of ‘life Hereafter’, but he had
become more acutely aware of it. “It
becomes very evident when you go through the reality of life. Consciously and
practically we become more aware of life after life”. In Islam, MJ 27
discovered his philosophy for life:
“Allah was a major influence. Then since I am
a Muslim it was Islamic ideology....If you have studied life keenly you will
always find some force behind it, behind the whole establishment irrespective
of religion, caste and creed. It is important to recognise this force and what
this force tells you, as per your ideology since
you belong to a particular group or community. I know what Islamic Ideology
tells me. Because the recognition of the force is very important to me. It was
always there. But I became increasingly more aware. If you read your books you
will understand all these. That there is some force who is behind all these but
people never recognise this force. Those who don’t recognise this, commit
MJ 27 “got the answer to it in Sayeed Qutub”.
He paraphrased Qutub in the following terms “God’s laws are superior because they are for this world as well as the
world hereafter” and if there is conflict between God’s laws and manmade laws
“one is justified to violate manmade laws”. He became “more inclined to natural laws laid down by God”. The inclination
for God’s laws as laid down in the Sharia gave him ‘peace’. He explained that
the source of his thinking lies in “the
Koran, reading and understanding of Koran and doing practical work as per God’s
laws”. He was categorical “no one
influenced except Sharia. That is prophet’s laws”. According to MJ27, the
practical work included Jihad. Jihad is a logical outcome of his understanding
of the Koran and the commitment to God’s laws.
For MJ 27
then Jihad was an extension, to quote, of his “metaphysical-self”. It was part of an Islamic ideology, which he
was committed to as a Muslim. This clearly extreme, religious ideology reflects
the dominant explanation for Jihadi terrorism.
Principal components analysis of repertory
ideological emphasis can be understood further in the details of his repertory
grid in Figure 1. The seven elicited elements are Mother, Childhood friend ‘X’,
College Friends, his own Child,
Allah, the Judiciary as he experienced then and Security Agencies. The numbers
indicate how readily the constructs listed at the sides relate to the elements
listed at the bottom. The 5 indicates the highest possible relationship to the
element pole at the right and the 1 to the element
pole at the left with the other numbers indicating degree of relationship along
grid was analysed using a variant of principal components analysis to determine
the two major axes (or principal components) integral to the grid. For
graphical presentation the elements are plotted as points in relation to these
components. The lengths of the lines on the plots and the position of the
points represent the actual ratings. As Jankowicz (2004) explains:
The angle between any two construct lines
reflects the extent to which the constructs are correlated, the smaller the
angle, the more similar are the ratings. The angle between a group of construct
lines and the lines representing the components reflects the extent to which
the component can be taken to represent the grouping of constructs in question;
the smaller the angle, the greater the extent (p.130).
the X-axis represents the first component (accounting for the maximum
percentage of variance) and the y-axis represents the second component
(accounting for the next highest percentage of variance). The X-axis and the
Y-axis being at right angles represent zero correlation (Jankowicz, 2004, p.
of a PCA is that it reduces the information on the relationship of constructs
and elements to its key, latent constituents, which can then be examined to
identify their underlying meaning. Such a reduction of the potential complexity
of a grid to a small number of constructs is possible because usually there is
a common underlying psychological meaning to the constructs, which reflects the
dominant themes of a person’s cognitive processes. These themes energise the
respondents’ personal narratives in relation to the key individuals in their
lives (as recently explored by Youngs and Canter, 2012). They thus provide an
insight to the respondents’ unfolding perspectives on their lives.
representation of MJ27’s Grid is given in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Principal Components Plot of MJ 27
Component Analysis Plot at Figure 2 shows that the X-axis (First Component)
accounts for 88.5% of the variance. This is a large amount of variance showing
that this is a strong, extremely dominant central theme. It represents a clear
Islamic Jihad theme as illustrate by Mother, Child and Allah being located very
close to the X-axis with Allah, on the X-axis, thus clearly defining it. The
elements Judiciary, Security and Intelligence Agencies, self before, childhood
friend ‘X’, College friends are on the opposite side to Mother, Child and
MJ27’s total acceptance of his position within this religious concept is shown
by ‘me after’ and ‘me as I would like to be’ being on the same side as Allah,
Mother and Child. MJ 27 believes that he is a religious person, who is pious
and has carried out an Islamic duty. He also construes himself as abiding by
natural law, a euphemism for God’s laws, and he is consequently innocent, even
if he may have broken any man-made laws.
