Monday, August 15, 2005


You may be asking yourself the question of why you should read something which sounds as academic and ‘heavy/intense’ as the foregoing title might seem to suggest.

The shorter answer to such a question is that ignorance is a weapon which is wielded by many sides of the terrorist issue in order to hide the truth about various facets of the phenomenology and dynamics of terrorism and spiritual abuse.

People who are ignorant are that much more vulnerable to being manipulated and exploited by those who use terrorism (irrespective of their ‘side’ on the matter) to promote tools of violence as the way to solve problems rather than promoting tools of faith as the best way to engage most of the difficulties facing human beings. Ignorance is not bliss but is, in fact, one of the major causes of the perpetuation of the terrorist phenomenon, and those who perpetuate terrorism include not just terrorist groups but those who believe they can conduct a successful war on terrorism, along with those who blindly support either side.

All three of the foregoing elements (terrorists, those who conduct violent, oppressive campaigns against terrorists, and those who blindly follow either of these approaches) in the terrorist equation are steeped in ignorance of one kind or another. The following article seeks to critically examine some of the phenomenology and dynamics surrounding terrorist activity in the hope that insight rather than ignorance may inform a person’s understanding of this matter.

In a previous chapter (‘Fate Worse Than Death’) some of the dynamics of dissociation were explored in connection with the issue of spiritual abuse. In general, dissociation has to do with a state in which memory, consciousness, perception, identity, and understanding tend to become unconnected with one another.

Usually, one of the prominent causal features of dissociation is the presence of some form of trauma, intense stress, torture, abuse, and/or threat which pushes an individual in the direction of a phenomenological condition characterized by a combination of one, or more, of the following possibilities: despair, fear, terror, anxiety, alienation, de-realization (reality loses its sense of realness), vulnerability, loss of identity, doubt, insecurity, hopelessness, humiliation, de-personalization (loss of one’s sense of being a person), directionlessness (absence of any plan or ideas about how to proceed in life), purposelessness, depression, a sense of rootlessness (not feeling at home anywhere), demoralization, meaninglessness, lack of motivation, loss of control, and/or a sense of chaos and unpredictability concerning events.

The experience of dissociation may be acute (that is, transitory in nature) or chronic. Moreover, the intensity of felt dissociation may vary over a continuum of possibilities – ranging from that which is relatively low grade (although sufficiently strong to disrupt the way in which memory, identity, consciousness, perception, and understanding are normally connected to provide a relatively functionally coherent and consistent view of the world), to that which is severe and completely debilitating.

All forms of dissociation are experienced as being painful in essential ways -- although some forms may be felt to be more painful and more essential than others. Furthermore, due to factors such as personality, individual history, culture, and so on, different people may be vulnerable, to varying degrees, to the manner in which circumstances are experienced as dissociative in such essential ways

One of the primary reasons for the experience of psychic and somatic pain in conjunction with dissociation is that one’s essential sense of being a human is under attack. In other words, we all tend to think of being human in terms of the awareness, meaning, purpose, identity, choice, hopefulness, personhood, understanding, and sense of belonging (family, community, friends) which normally are woven into our perception of reality. However, if the force of circumstances, or one’s perception of the force of those circumstances, undermines one’s existential sense of what it is to be a human being, then, one begins to enter into a realm where our ideas about ourselves, others, and reality begin to dissolve. As a result, memory, perception, identity, motivation, and awareness begin to become dysfunctional, and whatever mode of glue (spiritual, emotional, conceptual, social, personal, philosophical, mythological) which was holding things together begins to dissolve and, as a result, one loses one’s sense of integration and rootedness.

Clinically speaking, DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition) identifies five categories which are intended to encompass the sorts of dysfunctional responses which might arise in conjunction with the experience of dissociation. These are: (1) dissociative amnesia (a form of memory lapse which affects one’s ability to remember important details about one’s personal history); (2) dissociative fugue (often characterized by the assumption of a new identity along with a lapse of memory concerning one’s previous identity); (3) dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder and a condition in which two or more distinct identities are believed to have arisen within one and the same person); (4) depersonalization disorder (an intense, recurrent sense of having become detached from, and no longer identifying with, one’s mental and bodily processes as one’s own); (5) dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (a grab bag classification which seeks to cover all other instances in which symptoms of dissociation exist but which do not appear to be subsumable under any of the previous four categories).

