The Causes of Terrorism, Violence and Extremism: an Analytical Study

In the name of Allah, the most Gracious the most Merciful

Allah said, “Begin not hostilities. Allah loves not aggressors.”[Al-Baqarah: 190]. He also said, “Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness, abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that ye may take heed.” [Al-Nahl: 90]. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Whosoever obeys me, obeys Allah; and he who disobeys me, disobeys Allah; and whosoever obeys the leader, in fact, obeys me; and he who disobeys the leader, in fact, disobeys me.” Sahl ibn Abdullah said, “People will always be fine as long as they venerate the Sultan and scholars, and will have Allah’s guidance in this life and the afterlife; otherwise destruction shall overcome them in this life and the afterlife.”

All Humans are motivated to take action by basic drives, instincts, and dispositions that they are unaware of. Violence and aggression are dispositions that appear in the behavior of a lot of humans, and are stimulated by lots of factors. Aggressive behavior has been known throughout history, as the first images of violence appeared between the sons of Adam, when Allah accepted the offering from one of them, and did not accept from the other, which made Cain kill his own brother Able out of envy.

Aggressive behavior during early childhood can lead to problems later on, and may take the form of the destruction of property, vandalism. Such behavior is selfish and is often an attempt to express dissatisfaction with certain requests not being met. Aggressive behavior becomes even more dangerous when it takes the form of intergroup violence that targets families, societies, and countries. In this study, the researcher indicates the psychological, social, and intellectual causes of terrorism, violence and extremism.

Islam is a religion that calls for kindness, justice, love and security, and prohibits oppression and corruption. Allah said, “Allah orders justice, good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality, bad conduct and oppression.” [An-Nahl: 90]. Hence, realizing the factors that fuel terrorism will help us weed it out and reduce violence.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University and the President of the Scholarly Committee of the World Conference on Islam’s Position on Terrorism for giving me the opportunity to participate in this research.

May Allah protect our country and bestow guidance upon us.

Praise is to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.

The ideological causes of terrorism, violence and extremism:

The ideological causes of terrorism are as follows:

1. The ideological divisions between different sects, which spread religious misconceptions and alienate people from Islam. The most prominent contemporary trends are as follows:

A. Secularism: the principle of separation between government institutions and religious institutions, and the right to be free from religious rules, teachings, traditions, and customs, since they are obstacles that pose a threat to progress and civilization.

B. Extremist thought: the thought that opposes modernism and everything related to the progress of civilization. Extremists believe that modernism spreads immorality, affects social relations, and produces selfish and whimsical people who discard morality and virtue.

There have been a lot of terrorist acts in Arab and Muslim countries which have been linked to religious extremism. They include the bombings in Algeria, Egypt and Bahrain, the criminal bombings in Riyadh on Monday, 11/13/1995, the bombing of the residential compound in Ramadan 1424, and the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, 19/11/1995. [ Sultan: 2003.57]

2. Distorting the image of Islam and Muslims:

Islam is the religion of justice, dignity, tolerance, and moderation. However, the actions of people affiliated with Islam are usually attributed to the religion itself, and thus extremism distorted the moderate teachings of Islam, alienated people from it, and gave tendentious enemies the opportunity to disparage Islam. [Alloahak: 1998.693]

In addition, most of the sample in the study conducted by Burak in 1408 emphasized that the ideological factor contributes to the formation of terrorist behavior. The study also showed that terrorists are mentally disordered people who tend to oppose common principles and beliefs, for normal people never solve their issues through murder and destruction. Thus, protection from ideological invasion is essential in preventing Muslim communities from being influenced by intellectual trends (p. 101). Moreover, the West has become more prejudiced against Muslims because of the terrorist acts that targeted their countries and interests, which indicates that there are a lot of religious misconceptions among those deviant groups who believe that these crimes serve Islam and Jihad. [al-Zahiri: 2002.63-64]

3. Disregard for critical thinking and constructive dialogue by educators, educational institutions and the media:
Education in schools is based on the method of memorization, which prevents students from developing the high order skills of critical thinking. As a result, they easily develop the tendency to accept any ideology, and the media sometimes broadcasts programs that indirectly enforce terrorism.

4. Islamic Misconceptions and Misinterpretations of Sharia:

This is caused by the independent opinion of some unqualified scholars who claim to have sufficient religious knowledge, and issue opinions according to the apparent meanings, without referring to the qualified and trustworthy scholars.