of the two elements of self after involvement in Jihad and ideal self show that
this individual has no desire to change. His self concept is integrated with
his view of Allah and therefore it is unlikely that he would be open to
individual thus illustrates the way in which the Islamic theme is internalised
and becomes a dominant part of a person’s construct system. It relies on an unbending focus on a literal
and fundamentalist interpretation of
Islam that can be traced back at least to the 13th century, as
Sarangi and Canter (2007) have explained, to the writings of medieval jurists
like Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). In this articulation the
Islamic way of life is presented as superior to all other ways of life and
God’s laws as superior to man-made laws.
CASE 2: THE
POLITICAL JIHAD MJ 1
to a poor family and was brought up in the slums of Mumbai. His family originally
belonged to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. MJ 1 had eight siblings. He
went to a Government school but dropped out because of what he described as
memory problems. MJ 1, with associates, committed simultaneous bombings that
killed more than 40 persons and injured more than 100.
MJ 1's Account
a central theme in MJ1's account. He emphasised his opposition to any form of
“From the very beginning I did not like
injustice or took any unjust decision. If children fought they came to me for a
decision on who was wrong. Children believed in my sense of judgment and fair
play. I never made any unjust decision. It was not in my nature to harm anyone
or do any injustice…. We have to be just and stand up for justice.”
MJ1 was clear
that his offence had “nothing to do with
Islam. This is political - response to atrocities and struggle against the dominance of the Hindus”. He argued that Hindu communal forces
seek hegemony and commit atrocities on Muslims. According to MJ 1, the Indian
investigating and intelligence agencies fail to protect the Muslims from being
killed and raped by Hindu groups seeking hegemony:
“You see if you catch hold of a bird in your
hand, the bird will also try its best to escape from your control. You cannot
keep human beings under control by keeping them under arrest for a long period
without any fault. The time would come
when they would try their best to get freedom from captivity.”
For MJ1, the
hegemony of Hindu parties also manifested in the violence in Gujarat or
demolition of the Babri Mosque. This was part of a larger narrative where the
non-Muslim world is presented as against Muslims. In his
view, the 9/11 WTC attack was a conspiracy against Muslims, “Media carry the version of authorities. You
don’t get to know the truth… Why all the Jews were on leave that day?” This
response, interestingly, shows how propaganda and conspiracy theories germinate
between these individuals, especially in prison. In high security prisons,
terror convicts have the opportunities to discuss these issues and come up with
many of these ideas. It is often difficult to differentiate between what was
acquired before going to prison and what is acquired during prison as well as
by going through the court process of argumentations and cross-examination.
reaction can be justified as a legitimate political response to this. According
to MJ1, Muslims have to fight against injustice and the choice of method is
individual. As he put it, “Gandhi
preferred.... non-violence and some others preferred to implement the principle
of tit-for-tat. If one uses power against you then you should also use power
against him…. To achieve the goal
different people adopt different methods.”
readiness to commit the offences occurred during a “small period” that he changed. “Gujarat
was bad. I was very angry about the injustice”. MJ1 declined to admit the
full events of the conspiracy commenting only that “I jumped into a running vehicle”. He was however clear that the
decision was his own. “In my life I did
not give much importance to others. I followed what was right and rejected what
involvement also had nothing to do with perceived community support. “No one is thinking about support of the
community”. No one in his family or surroundings had any inkling of his
intention and preparations. “This was the
thing on which a curtain was always there, it was not visible from outside
easily”. His family members knew nothing until he was arrested. So, the
inspiration did not come from family or from anyone else since he kept
everything away from them. No one knew about it except individuals within the
terror network and it was very much his personal decision. “This is political. There will be reaction.