Dissociative disorders all constitute responses to the presence of felt dissociation. In one sense, all such responses are dysfunctional because they require one to lose parts of oneself in the form of lost memory, identity, awareness, perception, understanding and integration as the price which is to be paid for being able to function at all. On the other hand, considered from another perspective, however dysfunctional dissociative disorders may be relative to one’s normal way of doing things prior to the advent of felt dissociation, nonetheless, such disorders all constitute an attempt by the individual to forge a way of responding to, and dealing with, the intense pain of the dissociative state.

Given the foregoing, I believe that terrorist activities constitute a dysfunctional response to the felt presence of dissociation (in effect, I am proposing a new category for the dissociative conditions listed in DSM-IV). Furthermore, above and beyond the parts of an individual which, to varying degrees, are lost and have become separated from one another (such as identity, awareness, perception, memory, and understanding) through the choice of a dysfunctional response to the felt presence of dissociation, something else has become lost in the dysfunctional responses which are expressed through terrorism – namely, a terrorist is someone who has lost faith in the non-violent tools which God has provided through revelation and the spiritual teachings of the prophets and saints concerning the nature of Divine guidance.

Dissociation does not just mark an individual’s separation from memory, perception, identity, and awareness. The experience of dissociation may also induce one to lose contact with values, morality, faith, and ethical considerations.

One does not have to believe in God in order to appreciate the fact that if another person does believe in God, and, then, suddenly, due to the trauma of circumstances, becomes spiritually disoriented, the loss of contact with faith which may be entailed by such disorientation is likely to have a profound impact on the way in which that individual seeks to find ways of warding off the felt presence of dissociation. One does not have to believe in God to understand that if a person lives in a community or culture where religious themes play significant roles in the shaping of perception, identity, memory, and awareness, then, if such an individual either loses contact with faith, or, perhaps, never had any faith to begin with, that person is likely to couch one’s coping strategy in religious terms even if the underlying motivations are quite remote from any sort of authentic spirituality. And, if one does believe in God, then, the foregoing considerations are likely to be appreciated in an even more intimate way.

Similarly, just because someone couches his or her rhetoric in terms such as 'democracy', 'freedom', 'political duty', 'rights', and 'justice', this does not necessarily mean that such a person actually sincerely believes in democracy, freedom, and rights. Different cultures give expression to philosophical, political, mythological, social, and spiritual themes which some people seek to parasitically exploit to serve an agenda other than the purposes and principles actually valued by a given culture while, simultaneously, having the appearance (but only the appearance) of being appropriate uses of those principles and purposes.

Just as the sort of dissociative disorders noted above in conjunction with DSM-IV all can be seen as attempts to fend off the experience of dissociation, however dysfunctional such attempts may be, so, too, becoming a terrorist is a dysfunctional attempt to fend off the painful experience of dissociation. Just as the five categories of dissociative disorders noted above all give expression to dysfunctional attempts to establish a new way of trying to integrate being in the face of felt dissociation (a form of integration which can never be functional because essential parts of being have been lost or separated off from that process of integration), so, too, terrorist activities are an attempt to fashion a new manner of integrating experience – and, again, an attempt which can never be successful because essential parts of being have been lost or separated off from such attempts at integration.

None of the foregoing is meant to excuse the acts of a terrorist. Nor, is any of the foregoing (nor what follows) intended to suggest that criminal penalties may not be appropriate responses to terrorist activities -- after all, there are many people who may suffer from a pathological condition, and the existence of such a condition does not render the acts of those people less culpable although these sorts of condition may, or may not, be mitigating factors in the assigning of punishment for such crimes. However, trying to understand the dynamics of terrorist activity should be considered to be an important step toward learning how to treat such a condition in a way that is not, itself, predicated on, and steeped in, the dynamics of dissociation and, therefore, equally dysfunctional.