Economic Causes of Terrorism, Violence and Extremism:

Financial crisis is one of the key factors fueling terrorism world-wide. Studies have revealed that globalization will set the stage for more financial crises in third world economies, which will increase the gap between wealthy and impoverished countries. Accordingly, William Knock, social analyst and author of “The New Variable World,” expects that terrorism will become the common aggressive reaction of third world countries to financial crisis, and that terrorists will make use of technology to transfer funds and ideas through the use of global banking systems and the internet. [al-Zahiri: 2002.59 60]

The most important global economic causes of terrorism, extremism and violence are as follows:

1. The United Nations’ inability to achieve international cooperation, which would resolve economic and social issues, and improve third world countries’ living standards.

2. The United Nations’ inability to resolve a number of international problems, such as theft, looting and oppression. [al-Zahiri: 2002.57-58).

Political Causes of Terrorism, Violence and Extremism:

The political causes of international terrorism are as follows:

1. The contradiction between the principles, values, and humanitarian ideals advocated by the charters of international political systems, and the actual practices that neglect these values and ideals.

2. The ineffectiveness of international sanctions on the violators of charters, which opens the door for terrorists to religiously, politically or ideologically control people, and encourage them to violate the international law, through extortion, murder, hijack, and the torture of innocent unarmed civilians. [Mansour and Sherbini: 2003.244-245]

Furthermore, many movements used violent activities to draw attention to their cause for social and political reasons. They include the Irish Republican Army in Britain, the PKK in Turkey, the national liberation forces that fought against occupation and colonization, the Democratic Society movement of Black people in the United States during the sixties, and the Croat hijackers of northwestern Yugoslavia in 1976. [Sultan: 2003.54-55]

The Social Causes of Terrorism, Violence and Extremism:

1. Judging with man-made laws in many Muslim countries:

Allah ordered Muslims to abide by the Islamic law, saying, “And now have We set thee (O Muhammad) on a clear road of (Our) Commandment; so follow it, and follow not the whims of those who know not.” [Al-Jathiya: 18]. Submission to Allah the Almighty is a requirement of worship, as Allah said, “It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error.” [Al-Ahzab: 36]. Hence, Muslim countries are also obliged to resort to the Judgment of Allah in resolving issues; for extremism in many Arab countries was mostly the result of the governance with man-made laws. [Alloahak: 1998, 431 445]

2. Corrupt Creeds:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, clarified and established the principles of Islamic Law, but some people have introduced heterodox innovations into the religion. As a result, misguided sects emerged, such as the Shiites, who reached extremes in loving Ali, the Kharijites, who reached extremes in accusing some Islamic figures of non-belief, and the Mutazilites, who only emphasize on analogy. Different sects and opinions were the key factors that fueled extremism, especially Sufism, which isolates life from religion. Many religious Muslims went to extremes in opposing Sufis, to the extent that some of them infiltrated Sufi shrines and burnt all manifestations of Islamic violations. Regardless of the legitimacy of such acts, this shows that doctrinal corruption may fuel extremism.
The Murjite sect appeared after people disagreed in the issue of Ali and Othman, and decided to delay and leave the judgment of this matter to Allah. This delay, however, was a delay in judgment and not matters of faith and disbelief like what the Murejites claim. Ibn Uyayna said, “The Murjites believe that faith is a belief that shouldn’t be practiced. Therefore, you shouldn’t eat or drink with them, nor pray for them.” The Murjites deviation caused some to accuse them of heresy, which proves that heresies produced even more dangerous innovations, and that these innovations are the improper reactions to some corrupt creeds. [Alloahak: ibid 0.446 to 458]

3. The disconnected relationship between the governor and the public:

Islam has set the rules for achieving a proper relationship between the governor and the public, through directing all parties to carry out their assigned tasks and duties. In fact, all religious texts oblige both the governor and the public to properly perform the duties entrusted to them. Therefore, the governor must establish religion, promote virtue and prohibit vice, and govern with the Islamic Law. The public should abide by Islamic law, and resort to counseling, as the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “All of you are guardians and are responsible for your subjects.” [Alloahak: ibid 0.475 to 488]

4. Social Detachment:

Individuals cannot succeed in their lives if they live in isolation, not taking into account their societies’ needs and other peoples’ natural rights. Thus, socialization contributes to personality formation and character molding through the implementation of specific beliefs and attitudes. Hence, most psychological deviations are the result of either improper social upbringing, or social disconnection.

