Why Terrorists Exist: It’s Not about Religion and Politics

Some people would say that terrorists are religious nuts. Some even believe that terrorists want to rule the world. Surprisingly, everything about that is false. That’s why it is unfair that certain communities are discriminated just because some of their people resort to terrorism. The real motivation of terrorists may surprise you.

The Study

Jessica Stern is the Pardee School of Global Studies’ research professor. According to Boston University, she managed to study the psyche of a terrorist who is imprisoned in Sweden. In August 2012, her whole probe reached six hours. Turns out, the terrorist’s main drive is not about ethnic beliefs – he just loved to kill people.

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Stern eventually wrote case studies about her encounters with many different terrorists. In April 2014, one of her studies was published in the journal titled “Behavioral Sciences & the Law.” She actually has been focusing on this kind of study for at least 20 years now. She successfully talked with extremist cults in the US, terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan and Israel, and India’s Hindu extremists.

The Reasons

Stern concluded that out of the many causes, drives and motivations she heard from the terrorists she interviewed, none of those exactly fit religion and political views. Some answers were interesting and unexpected.

Violent Household

Terrorists have bad childhood experiences. Some of those cases don’t necessarily refer to violence in the place they grew up in. Some terrorists can still remember clearly how their parents beat them up when they were still kids.


Now, here’s where general violence enters the picture. Many terrorists were traumatized as children by the horrors they saw in war-ridden countries. Their trauma develops into activism, and support or tolerance for violence.


Extremists love the excitement they get in terrorizing people. They love the adrenaline when things get risky.

Peer Pressure

This may sound petty, but some terrorists actually joined extremist groups to follow their friends. Some were probably pressured or blackmailed. Meanwhile, some just didn’t want the idea of ending friendships. Creating violence together seemed like a fun activity for them.


Some reasons are close enough to prove that religious differences cause terrorism. But, the root is much deeper than that. Some terrorists want to live in a world where there is only good and evil. They don’t want to deal with people who can be good or bad in some instances, which is a normal thing for humans. Some groups promise that notion using a certain religion. So, they easily gained terrorist recruits.

Source of Income

This is probably the saddest of all. Some terrorists are just plain desperate. In poor countries, terrorism becomes a job.


Most terrorists suffered injustice their whole lives. So, to feed themselves with the idea of justice, they terrorize the general population under the regime they loathe.


Stern considered humiliation as the risk factor for terrorists, especially the founders of extremist groups. According to her, one Kashmiri militant founded a terrorist group because he hated how the West overpowered Muslims. But, the hate is not mainly focused on western countries. Terrorists are humiliated that they are part of the world’s minority. In exact words, the terrorist group founder said: “Our ego hurts.”

Final Thoughts

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Interviewing terrorists is definitely not easy, according to Stern. The world-renowned researcher said that she must leave all of her personal opinions about terrorists before interviews. That’s why her research studies are so successful. Stern understood the pain and psyche of terrorists. The worst things they do come from the worst things they have seen and experienced growing up. Understanding terrorists’ motivations, drives and reasons can affect greatly on how to stop terrorism in the long run.