A terrorist is someone who during her or his encounter with dissociative states has lost contact with important facets of perception, memory, understanding, identity, awareness, and, as well, moral or spiritual values. Furthermore, in the process of responding to the felt presence of dissociation, such an individual has made, or has been induced to make, dysfunctional choices concerning the issue of how to fashion a new sense of integrated being as a way of dealing with, and fending off, the felt presence of dissociation.

As is the case with other individuals who choose dysfunctional, maladaptive coping strategies for dealing with the felt presence of dissociation, a terrorist is someone who has been pushed or pulled into a condition of dissociation through traumatic, stressful, and/or abusive events. When individuals, families, communities, governments, corporations, and/or nations pursue political, economic, social, religious, and militant policies which, intentionally or unintentionally, push people into dissociative states, then, the former agencies help sow the seeds for terrorism.

Alternatively, the foregoing comments concerning the issue of dissociation helps to explain -- whether one is dealing with terrorist groups or recruitment into the military -- why the best candidates for induction are people who are in their late teens and early twenties. This is so because, oftentimes, the lives of such people are in transition with respect to issues of purpose, meaning, identity, career, family, alienation, and values. As a result, such individuals are most at risk when it comes to being vulnerable to being induced to accept a 'solution' for their sense of dissociation which is wedded to the idea of a willingness to commit violence against anything which is painted as a potential means of pulling one (or one's society) back into dissociation.

One can examine almost any set of circumstances existing in the world today, or in the past, where terrorist acts are perpetrated, and one, invariably, will find the forces of dissociation playing a very fundamental role in the etiology of the disorder known as terrorism. Whether one is considering so-called Christians who murder doctors involved with abortion clinics, or: Ian Paisley’s Irish Protestant movement, the Aryan Nation, the Irish Republican Army, suicide bombers of Hamas, the Chechnyan Liberation movement, the Japanese group Aum Shinrikyo, Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, the Khalistan movement of militant Sikhs, the independence struggle in Kashmir, the violence of people such as Dr. Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, and the Israeli settlers movement, the Rwandese Patriotic Front-led murderous rampage against Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda, the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the Sendero Luminoso of Peru (The Shining Path), the Contras in Nicaragua, the Balkan wars, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka -- in all of the foregoing sets of circumstance (and many more which could be cited), a variety of historical, cultural, political, religious, ethnic, racial, philosophical, and/or economic forces converged together that pushed or pulled people (both collectively and individually) into dissociative states which threatened them, or were perceived to threaten them, with a loss of control, purpose, meaning, identity, and stature in their lives, and, as well, induced a sense of alienation, anxiety, stress, fear, doubt, chaos, unpredictability, helplessness, vulnerability, insecurity, despair, humiliation, hopelessness, and/or de-realization with respect to events going on around them.

For example, consider the 1967 Israeli defeat of the Arabs. Many Arabs referred to this defeat as “al nakba”, the catastrophe. Al-nakba alludes to something beyond just a military reversal. Indeed, the defeat was, in a sense, a symptomatic expression of something pathological in many facets of Arab affairs at the time – corruption, tyrannical governments, dysfunctional economies, modernism gone awry, incompetent politicians, failed socialist experiments, chaotic violence, fourth-rate armies, borrowed technologies, as well as fawning, subservient relationships with the major powers.

This notion of al nakba – the catastrophe -- is an indication of the forces (intellectual, cultural, political, social, technological, international, spiritual, and historical) which were pulling many Arabs into the currents of dissociation. The issue was not just a matter of ethnic, national, historical, racial, linguistic, military, and cultural dissolution, but spiritual dissolution as well … after all, if theirs was the true religion, then, how could God permit such things to happen … this led to a lot of unanswered questions about identity, purpose, meaning, truth, character, government, society, and spirituality which, in turn, pulled and pushed many Arabs further into the grip of dissociative states … states that rendered some of these individuals vulnerable to the spiritual abuse of those who were inclined to acts of violence and used the idea of a religiously-coated terrorism as the solution for reversing al-nakba and extricating themselves from the psychic and soul-wrenching pain of their dissociative condition.