In Islam, much emphasis is placed on social attachment. The Prophet, peace be upon him, called for unity, saying, “Whoever finds in his Amir something which he dislikes should remain patient, for one who separates from the main body of Muslims even to the extent of a hand-span and then dies will have died the death of one belonging to the days of pre-Islamic ignorance.” He also said, “Listen to [the rulers] and obey them, for on them shall be the burden of what they do and on you shall be the burden of what you do.” He further stated, “It is obligatory upon a Muslim to listen (to the ruler) and obey whether he likes it or not, except when he is ordered to do a sinful thing; in such case, there is no obligation to listen or to obey.”

In Islam there are penalties for anyone who causes sedition and endangers national stability. Allah said, “Sedition is worse than slaughter.” [Al-Baqarah: 217]. This is because sedition leads to strife, bloodshed, and violates the unity which Allah called for. Allah said, “Hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided.” He also said, “This is My straight path, so follow it. And do not follow other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This hath He ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil).” [Al-Anaam: 153].

The Islamic punishment for anyone to wage sedition and endanger national stability is the death penalty. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “When you are holding to one single man as your leader, you should kill anyone who seeks to undermine your solidarity or disrupt your unity.” He also said, “Various corruptions will arise in my community, so strike with a sword the one who tries to cause separation in the matter of Muslims when they are united, whoever he be.” [Sahih Muslim],[Yalgan: 1987.55-57]

5. The absent role of scholars:

The lack of trustworthy scholars allows unqualified people posing as scholars to deceive others with their ignorant independent opinions. This causes social conflict, especially when young people begin to despise Muslims and accuse them of negligence.

6. Social and familial disintegration:

Social disintegration has begun to spread in a number of Arab countries. This is leading to the spread of lots of mental illnesses and an increase in criminals and deviants. Research shows that children begin to acquire immoral values at an early age because of their immoral surrounding environment and the lack of guidance. Depriving children of their rights and needs, and exposing them to a ruthless upbringing at a young age will drive him to revolt against society and defying its norms and values. In Islam there is much emphasis on familial and social relations. In the Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah, The Prophet, peace be upon him, kissed his grandson Al-Hasan bin ‘Ali in the presence of Al-Aqra’ bin Habis. Thereupon he remarked, “I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them.” The Messenger of Allah looked at him and said, “He who does not show mercy to others will not be shown mercy.”

Psychological Causes of Terrorism, Violence and Extremism:

The psychological causes of terrorism, violence and extremism are as follows:

1. Destructive Behavior:

Some analytical psychologists, such as Freud and Melanie Klein, believe that violent and terrorist actions are motivated by innate destructive and aggressive dispositions that some human beings are born with. Other psychologists believe that violent behavior is the discharge of an aggressive and destructive energy, which inflicts formidable damage on society. [Mansour and Sherbini: 2003, 249].

2. Lack of self-control and lack of conscious:

Some whimsical people follow their own desires in the name of freedom, especially those who suffer from inferiority complex, or have been brought up by strict parents. These people begin to develop hidden aggressive tendencies which may surface later on according to certain circumstances, for aggression toward people usually surfaces as a result of vulnerability, fear, or anxiety. According to some psychological studies, parents’ behavior impacts extremists’ personalities, since most of their parents were are either alcoholic, emotionally cold, or deserted their children at an early age. [Hussein: 2002, 397].

3. Narcissism that results from constant guilt:

This is a psychological defense trick employed by the person to atone for his shortcomings towards his religious belief or his community, and is often accompanied by shame and depression. The affected person develops an urgent need to criticize himself, and seeks to save himself from guilt through resorting to egoism. [Rajah: 1985.574].

4. Frustration in achieving desired objectives:

Frustration among some young people may lead to depression. Some rebels show aggressive extremist behavior because of failure. Manifestations of frustration become more violent once the objective is of high importance to the individual.

5. Megalomania:

Megalomania is another psychological factor that might fuel violence, since it is characterized by overestimating one’s powers and beliefs. Adolf Hitler, for example, was a megalomaniac who committed atrocious crimes against his enemies, overestimating his military competence and the power of his army, which brought about the destruction of his country. Overestimating his power lead to the division of Germany into two separated countries: East and West Germany; the two countries opposed each other in their political, economic and social views, and nearly engaged in civil war. [Mansour and Sherbini: 2003.247-284].

