Thinking About Terrorists’ Motives

The police in Orlando, Florida, say that the attack early Sunday morning was terrorism. Information coming out about the attacker offers a great many possible motives: he might have been unable to deal with conflicts between religion and sexuality; he was generally a violent and hate-filled person; he declared his allegiance to ISIS during the attack, to other organizations earlier.

It’s possible that all of these influenced his actions. None are mutually exclusive. But, given all this and perhaps more to come as the investigations proceed, we must be careful about too definitive an attribution of motive.

In these days, the word terrorism too often evokes thoughts of ISIS. ISIS has declared that anyone pledging their act of terror to them is a true member, and I suppose destined to go to the right place after death. Such declarations make ISIS look more organized and important than it is. I argued this morning on Twitter with people who feel that this is a distributed army. But violent people will break out and do violent things. Recent gun attacks in the United States have been inspired by the Bible and militia thinking, along with ISIS. There’s no reason to think of any of them as an army. People determined to harm will find justifications for their actions.

Does ISIS’s co-optation of some of those acts make them more dangerous? Perhaps.

Here are four five articles worth reading on how to sort such things out.

Trying to know the unknowable: Why terrorists attack

6 Things Americans should know about mass shootings

Terrorism: The wrong conversation

Bending (False) Binaries: A sociological plea for deconstruction (Easier to read than the title suggests)

Added later: Why do terrorists commit terrorism?


Top photo: Family wait for news of relative after Orlando shooting (NY Daily News)

One comment

  1. Allen Hingston · June 15, 2016

    I was wondering about the religion/sexuality conflict too. People are very complicated in their motives for anything


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