This has nothing to do with Islam”. So,
although he belongs to an Islamist organisation, banned by the UN, he is, in
effect, saying the enemy has brought it on itself, it is not the fault of
Repertory grid and principal components
political stance is shown directly in MJ 1’s
Grid presented in Figure 3 and the PCA in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Principal Components Analysis Plot of MJ 1 - click here
elicited elements are Father, Mother, Love ‘X’, Co-accused ‘Y’, Co-accused ‘Z’,
Hindu Communal Leader ‘H’ and Hindu Friend ‘F’. The PCA Plot at Figure 4 shows
that the X-axis (first component) accounts for 97.8% of the variance. A
remarkably total component showing that constructs dealing with sacrifice for
the good of others are central. MJ1 uses
a single factor in a highly rigid fashion and to the total exclusion of any
alternative discriminating criteria.
In the principal
components analysis plot, Father, Mother, Hindu Friend ‘F’, ‘me as I would like
to be’, ‘me as I was before’ and ‘me as I was after’ are on one side and
Co-accused ‘Z’, Hindu communal Leader ‘H’, Co-accused ‘Y’ are on the opposite
side in a clear two-way division. This reflects the ‘in-group versus
out-group’, us and them, theme that commonly characterises group identity. But
here it is couched in terms that relate to politicisation and an ‘extraordinary
MJ1 sees no
trajectory to his life with all his self-concepts being close together around
his dominant belief that he is primarily concerned with the wellbeing of
others. This reveals a man who considers himself always to have been fighting
the good cause, as illustrated in his anecdotes from early childhood.
conceptual system gives emphasis to political grievance then with terrorism
viewed as a legitimate tool for meeting these demands. The focus is not
necessarily religious or one that adheres to the objective of establishing
Sharia law in the entire world. The concerns are more immediate and deal with
issues in this world and not the hereafter, with the main emphasis being the
atrocities inflicted on Muslims. There is a belief that the geo-political
situation in the world is against Muslims who are seen as not having any
democratic way of stopping these atrocities and unable to fight the hegemonic
powers through conventional wars. So, the solutions lie in taking revenge
through terror strikes and asymmetrical war so that the enemy can be stopped,
intimidated and forced to change anti-Muslim policies.
3: THE SOCIAL INFLUENCE MJ 37
MJ 37 did not have a very religious
upbringing, though he performed Namaz sometimes as a child although not five
times a day as mandated. MJ 37 crossed over to Pakistan from Kashmir at the age
of 16, when he was studying in Class VIII, to fight for the Hizbul Mujahideen.
He lost interest in studies while he was in Class VII and one day, while in
Class VIII, he did not return from school. He ran away from home without
telling anyone. He was aware that if his family members got to know what he was
thinking he would not be allowed to leave home.
“If, by some means, my people had
got to know that I was planning to sneak away to Pakistan, they would not have
allowed me to venture out of the house”. None of his family members or
relatives had joined the Mujahideen.
MJ 37's Account
Mj37's account is his claim that all young men of his age wanted to become
Mujaheeds. As he explained, “I do not
know whether it was the sight of the gun or something else that stimulated my
mind. I decided to be a militant. All the young boys of my age thought like
that…Even during my childhood, I had the desire to be a Mujaheed”.
MJ 37 was
clear that no one forced him. He wanted to be a Mujaheed and that is what he
did as soon as he was able to establish contact with a terror network that
helped him to cross over and join a terror camp. “It was my own decision”, asserts MJ 37 and said “perhaps, it was in my mind and probably it
was there in the atmosphere…All young men had the same idea. They thought
alike…..I was not very clear why I should set off for Pakistan. But,
nonetheless, I was determined to go.”
MJ 37 became
regular in performing Namaz only after crossing over to Pakistan and joining a
terror training camp. While in school the children were made to perform Namaz
and taught to recite the Koran. Despite having elementary knowledge of Islam he
had learnt that the “Mujaheeds were
following the ways of Allah”, Jihad was an Islamic duty and martyrdom is to
be celebrated. A martyr “by virtue of his martyrdom, earns the right to dwell
in paradise for all times to come”. Beyond these broad principles his knowledge
of Islam was rather elementary. He had learnt from the prevailing atmosphere
that the Indian security forces were occupying Kashmir and committing
atrocities on Muslims. Therefore, as a Muslim, it was his duty to join the
Jihad. “I thought becoming a Mujaheed was
the right thing to do”.
