Terrorists by vocation: the process of radicalization towards an ideology of terror

March 14, 2017
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One cannot help but feel greatly disturbed after watching a video – based on information from the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database – that retraces the most important terrorist attacks carried out around the world between 2000 and 2015 (concluding with the attacks on Paris in November 2015). Terrorism of Islamic origin has erupted into the West, often altering our everyday lives, for example security procedures in airports and other public places.  In Europe, the number of attacks have dramatically multiplied over the past three years, and in general, the West has witnessed an increase in terror-related death.

Alessandro Orsini, a global expert on the subject, has identified the key element in terrorist ideology to understand what pushes individuals from different walks of life to enlist in terrorist organizations, ready to kill and die for their cause. Ideology gives rise to fanaticism; the conviction that one possesses absolute truth legitimizes imposing it with force.

In a recent study entitled La radicalisation des terroristes de vocation (The radicalization of terrorists by vocation) in the French magazine «Commentaire», Orsini examines the lives and profiles of twenty-one terrorists that have carried out attacks in Europe or in the United States between 2004 and 2016, in order to retrace the radicalization process that led them to embrace ideologies of terror and death. Referencing analyses by Max Weber, Clifford Geertz e Raymond Boudon, Orsini discusses “terrorists by vocation” while examining the relationship between social relationships and ideology.

The radicalization process follows four phases: the disintegration of social identity (1), the reconstruction of a new identity based on fundamentalist ideology (2), integration into a radical sect (3) and alienation from the surrounding world. According to Orsini, the entire radicalization process is built upon an ideological base. Economic conditions do not seem to be a determining factor. Social context, however, plays an important role, “terrorists by vocation” live in the margins of society and do not feel like they belong to the community that surrounds them and thus reject their values, principles and laws.

"La radicalisation des terroristes de vocation"