Terrorism is the only dissociative disorder which seeks to push others into the same state of dissociation as the one which underlies that dysfunctional response. The purpose of terrorism is to seek, whether directly or indirectly, to induce the lives of others to become: chaotic, de-personalized, de-realized, alienated, fear-laden, stressful, anxious, unpredictable, insecure, meaningless, hopeless, vulnerable, purposeless, lacking in direction, depressed, despairing, filled with humiliation, and demoralized.

On the one hand, the purpose of terrorism is to maximize the collateral damage of dissociation in others – the ones who the terrorist perceives have been responsible, directly or indirectly, for the presence of dissociation in his or her own lives. On the other hand, the purpose of terrorism is to seek to induce those who are perceived to be the cause of dissociation in the life of the terrorist to cease and desist with respect to those activities which are believed to have led to the presence of dissociation in the life of the terrorist.

Generally speaking, although there are exceptions to this (e.g., Billy Milligan – if one considers him a true case of dissociative identity disorder), those who suffer from the sort of dissociative disorders listed in DSM-IV do not harm others. The dysfunctional, maladaptive coping strategies which arise out of the dissociative conditions underlying those strategies are primarily geared to help the individual cope with his, or her, own internal sense of dissociation in terms which are self-directed rather than other-directed.

In the case of terrorism, however, one of the primary driving forces being expressed through the dysfunctional, maladaptive coping strategies of a terrorist dissociative disorder is to do violence (emotional, psychological, social, physical, economic, and/or spiritual) to others. The terrorist believes that the cause of his or her felt sense of dissociation has a remedy which revolves around an external locus of control, whereas most dissociative disorders involve remedies which revolve around an internal adjustment (involving memory, awareness, perception, and/or identity) to the felt presence of dissociation.

The terrorist generates, or is induced to generate, delusions (belief systems which tend to be false and detached from actual conditions) concerning the role of the ‘other’ in the etiology of the felt presence of dissociation. These delusional states are possible because of a loss of contact with the sort of integrated elements of memory, perception, identity, and awareness which are necessary for performing a reality check -- a loss of contact which has been brought on by the presence of dissociative elements in the life of the terrorist.

The presence of felt dissociation does not automatically lead to a dissociative disorder. Furthermore, as indicated previously, although all dissociative disorders constitute dysfunctional, maladaptive coping strategies, terrorism is only one possible response to the felt presence of dissociation.

One of the factors which determines whether, or not, the presence of felt dissociation will lead to a dissociative disorder of the terrorist variety revolves around the issue of faith. More specifically, although the rhetoric of terrorism is often imbued with themes of God, Divine justice/judgment, religious truths, faith, and the like, one of the delusions from which a terrorist suffers is the belief that he or she is still in functional contact with tools of faith or morality.

Despite the religious rhetoric of terrorists, violence is not a tool of faith or morality. In fact, with very limited exceptions, the presence of violence is, usually, a symptom of an absence of faith or morality -- and this is as true for nations which collectively perpetrate violence and terrorism in the name of some delusional theory concerning God, democracy, and justice as it is for individuals who perpetrate violence in the name of some personal, delusional form of justification.

To be sure, certain acts of violence may be legitimately reconcilable with a spiritual or moral perspective within some limited contexts (at the same time this is not meant to dismiss the possibility of choosing to be non-violent, even at the cost of one’s life or the life of one’s loved ones, can also be a moral, faith-based response to the same set of circumstances). These contexts of, potentially, justifiable violence are far more limited and constrained than some people may suppose and usually involve repelling -- within boundaries which should not be transgressed -- direct, unavoidable, unprovoked or unjustified acts of physical aggression against one’s person, one’s family, or one’s local community.