MJ 37 decided
to join Hizbul Mujaheedin (HM) as “they
were the most active”. Upon joining the organisation he received military
training aimed at turning him into a fighter. He learnt about handling weapons
and acquired elementary knowledge of explosives. But, slowly he became
disillusioned and wanted to escape. He found “that all the young men did not swear by Jihad…quite a few ... sought
power”. He also found that the Chief of HM was using a luxury car. “The ordinary Mujaheed goes there to fight.
He finds it very disgusting to see such blatant display of luxury amidst
general ruin and misery”. He felt such luxury was “not in sync with claims of fighting it out till the last drop of your
that he had taken an “immature”
decision. But escaping from a terror organisation was not easy. He was caught
trying to escape and given a physical beating. He was told that he needs to
find someone who will do the job assigned to him. Right from his childhood he
dreamt of becoming a Mujaheed. “People
thought well of the Mujaheed”. But, he was disillusioned. “I felt a sense of regret over the prevailing
circumstances”. But, he had to continue for six years as he feared “Hizbul cadres would liquidate me if I moved
out”. At 16 he became a fighter and at 21 he was disengaged.
psychological details of this are revealed further in his Grid shown in Figure
5 and the PCA of it in Figure 6.
Figure 5: Repertory Grid of MJ 37 - click here
Figure 6: Principal Components Analysis Plot of MJ 37 - click here
Repertory grid and principal components analysis
As seen in
Figure 5 the seven elicited elements are Parents, person-who helped him to
disengage ‘F’, ‘Salauddin (Chief of Hizbul Mujaheedden), Uncle ‘Y’, Motivator
‘X’, Guide who took him to Pakistan ‘Z’, Amir of the organisation (who trained
him). These are discrete individuals of
direct social significance to him.
The PCA Plot
at Figure 6 shows that the X-axis accounts for 86.8% of the variance. Motivator
Guide ‘Z’ and Amir of the organisation are on one side and the non-terrorist
elements are on the other side. The constructs also have a direct personal
relevance to him. He distinguishes between people who are mindful of his
personal interest, give him good advice and do not train him to be a Jihadi.
He wants to live in peace without any grand ambitions. He distinguishes between
people who are not after power and not even aware of the world of Mujahideen
and those who want to drag others into terrorism.
before and the ideal self relate to non-terrorist constructs, although he has
never seen himself as totally committed to Jihad. This accords with a person who wishes to
disengage from terrorism as he describes himself having tried to do. That is understandable from the perspective
of someone whose initial involvement related to social pressures and rather
unclear ideas. Once the influential individuals were seen not to live up to the
constructs he expected then his commitment to them and their cause
theme is more characteristic of societies in the midst of conflict where
terrorists often emerge as role models and there is an understanding that
becoming a terrorist will give power, influence and social recognition. These individuals
can be affected by peer pressure and notions of social obligation. MJ 37
demonstrates the absence of religious or political constructs or any clear idea
of what would ultimately be achieved by their terrorist actions.
CASE 4: THE
CRIMINAL MJ 13
father died while he was in Class VIII and he was brought up by his mother with
the financial support of his five uncles. MJ 13 completed a Bachelor’s Degree
in Psychology and was admitted to a Law
School to be a lawyer, much like his father who was a lawyer practicing Civil
Law in the lower courts. But he soon gave up his study of the law preferring instead to become an associate of
a criminal Gang chief DT,
who introduced him to extortion and kidnapping for ransom. He is typical of a
very small number of individuals who drifted from criminality into terrorism.
It should be noted that Islamist organisations
are puritanical and do not accept any crime for personal gain. In fact, they
want criminals to be given very harsh treatment. So, the marriage between
Islamism and crime is rather uncomfortable and consequently rare. This person,
thus, illustrates the possibility of crime and terrorism interacting, despite
their ideological differences. He demonstrates that at the tactical levels
terror organisations may make choices that are not consistent with their purist
ideologies, entering a criminal network, which brought with it people and the
logistics to commit crimes.
subsequent crimes included ordering a major terrorist strike.
MJ 13's Account
MJ 13 reports
being impressed by DT because he “was
very well known…He had a good number of followers.... He was just too powerful.
