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Understanding Terrorism

I started this page in 2005. I have not kept it updated. But I decided to come back to it after the assassination of bin Laden ordered by Barack Obama.

Today, May 9, 2011 I searched again for "understanding terrorism" + "emotional intelligence". I still found only 2 results.

Osama bin Laden page

Why Middle Eastern Terrorists Hate the United States - Article by University professor in America



Original contents

I decided to start this page because I have been feeling a little guilty for not writing something about this. For now I am just starting to collect my notes. I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings.

Notes from Feb 22, 2005

Notes from Feb 23, 2005

Feb 26, 2005

March 7, 2005

March 15, 2005 Notes on the "Because they are evil" explanation for terrorism

Some notes on understanding and punishment

S. Hein


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Notes from Feb 22, 2005

Tonight I did a little searching on google to see what I could find on terrorism and understanding the emotions of resentment and hatred. I was not impressed with what I found.

One thing that I did find was that my page on David Caruso showed up in the top ten when I did the following searches:

"understanding terrorism", emotions

"understanding terrorism", resentment

"understanding terrorism", feelings

I also found that when I typed in "war on terrorism" I found 1,910,000 results.

But when I typed in "understanding terrorism" I found 9,620 results.

I think tomorrow I might try "understanding George Bush" and "understanding bin Laden" ( see Feb 26 notes)

So one of my points is probably fairly clear already. Not many people are very interested in understanding. There are many more people interested in wars and killing. This alone says a lot about the values of our "leaders".

I don't fully understand how google works, or why my page on David comes up when you look for understanding terrorism and emotions. I don't know if it is because a lot of people are reading the page on David or if it is more because my site in general is ranked highly and I just happen to have the words "understanding, terrorism, emotions," etc. on that page.

But whatever the reason, I see I have an opportunity. An opportunity to share my ideas with a few more people. What I write will be kind of a first draft. I plan to think about this a lot more and try to write something very concise, very practical about understanding terrorism from an emotional view.

Right now I am going to make some notes for myself...

resentment - starts in childhood, grows in adolescence, grows more in adulthood.

resentment not specific enough. secondary emotion. need to identify primary emotions.

resentment comes from unmet emotional needs; from emotional pain but emotional pain comes from unmet emotional needs

resentment --> hatred; hostility; aggression feeling hurt + resentment ---> vengeance

sense of injustice + feeling unlistened to --> resentment

belief in violence. world culture of violence. models of violence.

See my section on resentment

Notes from Feb 23, 2005

Saw an article that said poverty was a cause of terrorism. but I have seen very poor families who are happier and less hostile or resentful than families with a lot of money.

Understanding doesn't cost anything.
Empathy doesn't cost anything.
It doesn't cost anything to listen.
A hug doesn't cost anything.
Compassion doesn't cost anything.

All "terrorism" is motivated partly by a sense of injustice.

bin Laden felt pain when he saw the US actions. Maybe we could call it disdain, contempt.

I also feel pain when I see people mistreating others, hurting others.

There is always an unmet need for freedom. The terrorists always try to hurt those who have controlled them, limited their freedom.

The need to feel free is a psychological, emotional need.

The need to feel listened to, heard, and understood when you have a complaint, when you are in pain, are all emotional needs.

The need to feel acknowledged, respected. These are both emotional needs. Even those we call terrorists have emotional needs. They may be some of the most emotionally needy. They attack because they are in pain and have been for years and years.

Having someone to focus their negative feelings on gives them a psychological outlet for their pain.

Emotional pain starts out in the family. But not many people ever focus their negative feelings on their families as they get older. Nearly all people forget about the emotional pain they felt when they were over-controlled, not listened to, not understood, not respected as children and teenagers.

In my experience, the more religious a family, the less they listen to their children and teenagers. They don't listen because they feel so sure they know what is best. They have been convinced all answers are found within the religious belief system they were taught.

