By Jerrold Post, MD
Dr. Jerry Post, a psychiatrist with twenty years at the CIA creating leadership profiles and now Professor of Political Psychology and International Affairs at George Washington University, has been a regular presenter at the Highlands Forum since its beginning in 1995. Over the years he has supported the Forum with research on the "insider problem" in organizations, a look at the disgruntled information technology insider who holds the keys to the organization in his hands; on the culture of risk in a distributed networked environment; and on the motivations of terrorists. Now comes his latest book, The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to al-Qaeda. Post has told us in past discussions: "it is not going too far to assert that terrorists are psychologically "normal" in the sense of not being clinically psychotic. They are neither depressed nor severely emotionally disturbed, nor are they crazed fanatics. In fact, terrorist groups and organizations screen out emotionally unstable individuals—who represent, after all, a security risk. There is a multiplicity of individual motivations. For some, it is to give a sense of power to the powerless; for others, revenge is a primary motivation; for still others, to gain a sense of significance. Rather than individual psychology, then, what emerges as the most powerful lens through which to understand terrorist behavior is that of group, organizational, and social psychology, with a particular emphasis on ‘collective identity’". In The Mind of the Terrorist Post traces individual groups and movements to explore the individual and the collective and he ends with a view of the changing face of terrorism. His conclusion is disturbing in that he finds them to be "normal", and Post tracks these cases to help identify how and why these people go on to become purveyors of terror. Better yet, Post lays out a number of recommendations on ways to cut the supply of those willing to kill and/or die, and soft power plays a large role. This is a valuable companion to Mark Jurgensmeyer’s Terror in the Mind of God for those who wish to know more about "who and why".