Terrorism and Religious Extremism:
A Mindful Approach

Steven Barrie-Anthony  What are the psychological factors that are responsible for terrorism?  What social conditions cause them to develop?  And what can we, as individuals, do to influence them?  The World-Trade Center disaster has provoked an intense U.S. led offensive against terrorism.  Most
people seem to think that this kind of war is something new.  It’s not.  Many other tragic conflicts in recent times fit the same model:

   • Genocides that occurred in Kosovo and Bosnia    • Attempted extermination of the Kulak peasant class in Russia • Actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia • Attempted extermination of the Intelligentsia in Communist China

 • Hutus vs. the Tutsies in the Congo

 • Turk’s genocidal massacre of the Armenians

• Holocaust of European Jews at the hands of the Nazi’s


• Similar conflicts within our own democratic borders (as will later
be explained)


While on the surface, these may seem like completely unrelated events, they all embody a similar core philosophy.  These conflicts are each characterized by having one group which sees itself as being tragically oppressed, and seeks freedom or prosperity through the annihilation of an ‘evil’ group of oppressors.  Sound familiar? It should.  The comparison between the scenarios mentioned above and the situation that prompted the September 11th attacks is obvious.  America is the perceived oppressor at which Bin Laden directs all of his rage.

Some people seem to think that wecan obliterate terrorism simply by wiping Al Qaeda and its ‘evil leader’ off the face of the earth.  Such a belief, however, is far from true.  Even if we kill every single

terrorist who lives on this earth today, the future would still remain uncertain. We do need military action, but we need to supplement it with psychological tactics.  We must know why these situations occur, and act accordingly.

The good news is that we have a basic understanding of how such conflicts emerge, and solid ideas as to how their development can be interrupted.  Central to the creation of people like Bin Laden is a concept called totalism.  For our purposes, totalism can be thought of as an exaggerated form of something that exists within each one of us: the tendency to see ourselves as wholly good and ‘the enemy’ as wholly bad.