They are also insecure and they feel easily threatened by any new ideas their teenage son or daughter might have. Or they feel so falsely secure that they don't take anything their son or daughter says seriously. They invalidate their children instead of listening to them.

So to understand terrorism we have to understand it has a base in emotional pain.

-- We also have to understand the feeling of defiance.

From my own experience I can tell you that I really don't like other people telling me what to do. This goes back to my need for freedom and my need to feel in control of my own life.

We all need to feel in control of our own lives. And we all need to actually be in control of our own lives to some degree or another. For example, only I know how much water I need to drink to satisfy my thirst. And only I know when I have learned enough about something to satisfy my interest.

A basica problem with all of human society is that so many other people think they know what is best for us. And especially, parents and teachers think they know what is best for children and teenagers. They don't just "think" they know best, they really believe it. They are so sure of it that they don't listen to any arguments to the contrary. Like a person who believes in "God."

But both beliefs are "man-made." Men created these beliefs, so men could create different beliefs just as easily. Men could say, for example, "Son, I don't know how much water you need, so you have to tell me." They could also say, "I don't know how much freedom you need, so you have to tell me." They could also say, "I don't know how the world was created, where we came from, or what happens when we die, but these are very interesting questions, so let's keep looking for answers. Let's not assume that what other people have taught us is correct."


Not long ago there were terrorist attacks in Peru. They weren't caused by Muslims, so we can't say it is only the Muslims who are terrorists. But we might look for similarities.

-- Feeling powerful.

If we agree that a child/teen needs to feel in control of his life to some degree, then we can say that this person also needs to have some degree of power. If I have no power to change things which hurt me, for example, I will remain in pain.

In a family, if I feel in pain because my father doesn't listen to me, doesn't value my opinions, doesn't support me emotionally or intellectually, I will try to do something to stop or lessen my pain. Most likely I will try to talk to my father, who has the power. If he repeatedly fails to listen to me, if he makes it clear that I have no voice in the family or even in my own life, then I will feel powerless. This feeling of powerlessness will hurt.

In families where the father, or the mother or whoever the authority figure treats a son or daughter this way, that son or daughter will live in emotional pain for years. Typically a minimum of 18 years of pain. What does 18 years of emotional pain do to someone?

I'd say it depends on the person. Some people become filled with so much hatred they are quick to turn to violence. It is likely in fact they have already learned that violence towards others helps them feel a little better, a little more powerful and less powerless. They might have been violent towards younger siblings or towards animals or towards peers who are different in some way.

Other people, who are simply born with less aggressive personalities, may be virtually destroyed after 18 years of feeling powerless. They may have almost no self-confidence. They may have given up trying to change anything. I see this a lot here in Peru. But I also see a lot of violence. I have never seen so many fist- fights on the street for example.

So in a home or society where the children/teens are not listened to, not treated with respect, are over controlled, you get the two extremes - violence or passivity.

This gets me back to the similarities between the Muslims and the Catholics. I have been in two Muslim countries. Malaysia and Indonesia. And I have been in several Catholic countries. From what I have seen, both religions are very authoritarian. What the father says, goes. No questions are allowed. And if the father is gone, as is so often the case in South America, then what it is the mother who rules. Here in Peru they are very quick to hit the children and teens for any disobedience or "talking back." The children here in Peru are actually taught that it is a "lack of respect" to talk back. But this is not just in Catholic cultures. It would not be hard to find teenagers who were slapped in the face for "talking back" in Protestant families in England, as just one example.

In England though, as in the USA, there are more ways for teenagers to try to stop their emotional pain than in a poor country such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia or Peru. In richer countries they can buy alcohol, drugs, CD's, DVD's etc. And they are more likely to have their own rooms at least, where they can go and shut their doors to temporarily protect themselves. Here is the way one 14 year old in England described the door to her room:

the door which acts as a barrier against the things that most people call their parents who cause me so much pain. (Anna R.)

Feb 26

Today I searched google for 210 for "understanding George Bush". I found 210 results. I found 609 for "understanding bin laden"

Then I tried "understanding bin laden", "emotional intelligence". No results.

