The Psychodynamics of Islamic Terrorism


Analyzing the mind set of your average Islamic terrorist is no easy task, since the majority of average cases do not attend therapy on a regular basis. I myself have never assessed or had one in treatment. I have never worked in therapy with anyone that wasn’t Jewish, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist.

Among the Jewish patients I have had, the majority were neurotic, till otherwise proven, undoubtedly a reflection of exposure to guilt laden Jewish mothering. The Christian folk were plagued with hypertrophied superegos, and overburdened Calvinist generated, hyper-responsibility leading to a variety of psychosomatic manifestations and no shortage of panic anxiety. The Hindu/Buddhist crowd brought in their relations who suffered from major psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. They were unfailingly polite, grateful, supportive and devoted to their families’ recovery. As an added bonus they also tortured me with lots of exotic food treats.

Psychoanalysts have been criticized for extending ideas and psychodynamic interpretations beyond the confines of the office,  and grappling with greater social issues like terrorism.  But in response to this critique, individuals are involved, even if the individual self and executive decision making is subordinated to a higher authority. And since individuals have brains, and therefore minds, we have a personality theory that can find fertile new ground to examine.

Confusion arises, because there is no clear boundary separating religious and political extremism, from psychiatric illness. Though only a small percentage of Islam adherents demonstrate clinical psychopathy, it appears that the culture itself predisposes the development of violent, paranoid, sociopathic behaviour. Children raised in this environment are thus likely to become fixated at early levels of cognitive and emotional development, and those that don’t later become suppressed or disposed of to maintain societal cohesion.

The recent events in Paris, and the barbaric conduct of ISIS,  have crystallized awareness that
primitive modes of thought and action are still very much active. All religions are feudally based in origins and modes of thought. But intellectual progress is inexorable and so Jews don’t stone adulterers and idolaters anymore. Christians don’t do Crusades or have inquisitors like Torquemada and Hindus don’t use elephant crushing to execute criminals. The Buddhists have traditionally leaned more towards self flagellation and suicide, though they have had their aggressive interludes. They now cuddle tigers in Thailand for tourists…..

Not so with Islam. Still struck in a primordial infantile stage of religious development, they give us stoning, lashing, beheading,  caning, and general nasty intolerance. And terrorism. This of course is all fear based – a culture wide defense mechanism against  anxiety. But it is not a neurotic culture but a sociopathic one as there is no remorse or empathy towards the victims.

The question posed, is what is the conflictual source of tension? The answer seems to be the incursion of westernized secular humanism, relativistic ethics and the relegation of God to a minor role in daily life. The latter carries with it a fear of mortality and meaninglessness and as an antidote to that, Islam brings to us the glory of martyrdom.

Although touted as a religion of peace, the subjugation of women, crucifixion of apostates, and the suicide bombings of innocents, suggest anything but, and in justification we have a possible rationalization….”permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked because they have been oppressed – Allah indeed has power to grant them victory – those who have been unjustly driven from their homes, only because they said: “Our Lord is Allah”…. [Quran 22:39]”

Of course, oppression is the operative word open to definition among other things. The threat being the culture of the “Great Satan”.

If the above hypothesis is correct, then by analogy Islam is a belief system with a personality disorder and the treatment therefore is limit setting, containment and confrontation. The therapeutic problem with personality disorders however is that they have very powerful defenses.

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4 Responses to “The Psychodynamics of Islamic Terrorism”

  1. Carole Kocian says:

    My feeling about the open invitation of diversity is an invitation to disunity. Maybe that’s a sign of my patriotism and, yes, I know all about “we were all immigrants”. But we’ve assimilated, for the most part, and Islamists want to bring their home country’s culture with them. And, yes, some are just regular people. But they are a tribe and when push comes to shove I can’t believe they’d stand with westerners, no matter their propensity toward terrorism.

  2. PapiT says:

    Carole: It’s not assimilation but integration that works. I suspect all self-immigrated groups have managed to adapt and adopt “American” values without losing their cultural identity. Muslims haven’t and likely won’t given their cultural and religious mores.
    What is “your average terrorist”. Terrorism is a tactic, actually a wide variety of violent tactics used to coerce another group to change. Mentally healthy people should be able to see this for what it is. Therefore it follows only unhealthy people will support, condone, and encourage…let alone act out. Now all you have to do is invest in a boatload of couches and get them to come in. However, although psychiatrists can profile, police can’t. Ah the conundrum.

  3. Allan Seltzer MD says:

    There has been requests for additional references to support the premise that Islamic upbringing can breed sociopathy:

  4. kristina nadreau says:

    I accept and concur with the theory that the Moslem religion is dysfunctional and thus foments terrorism and other highly dysfunctional, sociopathic behaviors, both in their home country and abroad. I wish to point out that in the USA there are far more instances of acts of terrorism committed by US citizens, most of whom identify as Christians, who may also be anti government “survivalists”. Rather than being ostracized as the destructive loons they are, they wrap themselves in the flag and declare moral superiority, and then run for political office. When elected they confabulate an excuse and wage war on foreign soil. This qualifies as Terrorism on a larger scale. My humble opinion. as an aside, it is obvious that “law enforcement” does routinely profile suspects.

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