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[] Understanding the 9/11 Perpetrators

Crazy, Lost in Hate, or Martyred?

By Clark McCauley, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Bryn Mawr College
Director of the Solomon Asch Center for Ethnopolitical Conflict at the
University of Pennsylvania
In bookstores, one discovers hundreds of volumes explaining how to raise
self-esteem, improve relationships, lose weight, etc. On TV, we have Oprah
and Dr. Phil. Yet in the field of international relations--where collective
forms of violence threaten to terminate the human race--we hear barely a
peep from psychology or psychologists. Isn't this extraordinary?
The objective of the IDEOLOGIES OF WAR & TERROR WEBSITE is to introduce
psychology into the domain of international relations and study of societal
I am pleased to present this paper by Professor Clark McCauley--one of the
most illuminating I have ever read on the thinking that generated the 9/11
terrorist attacks.
Excerpts appear below.
The complete paper is available for the first time as an online publication.

or visit: 
With best regards,
Richard Koenigsberg
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Found in the personal belongings of several of the 9/11 attackers were
copies of the same four-page handwritten document, a kind of manual for the
attack. The author of the document is not known with certainty, although it
has sometimes been attributed to Mohammed Atta as the presumed leader of the
9/11 operation. 
The first and perhaps most surprising aspect of the manual is that it is
does not incite or even approve of hatred of the enemy. There is no list of
outrages to justify the mission. There is no mention of infidels in Saudi
Arabia, or children dying in Iraq, or U.S. support for Israel. On the
contrary, the manual argues explicitly against individual motivation based
in personal feelings: "Do not act out of a desire for vengeance for
yourself. Let your action instead be for the sake of God." 
Not only does the manual not encourage hatred of the enemy, it actually
warns against acting out of hatred or vengeance. Indeed the manual does not
identify any specific enemy. The manual's references to the enemy do not
support the idea that the 9/11 attackers were motivated by hatred of the
enemy. Overall, the emotional quality of the manual is positive, rather than
negative. Hate, anger, and vengeance are discouraged; submission to God and
sacrifice in accord with God's will are encouraged.

Prayer is generally understood as lifting up heart and mind to God, and at
least ninety percent of the lines in the manual fit this description. Prayer
is enjoined at every point in the manual, including the instruction to stay
awake the night before the attack to spend the whole night in prayer. 
In style as well as content, the manual is a prayer. But the manual is more
than spiritual encouragement. It describes a contract, or at least a
compact, between the attackers and their God. The attackers will be martyrs
in the Muslim tradition of martyrs. One who dies with the correct intention,
that is, doing the will of Allah, is brought immediately to paradise. 
In sum, the contract advanced in the manual is this: a man who gives his
life in the path of Allah is a martyr who trades the pain and
disappointments of human existence for release from sin and glory in heaven.
Considered strictly as a contract, this is an attractive proposition.
Life can be more difficult than death; ".to Some, Not to be martyrs, is
martyrdom" (John Donne). Death in the flash of impact and explosion can be
easier than withstanding torture in an enemy's prison, easier than watching
loved ones suffering pain, shame, or disease.
Although it seems plausible that one emotion can overwhelm another, that
anger or hatred can be so strong as to overwhelm fear of death, the evidence
suggests that this popular interpretation is simply not correct. It is not
hatred of the enemy that conquers fear; it is love of God and the promise of
The 9/11 attacks are not to be understood as the product of individual
pathology or pathological hatred. Polls suggest that only relatively few
Muslims may hate the U.S., but even if the 9/11 attackers came from among
those few, the attackers themselves, as judged by Atta's manual, did not act
out of hate. Rather they understood themselves to be doing God's will; they
gave their lives in a rush for paradise rather than for the satisfaction of
punishing their enemies. 
There is no mystery about why and how people kill others for political
causes; the mystery is to understand how people can be ready to kill
themselves for such causes. Most of us who are living comfortable lives
cannot take the first step in being ready: we cannot imagine killing
ourselves. But recent examples make this kind of imagination easier.

All of us are going to die; 9/11 means that more will be willing to die
sooner for a cause that can give meaning to life. As the strong get
stronger, the warfare of the weak will try to match high-tech weapon systems
with more human weapons.
Please send comments and reflections to Orion Anderson at:   :
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