Then I tried "understanding terrorism" and "emotional intelligence" again, found 40 results. The first one was my entry on David Caruso. The next two were just reference lists with had no connection between the EI and terrorism.


Just had this thought... Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey said that our emotions are supposed to guide us to what is important to think about. But sometimes people don't think about what is really important. For example, as I write this the USA is fighting a war in Iraq. People are being killed. But not many Americans are thinking much about the people who are dying. Nor are they thinking about the people who will die in the future since their government leaders don't understand they causes of terrorism and don't understand why so many people around the world either dislike or hate the American government and its policies. It is painful to think about people dying, people being killed, families losing fathers or brothers or mothers or children. So most people don't think about it. Not thinking about it protects them from the pain of their feelings. They watch shows that make them laugh or go to movies and sports events instead, for example. Or they go to work and think about making products and selling services.

I haven't been thinking much about the killing either. When I do I feel so frustrated about all I can do is swear and criticize the Americans who voted for Bush. But this isn't very helpful. I feel guilty for not writing more about the war and about terrorism. I think I understand the feelings of terrorists pretty well. So I feel an obligation to write about what I think in the hopes it will help some people understand. But I also feel a little hypocritical because I criticize others like David Caruso for not thinking about the killing and trying to help people, and himself, understand the emotions behind the terrorists. I would also like the smart people of the world, especially those who write about and study emotions to work harder to try to come up with solutions for this emotional problem.

I want to encourage people to start thinking of terrorism as an emotional problem. This could be the first step to coming up with better answers than killing more people. I'd like to see some of the people who are writing about emotional intelligence write about this. If they do, I will be happy to put their articles on my site. I might even invite some people to write articles for my site. I'd like my site to be the number one site on understanding terrorism, or at least on understanding terrorism and emotional intelligence. Well, it is actually, I just realized!, but I want to put more on it.


One basic problem is Bush and his supporters don't understand the difference between fear and respect. Or they don't realize that fear is not a healthy basis for a relationship.

Neither do the people in Israel who want the Muslims to be afraid of them.

Btw, I did a search on "understanding Americans" - I found an article which is very critical of Americans in general. It was number two on google. I nearly cried when I read it because it touched me so deeply. I felt sad that there was so much truth in what the article said. Here is the article. I'd be interested in your thoughts and feelings


Now I want to stir up some emotion in you. So look at the slide show on this website and tell me how you feel. I cried when I saw it. And I felt understanding. Understanding for how the Palestinians are feeling and why. And I felt empathy for them. I also feel hostility towards the US and Israeli governments. Now the question is, what to do with those emotions. It is an emotional problem.



March 7, 2005

Here are some notes from my journal writring, slightly edited


March 7, 2005

Feeling powerless, hurting, helping

journal notes...

Right now I realize that I feel more powerful when I hurt someone. Eventually I won't need to hurt anyone to feel powerful. My teen friend Sarah feels more powerful when she hurts someone. I hope that eventually Sarah will recognize her own power. I've been telling her for years she is powerful. But she doesn't feel powerful. She has almost no control over her own life. She doesn't have the power to do something as simple as walk where she wants to. For example, if she wants to walk out of school, they can physically stop her. Let us never forget where she lives. In the country that calls itself the land of the free.

I want Sarah to feel free, to feel powerful.

I want her to use her freedom and power to help people. Make a positive contribution to the world.

David asked me if I feel better after I criticize someone. Yes, I do. He doesn't understand this, I suppose because he never thought about the connection between feeling powerless as a child/teen, hurting someone and feeling powerful.

I wrote what I did about Garnier partly to get a sense of my own power back from him. Anyone who has been abused and goes through the healing process, or tries to, probably understands what I am talking about. On a very personal level. If you "understand" on a theoretical level it is not the same. True understanding requires feeling.

So now let's take all of this up to a higher level.

USA - Iraq - Terrorists.

