Excitement, hatred and belonging: why terrorists do it

29 July 2016 17:43
“ A new book by Richard English suggests that killing can bring its own rewards. „

Like most questions about terrorism, why large numbers of people join terrorist organisations can only be answered in political terms. However terrorism may be defined – and disputes about what counts as terrorism are largely political in their own right – we will be ­unable to understand how terrorist groups ­attract members if we don’t consider the politics of the societies in which the groups are active. But terrorism’s appeal is not ­always political for everyone involved in it. Richard English, in his wide-ranging new book, highlights some of what he calls the “inherent rewards” of terrorism gained by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). According to some former members, involvement in PIRA operations brought adventure, excitement, celebrity in local communities and sometimes sexual opportunities.


A new study of terrorism argues that terrorists are no “more irrational than the rest of us”. There is no “terrorist mind”. Terrorism functions most often as “an effective way of waging war”. But such analysis describes past terrorism by militarised groups in pursuit of political causes. The new terrorism of ISIS is different and more insidious. It is about “bestowing identity and significance on dislocated individuals and enabling them to discharge their resentment against a hated way of life” (2,230 words)