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How Terrorists Rationalize Behavior

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While terrorists are almost always marginal in relation to the larger communities and traditions from which they come, they also frequently articulate widespread grievances and feelings present within these communities.

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The United Nations Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change defined terrorism as an action "that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or compel a government or international organization to do or abstain from doing any act" (United Nations, 2004, p. 52). Terrorism is a tactic, not a basic type of group. Acts of terrorism include the bombings of American embassies and bases around the world by Muslim militants, the fanatical rhetoric of the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, the suicide bombings in Israel and Europe by Islamicists, the rise to power of the extreme religious right in the United States, and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center by the jihadists.

Some terrorist organizations engage in legitimate philanthropic and humanitarian activity for suffering people. This activity is considered the benevolent counterpart to their violent activities, and is designed to win the hearts and minds of people in such regions, while they simultaneously kill innocent people through violence elsewhere. Given the nature of many terrorist organizations, it is an insurmountable law enforcement challenge to trace the dollars coming from United States sources, through the Third World financial sector, to their ultimate use in purchasing bombs and bullets. The funds provided by the humanitarian-minded donor are just as useful to the terrorist organization as the funds provided by persons who intend such funds to be used for violence. ...

Solution Summary

Religious beliefs serve as ethical/moral justifications for terrorism. In addition, there are other, secular authoritarian cultural teachings, traditions, and institutions (especially the family and state) that shape their ethical/moral justifications.

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Research on stereotypes is relatively new; however, it constitutes a sizable body of research with emphasis on stereotype formation, accuracy, measurement, and implications. Stereotypes can be defined as expected traits within a group of people based on some prior knowledge of, or assumptions about, groups of people. Intergroup bias occurs when people categorize traits or people into certain groups, favor groups that are similar to them, and rationalize group traits. While the bias might be outside of one's cognitive awareness it can nonetheless distort judgment. Consistent with the dual process model discussed early in this course, intergroup bias is the product of both automatic and controlled social cognitive processing and stereotypes can range from subtle to blatant in form (Aronson & McGlone, 2009, page 154). Pay particular attention to how automatic processing and systematic processing might have impacted the stereotype formation presented.

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