The USA felt powerless after they were hurt. A lot of Americans feel powerless nearly everyday in their personal lives. That is a reason there is so much resentment, so much sarcasm in the USA.

So to feel more powerful, they try to hurt someone.

They couldn't find Bin Laden in Afghanistan, so they still felt powerless, so they went looking for him in Iraq and went looking for someone else to kick around to help them feel more powerful.

It's a sad waste of resources that the USA has to hurt people, try to kill them, try to punish them so it can feel more powerful.

The USA could be such a true leader.

It has the infrastructure, let's call it. The media, the money, the military. The 3 M's

It has the productivity, the efficiency. It has the marketers. It has it all. But it lacks emotional health. It lacks understanding.

And it is not going to find emotional healthy by looking in a bottle of pills.

It is not going to find understanding by military spending.


To Judge Or Understand

journal notes

We have two choices. To judge or to understand.

It is a hell of a lot easier to judge. Why is that? Why does nature work that way? The need for quick decisions perhaps? Goleman said something like that. It has to do with survival. We have to quickly assess a life or death situation. Is this thing going to try to kill me and eat me? Or is it safe. So we could say "safe or dangerous" those were the two opposites. But some how it became "good and evil".

Dangerous became "evil".

Yes. That is a critical turning point in history. It is critical because if something is just dangerous we can take precautions, think about it, plan etc. But if it is "evil" we have started to judge it. I am not saying this very well, but then again it's the first time I've thought about it.


Let's go back. Is it more helpful to say "dangerous" or "I feel afraid"?

I'd say the latter. Gives us more control, more options. For example, if we just say "I feel afraid" we can change our feelings. We can make up some goofy story and tell it to ourselves. We might say "I won't feel afraid. I will feel thankful. Because when I die I will go to heaven and be with the lord" or some such nonsense.

We can talk ourselves right out of our fears.

Now let's to back to Sept 12 of 2001 or whenever it was. On Sept 12 nothing happened to scare the Americans. Nor on Sept 13 or 14 or 15. So they could have all gone back to watching football, basketball and baseball games. But for some reason they got all upset. They started talking about "Freedom" and "terrorists" and "evil." (Not to mention the "American way.")

They got all self-righteous. All judgmental.

It is different here in Peru. If something happens the people say "oh well" or "It is part of God's plan." They don't get too worked up about much here. They don't try to impose their values and beliefs on the rest of South America, let alone the world.

So it was the way the Americans reacted that is now causing so much death and destruction in Iraq.

Had they just said "We feel afraid" without saying "Those people are evil." They probably could have taken a more reasonable, and less expensive, approach to managing their fears. But being as emotionally needy as they are, they probably have only made things worse for themselves in the future. Let's not confused emotional intelligence and emotional neediness. There are lots of emotionally intelligent Americans who make what would appear to very stupid decisions because they are emotionally needy, not because they are lacking in emotional intelligence. (They are also lacking in healthy emotional instruction.)

One thing I am quite sure of, after now living most of the past 5 years out of the USA, is that the Americans are very emotionally needy. So are the Peruvians, but the Americans are more dangerous because they have more power.

I want to go take a shower and to the Internet, so I will stop here with this thought...

Emotionally needy people are dangerous.

But I've probably said that before.

But let me add to it...

Emotionally needy people who are also emotionally intelligent are even more dangerous.

They make dangerous leaders, dangerous lovers, dangerous parents.



Understanding and Punishment

Humans need understanding. We also need to understand why people do things. Therefore we need to teach all students and all future parents; all lawyers, all judges, all politicians and all police this message:

You will never understand a person by judging them. You will never understand a person by labeling them. You will never understand a person by insulting them. You will never understand a person by invalidating them. You will never understand a person by giving them orders. And you will never understand a person by punishing them.

copied from my page on understanding

Why Middle Eastern Terrorists Hate the United States

William O. Beeman

The Bush administration's projected war on terrorism is designed to eradicate and delegitimize terrorists. Both aims are futile. The grievances of the terrorists who committed the horrendous attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 have deep and persistent roots going back more than 150 years. The terrorists harbor a hatred that will not die, and their grievances cannot be delegitimized through military attacks.

