While the actions of terrorists are often incomprehensible and hard to assimilate into our mental and ideological frameworks. These actions are nonetheless based on certain forms of logic or rationality. Terrorists cannot be dismissed as simply radical or random in their behaviours. This article looks at similarities between Islamic terrorism and the recent terrorist attacks in Norway.

When we think of the tragic events such as 9/11, the London bombing and the Bali bombing, it is hard to comprehend how people could carry out such acts of mass murder. We also need to remember that terrorism is not unique to this generation but has a long history with a multitude of groups such as the IRA and Basque Separatist Movement just to name a few. While it is tempting to simply say people who conduct such acts of terrorism are ‘mad’ or ‘insane’, such simplicities are both unhelpful and untrue. While the majority of people would label such actions as a form of madness or totally irrational behaviour, this is in fact not the case. Researchers and analysts agree that acts of terrorism are not the product of the insane or mentally ill; rather they carry their own form of logic or rationality even though it may not make sense to us.

While the current main focus of efforts deserves to be on the primary threat of Islamic based terrorism, the rationality of terrorism applies to all causes of terrorism such as those in Northern Ireland (IRA) as well as the recent Norway attacks by Anders Behring Breivik. This case in Norway provides some very interesting insights.

The interview with Breivik is particularly insightful and can be found using the following link:,8599,2084895,00.html

Essentially, Breivik was a right wing extremist who was strongly opposed to Islam, Marxism and multiculturalism. His aim was to free not only his own country but Europe from the perceived decline caused by high immigration levels. Interestingly, Breivik is insistent that he does not hate Muslims; he just does not want them in Europe. Essentially he holds a mono cultural view of what Europe should be. Breivik argues that his actions are for a greater good, a necessary evil needed to free Europe from the ills of immigration. In addition, he is prepared to sacrifice himself for his cause and for his ‘brothers and sisters’. This cause is justified as part of a greater good, a bigger purpose. Similar justifications were held by the IRA in their struggle against the British.

Islamic terrorism shares many similar characteristics in terms of its rationalities. The concept of freedom is also critical, to free Islamic lands from Western oppression. Acts of evil are justified as part of a fight or duty where terrorists are prepared to sacrifice themselves for a greater good and fight on behalf of their ‘brothers and sisters’. Strong similarities are present even though the rationalities are very different and in fact diametrically opposed to each other.

So how is the greater good and the need for necessary evil justified? Rather than resort to irrational arguments, terrorists often cite a ‘higher’ form of rationality. For example, in nationalistic forms of terrorism, the good of the country is greater than the good of any one individual. Coupled with this, oppressors are often demonised as the ones who are evil. In Islamic terrorism, the discourses of jihad are evoked as a command from Allah. These forms of rationality are used to not only justify forms of terrorism, but also make them an obligation or command for its participants.

Motivation for terrorism generally begins with some type of grievance or discontent. As the case of Norway indicates, this does not necessarily have to be a form of oppression. Prior to the focus on Islamic terrorism, many other forms have nationalistic grievances such as the IRA, ETA (Basques) and LTTE (Tamils of Sri Lanka). Grievances are not based on fiction but will always have an element of truth and can cause high levels of disaffection and alienation providing a strong motivation for people, some of whom perceive that they have nothing to lose. Fair criticisms can be laid at certain foreign policies that impact Islamic countries and there have been certain assimilation problems with Islamic immigration in Europe. In addition, the lack of voice coupled with discrimination against minority groups is an age old issue. However, these grievances are taken to a new level through acts of violence.

Responses to these grievances take the form of discourses that outline the logic or rationalities of aggrieved parties. Key words are used to justify those taken actions such as: ‘freedom fighter’, ‘martyr’, ‘sacrifice of oneself ’ are used in contrast to term ‘terrorist’. Fundamentally terrorists seek to affect change, to take action on their grievances. This desire for change is not irrational but one that we all share. The difference is the means used to affect change. So why do terrorists often resort to such violent measures?…

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