6. Paranoia:

Paranoia is a psychological disorder often associated with megalomania and is believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety and fear, often to the point of delusion. Accordingly, a paranoid president or leader may wage a terrorist war or support a terrorist act under the assumption that others are scheming to destroy his country and his values. [Mansour and Sherbini – ibid: 384].

Studies on people with mental disorders, including leaders and organizers of terrorist acts, have found that childhood experiences were the key factor in the formation of personality disorders, and that troubled parental relationships, such as rigorous disciplining and broken family ties, were more common in people with personality disorders. Also, emotional traumas and severe childhood physical illnesses may contribute to adult personality disorders.

7. Schizophrenia:

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by poor emotional responsiveness, a breakdown of thought processes, and indifference. It is also one of the most important psychological factors that fuels violence and terrorism. A Schizophrenic president would disregard political factors and other circumstances that are of utmost importance, showing indifference to the destruction he might lead his country to. [Mansour and Sherbini, Op .248 to 249].

Educational Reasons for Violence, Terrorism and Extremism:

Although educational factors are not direct causes of terrorism, shortcomings in the curricula may fuel terrorism in some Islamic societies. The educational causes of terrorism can be classified as follows:

1. Lack of religious education in all education levels in most Islamic countries.

Poor religious curricula that fail to enlighten students about religion contribute to the lack of religious awareness in general, which has a negative impact on individuals’ attitudes and behaviors. [az-Zahiri: 2002.60-61].

2. Lack of emphasis on the virtues of Islam and Islamic ethics.

Islam teaches compassion, tolerance, peace, cooperation, the protection of Muslims and non-Muslims’ rights, and all that ensures the security of all communities. Therefore, more emphasis must be placed on these ethics in all levels of education.

3. Lack of school discipline in all levels of education.

The school administration usually fails to control students’ riots, and thus fails to implement the school discipline plan. Schools must teach students how to suppress their negative desires and emotions. [Yalgan: 1987.53-54].

Mass Media that Fuels violence, terrorism and extremism:

1. The Media:

The Media is one of the key factors that fuels violence, terrorism and extremism, through the news, programs, movies, and satellite channels that mostly motivate extremism either through mocking religious rites and morals, or glamorizing radicalism. Hence, issues and themes should be handled through carful religious interpretation of actual events, and the investigation and verification of news, taking into account receivers’ psychological states, in order to instill more positive effects. [Shanqeeti: 1998.159-160].

The internet is also one of the key factors that fuels violence and terrorism, through websites that disseminate ideas, information, statements, and values among different people worldwide. While much of the information available on the internet is beneficial, there is also much material that fuels terrorism and encourages destructive behavior.

2. Bad companions:

Companions and colleagues play a significant role in motivating violence and terrorism, especially with weak individuals who are born into unstable families, for these companions allow the individual to express his unaccepted opinion freely, and practice destructive behavior.

3. Financial support:

Financial support makes it easier for terrorists to purchase or smuggle weapons and to take advantage of technology to spread rumors, fear and panic among people. Undoubtedly, money is a powerful method of funding, processing and supporting terrorist acts.

Praise is to Allah, and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and his family and companions.
Index of References:

• Al-Hussein, Asma Abdul Aziz (2002),”An Introduction to Mental Health and Psychotherapy,” Riyadh, Dar Alam al-Kutub.

• Rajah, Ahmed Ezzat (1985), “Principles of Psychology,” Alexandria, Dar al-Ma’arif.

• Sultan, Abdullah Bin Abdul Mohsen (2003), “About Terrorism and Terrorists,” Riyadh, Al-Jeraisy Distribution and Advertising.

• Asamail, Muhammad Abdul Aziz (1412), “Terrorism and Terrorists,” Al-Ahsa, Husseini Modern Presses.

• Shanqeeti, Mohammed Sadati (1998), “Islamic Media: The Curriculum,” Riyadh, Dar Alam al-Kutub.

• Az-Zahiri, Khalid bin Saleh bin Nahed (2002), “The Role of Islamic Education in Terrorism,” an unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Riyadh, Dar Alam al-Kutub.

• Mansour, Sayed Ahmed and Sherbini, Zakaria Ahmed (2003), “Human Behavior: Crimes of Aggression and Terrorism,” Cairo, the House of Arab Thought.

• Alloahak, Abdul Rahman bin Muala (1998), “The Issue of Religious Extremism in the Present Era,” Part II, Riyadh, Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University.

• Yalgan, Mokdad (1987), “The Role of Islamic Education in the Fight against Crime,” Al-Farazdak press.