Middle Eastern opposition to the West is far from being a phenomenon invented by Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban, or for that matter Iran, Iraq or the Palestinians. It has grown consistently since the beginning of the 19th Century as an effective oppositional force both to the West and to local secular rulers. Western powers were blind to Middle Eastern opposition forces throughout the 20th Century because they were overshadowed by great power rivalry during this period.

The original leader of the opposition to the West was Jalal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897). Called the "Father of Islamic Modernism, Al-Afghani was educated in Iran, Afghanistan and India. He traveled throughout the Islamic world promulgating an "Islamic reform movement." Using an Islamic ideology helped him to transcend ethnic differences in the region, and preach a message all would understand. He sought to mobilize Muslim nations to fight against Western imperialism and gain military power through modern technology. Al-Afghani claimed that Britain, France and Russia in particular were operating in collusion with Middle Eastern rulers to rob the people of their patrimony through sweetheart deals for exploitation of natural and commercial resources in the region.

As a direct result of the efforts of Al-Afghani and his followers, groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood evolved throughout the region. These groups generally espoused three methods in their political and religious activity: personal piety coupled with evangelism, religious modernization, and political resistance to secular regimes.

The Western nations have committed a litany of crimes against the Muslim world according to the Islamic opposition. After World War I, the Middle Eastern peoples were treated largely as war prizes to be divided and manipulated for the good of the militarily powerful Europeans. The British and the French without consent or consultation on the part of the residents created every nation between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf for their own benefit. This increased the resentment of the fundamentalists against the West and against the rulers installed by Westerners.

After World War II, the Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union fought over the Middle East nations like children over toys. Governments such as those of Egypt, the Sudan, Iraq, and Syria were constantly pressed to choose between East and West. The choice was often prompted by "gifts" of military support to sitting rulers. With ready sources of money and guns in either Washington or Moscow, Middle Eastern rulers could easily oppress the religious fundamentalists who opposed them. This added still further to the anger of the religious reformers. At this point the oppositionists abandoned political action through conventional political processes and turned to extra-governmental methods-terrorism-to make their dissatisfaction felt.

The United States became the sole representative of the West after 1972, when Great Britain, poor and humbled, could no longer afford to maintain a full military force in the region. Anxious to protect oil supplies from the Soviet Union, Washington propped up the Shah of Iran and the Saudi Arabian government in the ill-fated "Twin Pillars" strategy. This ended with the Iranian revolution, leaving America with a messy patchwork of military and political detritus. When Iran went to war with Iraq, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein to prevent Iran from winning. Anxious about Soviet incursions into Afghanistan, it propped up the Taliban. These two monstrous forces--Saddam and the Taliban--are very much an American creation.

The final blow came when America finally had to confront its former client, Iraq, in the Gulf War. Americans established a military base on Saudi Arabian soil-considered sacred by pious Muslims. Saudi officials had been resisting this move for years, knowing that it would be politically dangerous both for them and for the United States. This action was the basis for Osama bin Laden's opposition to the United States.

All of this meddling only confirms the century-old assertion that the West was out to rob the people of the Middle East of their prerogatives and patrimony. The current revolutionaries in the region, including bin Laden, have political pedigrees leading directly back to the original reformer, Al-Afghani. Willy-nilly, the United States keeps reinforcing these old stereotypes. It is essential that we find a way to break this pattern, or we will be mired in these troubled relations forever.


William O. Beeman is an anthropologist teaching at Brown University. A veteran Middle East researcher, he is author of Language, Status and Power in Iran, and numerous publications on terrorism and religious fundamentalism. He has been working for the past four years in Tajikistan.,

(c)2001 William O. Beeman. All rights reserved. This article may be freely distributed for any non-commercial purpose. For commercial distribution, including use on commercial websites, please contact the author










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