I was mesmerised…I went through a change in my life. In my desire to enjoy
power and the glamour of the underworld I went too far. I started committing
crimes, though petty ones.”
becoming an associate of DT he started living away from home for months rarely
visiting home. MJ 13 accompanied DT to extort money from a businessman. By the
time they reached the house of the businessman the police
were waiting for them. In an exchange of fire DT was killed and MJ 13 was
arrested and imprisoned. As MJ 13 said his present life started from then. In
the prison he met ARK, who was facing trial for his involvement in terrorist
activities. The prosecution failed to prove the charges against ARK and he was
released from custody.
imprisonment MJ 13 came in contact with prominent Jihadi leaders. As MJ 13
said, “Once I was released I thought
there was no point in committing petty crimes. Now that I was in police
records, I wanted to go for major crimes….I wanted recognition at any cost,
even as a bad man. If you have to be bad, you must be the best among the bad
men. You should reach the top of the field you select.” So, he migrated to
a city in the Middle East and started organising a network for extortion and
kidnapping in Indian cities.
association developed in prison with Jihadis, ARK and others continued. The
Jihadis gave him good quality weapons, particularly small arms that his gang
needed for carrying out extortion and kidnapping. It also gave him a new
Passport and address. He soon had a Pakistani Passport, purchased a flat in
Islamabad and married a Pakistani girl, who also happened to be the sister of a
Jihadi and a friend of ARK. He also
interacted with people alleged to be top Jihadi leaders in Pakistan like Azim
Cheema and professor Hafiz Sayeed.
He had contact with Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence, ISI, he visited
terror camps, discussed political issues with Jihadi leaders and their
interpretation of Islam. MJ 13 was well aware of the rhetoric, but claimed that
he did not agree with Jihad.
So although he did not accept Jihadi rhetoric he nonetheless made use of a
fundamentalist Islamic context to further his personal ambitions. Ultimately,
he claimed, it was a question of personal choice and inclination. His
inclination was for making money and leading a glamorous life.
Right from the beginning I was not interested
in it…let me tell you 90 % of men working for me were Hindus. If they got to
know that I was a proponent of Jihad, they would not have worked with me.
Anyone who gets embroiled in Jihad is finished. Because of my association with
ARK, I earned the reputation of a Jihadi.
The crimes MJ
13 committed had nothing to do with Jihad. But, it all changed when ARK was
killed in exchange of fire with the Police. ARK’s brother and associates, who
belonged to Kolkata wanted to avenge the killing of ARK by the police. ARK
committed crime to earn money, which was used to fund Jihad. He also provided
logistic support for different Pakistan-based Jihadi organisations for
committing terror crimes in India. But, after ARK’s death ARK’s younger brother
and associates had decided to do their own Jihad.
MJ 13 ordered
a major terrorist strike and claimed responsibility by making telephone
calls. MJ 13 claimed that he agreed with
the decision to carry out the attack since he thought a major attack of that
magnitude would make him ‘big’. This would have then given more credibility for
him to extort money from rich businessmen with telephone calls from his hideout
in the Middle East, using his gang in India. He claims that he was just a
criminal and not a Jihadi, though he committed the mistake of associating
himself with Jihadis and is therefore, paying for the association.
Repertory grid and principal components
His Grid in
Figure 7 show that seven of his elements include three gang lords and a
criminal associate, ARK, who linked him to the Jihadi world. The PCA Plot for
the repertory grid of MJ 13 in Figure 8 indicates an X-axis that accounts for
80.5% of the variance. Although this is still high it is notably lower than the
others considered above indicating that he did not have such a strongly
one-dimensional perspective on the people who were significant to him.