Notwithstanding the foregoing sorts of special, limited circumstances (and, perhaps, not even then, as necessary as such acts may be), violence toward others cannot be considered to be a tool of faith or morality. Indeed, tools of faith such as: patience, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, love, compassion, charitableness, humility, nobility, integrity, objectivity, balance, hope, fairness, and honesty form an integral part of Divine guidance across all spiritual traditions due to, among other things, the capacity of such qualities to assist a person to find alternative solutions to problems which are not violent in nature. As such, tools of faith and morality are the direct antithesis of tools of violence as ways of seeking to: resolve conflict, worship Divinity, submit to Divine guidance, or treat others with righteousness and equitability.

In many instances, the delusion that violence toward others is a way of demonstrating one’s faith in, or love of, or commitment to, God has been induced through a process of spiritual abuse which is perpetrated by so-called ‘leaders’ who wish to manipulate, deceive, and exploit people – people who are vulnerable due to an on-going condition of dissociation -- to serve the non-spiritual ends of the ‘leaders’. Such ‘leaders’ teach a delusional approach to life rather than an approach which is rooted in the aforementioned tools of faith, but, the delusional ‘solution’ which is taught constitutes a much easier and simpler – albeit spiritually and morally reprehensible -- way of doing things.

Acquiring tools of faith is very difficult work. Acquiring tools of violence is relatively effortless, often taking not more than a few hours, days, or weeks of one’s time.

Acting in accordance with tools of faith requires considerable thought, reflection, focus, insight, prayer, meditation, and wisdom concerning all sides of a problem. Acting in concert with tools of violence often requires little thought except that which is given to how to perpetrate the act.

One of the primary obstacles to performing terrorist acts is the presence of faith. One of the primary techniques of spiritual charlatans (whether they call themselves shaykhs, ministers, imams, teachers, theologians, government leaders, muftis, preachers, rabbis, gurus, mujtahids, or the like) who are involved in terrorism and wish to entangle others in their violent delusions is to undermine, corrupt, eliminate, distort, or mislead whatever faith exists in a candidate for terrorism -- a candidate being defined as someone whose condition of dissociation makes them vulnerable to the development of dysfunctional, maladaptive coping strategies concerning the handling of such felt dissociation.

Perhaps the best way of illustrating the connection between spiritual abuse and terrorism is to take an in-depth look at the delusional systems which are created by those who wish to induce others to commit acts of terrorism. Although the following discussion focuses on the issue of jihad, the underlying principles and ideas are applicable to virtually any context in which one person (‘leader’), institution, group, agency, or government seeks to induce others to commit acts of violence on its behalf.

The delusional dimension of the process through which a susceptible individual (e.g., some, but not all, people who have been pushed toward dissociation as outlined earlier) buys into, or becomes shaped by, a delusional system (such as terrorism, or some other relationship of undue influence -- as in relation to so-called ‘mystical’ charlatans) is an extremely important element in bridging the transformation from non-terrorist to terrorist activities. Such delusional systems give expression to three main features which are very enticing to certain people in a state of dissociation: (1) delusional systems help an individual to escape the pain of dissociation by replacing a deep sense of: alienation, fear, stress, feeling scattered, doubt, malaise, anxiety, depression, identity diffusion, and the like, with a sense of purpose, meaning, direction, identity, coherency, direction, focus, motivation, and belonging; (2) delusional systems offer a coping strategy -- maladaptive though it may be -- for resisting the pull of dissociative states which, like vultures waiting for something to die, exist at the horizons of one’s life due to prevailing circumstances; (3) delusional systems provide a rationalized system of values which lowers the threshold with respect to a person’s willingness to commit violence against those who -- according to the delusional system being touted -- are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as having a major role to play in helping to bring about one’s previous condition of dissociation.

Anyone who believes that terrorists are, for the most part, inherently sociopathic monsters -- that is, they are born, not made -- completely misunderstands the phenomenon of terrorism. To be sure, there are certain individuals who gravitate to terrorist activities because of the presence of some form of mental pathology (such as anti-social personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and so on), but these individuals often become “leaders” within terrorist movements, and, consequently, such individuals tend to induce others to sacrifice their lives in the commission of violence rather than sacrificing their own lives.