Figure 7: Repertory Grid of MJ 13 - click here
Figure 8: Principal Components Analysis Plot of MJ 13 - click here
for a glamorous life is a strong aspect of his dominant axis. This is seen as
relating to misleading people and being wayward. Interestingly it is quite
distinct from considerations of whether a person is involved in Jihad or not
which creates the Y axis. There are no political or ideological constructs here
at all, showing that the search for glamour can be an aspect of seeking
personal significance without any strong religious or geo-political beliefs.
individual’s self concepts jump across the dominant axis in a most revealing
way. He saw himself on the balance between wayward and acceptable behaviour
before he became involved in Jihadi activity. This indicates that he recognises
that he always had some potential of drifting into crime. It was the contacts
that opened that pathway for him. He then saw himself moving strongly in a
criminal direction until his arrest. His current desire is to move as far away
from that type of person as he can.
demonstrates that involvement of criminals or criminal networks with terror
organisations is an opportunist decision. Through association with terror
networks the individuals find greater opportunity to pursue their criminal
objectives of making money and wallowing in the notoriety that comes with
paper shows the ways in which an open, life story interview can be combined
with the Repertory Grid to provide an understanding of the personal constructs
that are at the heart of an individual’s radicalisation. The indications are
that radicalised thinking takes different psychological forms, relying on
different constructs and conceptualisations. These were understood in terms of
underlying Islamic Jihad, Political Jihad, Social and Criminal themes. The
examples selected elucidate the existing ideological, political and social
explanations of terrorism. They suggest a further less developed explanation in
terms of a simple criminal involvement. Although only four single cases are
presented, they do illustrate the range of themes found in the original data
set. The present study, consequently, does show how the Personal Construct
approach allows insights into the details of the cognitive structures, the
pertinent constructs and conceptualisations, that can be produced by these
a form of Personal Construct system dominated by personal issues, trauma or
experiences was not readily identifiable. Although Kelly emphasised the role of
experience in shaping an individual Personal Construct system, this does not
imply that an individual's construct system will be a simple or direct
representation of personal experience. The suggestion is then that the personal
motivation processes that dominate some explanations of terrorism operate as
precipitating factors rather than being the focus of radicalised thinking. The
sensitivity to injustice Case 2 reports for example, that is likely to have its
roots in a personal experience of injustice, does not structure his construct
system. The assertion here then is that personal factors and experiences may
manifest in different forms of radicalised thinking, rather than organising it.
From an intervention perspective this does mean that Personal Construct systems
cannot necessarily tell us about the background personal motivations that lie
behind the individual's cognitive structure.
individuals presented here all have limited, dominant themes to their construct
systems. These themes account for a great deal of their conceptual systems
revealing how narrow their world views are.
This is an important finding, consistent with the work of Savage and
Liht (e.g 2008) that has drawn attention to what they call 'the low integrative
complexity' at the heart of extremist religious thinking. One possibility this
low complexity opens up is that the different themes identified may all be
reflections of a more generic perspective that there are moral, or religiously
defined guiding principles for action which can be in conflict with the laws of
the land. That is clearly the view of MJ27 who contrasts ‘God’s Laws with Man’s
laws’. MJ37 expressed something similar when he claims “being a Mujaheed was
following the ways of Allah”. In a more subtle way MJ1conceptualises political
action as being against the workings of the state. The challenge to legitimate
society is also at the heart of MJ13’s construct system. Future research would therefore benefit from
a more detailed exploration of how the fundamental construct of self-defined
principles versus those determined by legislation are manifested in a limited
set of different themes relating to the particular contexts of individuals.
themes demonstrate then that major explanations of terrorism in the existing
literature have validity at the individual level, but that one theme, whether
it be for example political or ideological, tends to be relevant for any given
individual. In this way, the different theories about the psychological causes
of terrorism are not in competition with each other, but are complementary,
some applicable to some individuals, others applicable to others. The findings
provide some initial empirical support then for the idea of distinct routes to
terrorism as posited recently in the
models of both McCauley and Moskalenko (2008) and Hutson, Long and Page
Moskalenko's important work delineates twelve mechanisms of radicalisation that
operate at individual, group and mass-public levels. This includes, for example
processes of 'extremity shift in like-minded groups', 'extreme cohesion under
isolation and threat' and 'within-group competition-fissioning'. An intriguing
future research direction will be the integration of these proposals on the
mechanisms of radicalisation with the current findings. This will allow
exploration of the particular combinations of mechanisms which relate to the
different substantive radicalisation pathways of individuals that have now been
seems likely that the four psychological pathways observed here will be
differentially relevant to different types of terrorist involvement. Future
research will establish which of the Islamist Jihad, Political Jihad, Social or
Criminal pathways apply to Nesser's (2006) Leader, Protege, Misfit and Drifter
the Grid results with the life story narratives it has also become apparent
that the themes each individual reveals is rooted in his background. None of
these individuals was coerced or ‘brainwashed’ into his violent actions. They
grew out of his ways of thinking about the world and the personal aspirations
he already had before the terrorist pathways opened to him. This implies de-radicalisation
strategies that address these broader issues rather than simply neutralising
the radical rhetoric these individuals will have been exposed to. Another
curious consistency is the frequency with which these individuals cite their
families as significant people in their lives. This is despite the extent to
which they all hid their terrorist aspirations and activities from those
families. There are certainly implications here for approaches to
deradicalisation and the utilisation of family contacts to that end. But it
also shows that families are unlikely to be a strong source for preventing
early engagement if the clandestine opportunities are available.
constructs and related life stories of these four individuals help to enrich
our understanding of the dominant explanations of radicalisation and
terrorist involvement. The individual
who articulated a very strong religious theme to his construct system and the
other who revealed a dominant political conceptualisation each illustrate the
explanations for terrorism that have their base in notions such as a ‘clash of
cultures’ or geo-political accounts of deprivation and abuse that are so
commonly offered to help understand why apparently sensible people will kill
others with whom they have no obvious and immediate quarrel.
The other two
examples that show the significance of social contacts and the permeable
boundary between terrorism and organised crime offer some degree of challenge
to claims that terrorism can be explained solely in political terms or on the
basis of altruistic acts. A distorted notion of altruism is certainly present
in some terrorists' construct systems but there are clearly also individuals
for whom objectives beyond their personal desires play no part in their
distinctions between the different construct systems carry direct implications
for approaches to disengagement and strategies that may be put in place to
prevent radicalisation initially. The
most obvious implication is that there are some people convicted of terrorism
who are only too ready to disengage if a route out can be found for them. Those
most open to this are those without dominant ideological or political
conceptualisations. They will not drift into terrorism if the opportunities are
not readily available.
On the other
hand, the individuals who do have strong ideologies do not absorb these views
as interesting ideas that can be changed by reasoned debate. Rather, they are
embedded in central conceptions about themselves and what their life is about.
It is only by harnessing their dominant commitments to non-violent outlets that
any hope of reducing the involvement in terrorism may be possible for these
limitations of results derived from only four individuals drawn from Jihadi
terrorists convicted in India must be acknowledged. How general these findings are beyond the current sample can only be
demonstrated by further study.
To date, explanations of radicalisation have tended to be related to their
specific contexts. Hutson, Long and Page (2009) are clear that the model they
advance relates to Middle East radicalisation, Dalgaard-Nielsen's (2010)
comprehensive review is a consideration of militant Islamic radicalisation in
Europe and McCauley and Moskalenko's important work (2008) is focused on
political radicalisation. The delineation of the current framework provides the
basis for future studies of the variations in radicalisation pathways across
different contexts and types of radicalisation, exploring for example
variations in Jihadi radicalisation around the world.
notwithstanding this, the ways in which the findings accord with but enhance
the wide ranging literature on the psychology of terrorism goes some way to
supporting their general validity. The Personal Construct approach in its focus
on psychological concepts may allow the development of a framework that is
generalisable across different radicalisation contexts. Indeed, it is
noteworthy that Jihad dominates only one of the construct systems described in
the accounts provided by these four terrorists convicted in India.
the accounts of these four individuals some non-crucial details have been changed
to maintain anonymity and other details have been made more ambiguous.
interviews were conducted in Urdu, which reads from right to left. So for the
actual Grid completion the highest value was to the left. In order to process
the grids through the PCA software these were reversed and those final versions
are presented here.
Atran, S. (2003). Genesis of suicide terrorism. Science, 299, 1534-1539.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self
Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.
Bloom, M. (2005). Dying to Kill : The allure of suicide
terror. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Bloom, M. (2009). Chasing butterflies andrainbows : A
critique of Kruglanski et al's "Fully committed: Suicide bombers'
motivation and the quest for personal significance". Political Psychology 30,
Dalgaard-Nielse, A. (2010). Violent radaclisation in Europe:
What we know and what we do not know. Studies
in Conflict and Terrorism, 33,
Fransella, F., Bell, R. & Bannister, D. (2004). A
Manual for Repertory Grid Technique. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
Gambetta, D. (2005). Making Sense of Suicide Missions. Oxford,
UK: Oxford University Press.