The foot-soldiers of terrorism tend to be individuals who are “rescued” from a dissociative condition. There are “reasons” -- maladaptive though those ‘reasons’ may be -- for allowing oneself to come under the influence of a delusional terrorist paradigm concerning the ills of the world and how to ‘heal’ those maladies.

Individuals from financially and socially well-to-do backgrounds, who are well-educated, are as vulnerable to being pulled or pushed into dissociative states as people from a background of poverty who live amidst the bottom strata of society, and are poorly educated. The determining factor is not socio-economic but whether, or not, an individual is grappling with the psychic dogs of dissociation, and, thereby, is vulnerable to the enticements of the sort of delusional systems which appear to offer a way to free himself or herself from the painful, debilitating grip of dissociation.

One should try to keep the foregoing considerations in mind when reading the following discussion about jihad. Jihad -- when construed in the sense of indiscriminate violence – gives expression to a delusional paradigm which encompasses a variety of pay-offs for susceptible individuals. Some of these payoffs concern myths about the afterlife. Some of these payoffs involve the money which may be paid to one’s relatives when one sacrifices one’s life for ‘the cause’. Some of these payoffs may have to do with the adulation and respect which one believes will accrue to oneself when one has sacrificed one’s life. But, first and foremost, one of the major payoffs of such a delusional system is the way in which individuals in a dissociative condition are provided with a way out of that condition, not fully understanding (again, as a result of the influence of the delusional paradigm in which they are becoming entangled) that there is a huge price to be paid which dwarfs whatever payoffs may come their way -- that price is the loss of their soul and any remnants of authentic faith which they may have had prior to becoming entangled in terrorist activities … a loss which is due to a reliance on the tools of violence to solve problems rather than the tools of faith.

A considerable amount of time is spent in the following pages examining some of the arguments which extremist, fundamentalist jihadists use to try to justify violence, as well their selection of targets against which such violence is to be directed. By deconstructing the delusional character of the paradigm of violence, one is in a better position to develop programs and policies which are based on actual insight into some of the dynamics of the terrorist perspective rather than based on political theologies concerning democracy, capitalism, and freedom which, unfortunately, all too frequently are rooted in the very same kind of delusional phenomenology as the terrorists against which such theologies are aimed.

It is a very seductive argument -- whether this is propagated by would-be terrorists or by those who regulate the activities of military units -- to claim that acts of violence are warranted by goals of ‘truth’, ‘justice’, salvation, and ‘freedom’. It is a very powerful argument -- whether this is put forth by would-be terrorists or by those who regulate the activities of military units -- to seek to induce people to believe that God, duty, and/or honor sanctions or legitimizes violence against a given people or set of individuals. It is a very compelling argument to assert -- whether this is done by would-be terrorists or by those who regulate the activities of military units -- that one is engaged in a great, cosmic war between the forces of good and evil and that the side for which one is committing violence gives expression to the ‘good’ rather than the ‘evil’ and, consequently, this somehow sanitizes indiscriminate violence and rehabilitates it. It is a very alluring argument -- whether this is made by would-be terrorists or by those who regulate the activities of military units -- that all those who are labeled as ‘evil-doers’, or people of unacceptable spiritual pedigree, or people who will not submit to our way of life deserve to be oppressed or do not deserve due process, or are not worthy of equitable treatment.

Most of the following comments are directed specifically at those who are advocates of indiscriminate violence against people and societies that are considered to be un-Islamic, infidels, unbelievers, apostates, or insufficiently Muslim. However, the horizontal implications of the following comments are intended to extend to anyone who believes that indiscriminate violence against people -- irrespective of who these people may be -- is something which gives expression to civility, common decency, spiritual etiquette, or actually gives the most eloquent expression of what Divinity truly wishes for humanity.

Almost any spiritual or humanistic tradition can fabricate arguments justifying violence. However, almost invariably, such arguments totally distort principles by removing issues from their appropriate contexts and which, as well, ignore the many other principles of such a tradition which come down firmly on the side of tools of faith rather than tools of violence.

(To be continued tomorrow, God willing)

Anab Whitehouse

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