J. (2006). A theory of categorical Terrorism. Social Forces, 84, 2027–2046.
Horgon, J. & Schmid, A. (2009). A marriage made in hell? Terrorism and organized crime.
In D. Canter (ed.), The Faces of Terrorism: Cross-Disciplinary
Investigations (pp123-136). London, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
(1970). Why Men Rebel? Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Huston, R., Long, T. & Page, M. (2009). Pathways to
violent radicalisation in the Middle East: A model for future studies of
tranditional Jihad. The RUSI Journal, 154,
Jankowicz, D. (2004). The Easy Guide to Repertory Grids.
West Sussex: Johan Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Kelly, G. A. (1955/1991).The Psychology of Personal Constructs. London,
Kepel, G. (2004). The War for Muslim Minds: Islam
and the West. Cambridge,MA: Belknap Press.
Khosrokhavar, F. (2005). Suicide Bombers: Allah’s
new martyrs. London: Pluto Press.
Kruglanski, A., Chen, X., Dechesne, M., Fishman, S. &
Orehek, E. (2009). Fully committed: Sucide bombers' motivation and the quest
for personal significance. Political Psychology 30, 331-357.
(1993). The Stories We Live By: Personal
Myths and the Making of the Self. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
McCauly, C. & Moskalenko, S. (2008). Mechanisms of
political radicalization: pathways towards terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 20, 415-433.
Merrari, A. (2007). Psychological aspects of suicide
terrorism. In B. Bongar, L. M. Brown, L. E.
Beutler, J. N. Breckenridge & P.G. Zimbardo, (eds.), Psychology
of Terrorism (pp101-115). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Moghaddam, F. (2005). The staircase to terrorism. American
Psychologist , 60, 161-169.
P. (2006). Jihad in Europe: A Survey of
the Motivations of Sunni Islamist Terrorism in the Post-Millennium Europe.
Norway: Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.
Pape, R. (2005). Dying to Win: The strategic logic of
suicide terrorism. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
M, (2006). Introduction: Mapping terrorism research. In M. Ranstorp (eds.). Mapping
Terrorism Research. State of the art, gaps and future direction (pp1-28).
New York, NY: Routledge.
Rotter, J. (1954). Social
Learning and Clinical Psychology. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall.
Roy, O. (2004). Den globaliserede islam. KÝbenhavn: Vandkunsten.
Sarangi, S. & Canter, D. (2009). The
rhetorical foundation of Militant Jihad. In D. Canter (eds.). Faces of
Terrorism: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp 35-61). Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.
Savage, S. &
Liht, J. (2008). Mapping fundamentalisms: The psychology of religion as a
sub-discipline in the prevention of religiously motivated violence. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 30,
Seligman, M. (1975). Helplessness:
On Depression, Development, and Death. San Fransico: W. H. Freeman.
A. (2008). Holy warriors: Explaining the psychological processes of Jihadi
radicalization. European Journal of
Criminology 5, 99–123.
Speckhard, A. & Akhmedova, K. (2005). Talking to
terrorists. Journal of Psychohistory 33,
& Horgan, J. A. (2007). Conceptual framework for addressing psychological
process in the development of the Terrorist. Terrorism and Political Violence 18, 585-601.
(2011). The Buccinasco Pentiti: A unique case study of radicalization. Terrorism and Political Violence 23,
& Canter, D. (2012). Narrative roles in criminal action: An integrative
framework for differentiating offenders. Legal and
Criminological Psychology, 17, 233–249. 797-814.
S., Canter, D., Youngs, S. (2013). Themes of radicalisation
revealed through the personal constructs of jihadi terrorist.
Personal Construct Theory & Practice, 10, 40-60, 2013
(Retrieved from http://www.pcp-net.org/journal/pctp13/sarangi13.html)
|Received: 21 May 2013 – Accepted: 23 August 2013 –
Published: 5 September 2013