The psychology of terrorism is as important to combat as the terrorists themselves.

The Psychology of Terrorism

It may seem counter intuitive, but the way to defeat terrorism is to accept it, while still fighting it. The psychology of terrorism is as important to combat as the terrorists themselves.  We must cut off the oxygen from ISIS by embracing our peaceful Muslim allies and fellow Muslim citizens. All terrorists organizations need constant replenishment. We need to starve them out, not drive peaceful Muslims to their cause. Terrorism is not warfare, it is a war of hearts and minds. Their victories are not on the battlefield, but when they make us change our way of life through irrational fear of them. In N. Ireland 50,000 British troops were never able to defeat 300 IRA terrorist, and 300 IRA terrorists were never able to defeat the people of N. Ireland.

As someone who grew up in N. Ireland in the middle of a war zone, I have seen both the right and wrong ways to fight terrorism, what works and what doesn’t. One of the biggest mistakes made was setting up internment camps where known terrorists were held without charge. Sound familiar? It was an unmitigated disaster. Terrorist are unbelievably difficult to convict in the regular court system. Seen as a necessary evil because of the covert nature of their crimes, and lack of witnesses willing to testify against them. It was a great recruiting tool for the IRA and garnered them more sympathy from the catholic population.

The other lesson learned in N. Ireland was that the regular military are ineffective at defeating terrorist. The British Army, at the height of the troubles had 50,000 soldiers in N. Ireland, and yet it was the people who secured victory, not the military. Unlike a conventional army, terrorists do not have uniforms, and will not confront us on an open battlefield. Even if we win the battle in Syria where they hold ground, they will simply go back underground, replenish their forces and attack us on multiple fronts when least expected. No matter how many troops you have, they cannot defeat an enemy they cannot see or identify.

Instead of giving up our civil rights we need to accept that they have none. Since we cannot try them, we do not need to send them to an interment camp when we find them. Instead we need to supply the CIA with shovels, so when they locate known terrorists they can supply them with instant and permanent accommodations that will require none of our tax payer money to maintain.

The people of N. Ireland learned over time that terrorism had to be looked at the same way as traffic fatalities. It is an accepted risk, not allowed to affect their way of life. When a terrorist attack occurred, the cordoned off the area and life went on around it. When a street was bombed in the center of town, the stores in the rest of the street had a bomb sale the next day. The merchandise was new, just a little glass mixed in, and 50% off. These are the same tactics used by President Erdogan of Turkey after the airport bombing. He opened the airport within 24 hours, denying the terrorists the economic impact they intended and extended airtime.

After 9/11 the IRA realized their main source of funding would come to an end, as Irish-Americans would no longer see terrorism as a cool thing to support. They gave up their weapons and entered the peace process. When interviewed later, many IRA leaders stated they were demoralized by the people refusing to change their way of life, not the military. The saw the growing ambivalence of the people to their attacks as a giant middle finger to them.

American could have learned from what happened in N. Ireland, and other countries who had both battled terrorism for years. Instead, we did what we always do – declared ourselves the world experts in terrorism, even though we had little experience with it. We took no lessons or advice from others. The consequences for our arrogance is that we repeated the mistakes of the British and set up Guantanamo Bay; we gave the terrorists exactly what they wanted by being afraid to fly after 9/11; and to this day we are the drama queens of the world when it comes to our reaction to terrorists attacks.

We must win the battle against the psychology of terrorism in order to win the war. Thousand of people die every year in traffic incidents, yet no one freaks out and demands we ban certain groups of people from driving. Less than 100 die each year in the United States as a result of terrorism. We cannot respond by giving up our Constitutional rights. Banning Muslims and electing a strong man as our authoritarian leader is the response the terrorists want.

News flash – saying Radical Islamic Terrorism is meaningless rhetoric. What we need to do is understand what ISIS wants us to do, then do everything to avoid it. They want a war between Christianity and Islam; they want to turn the majority of peaceful Muslims to them by having us turn against them; and they want us to give up our freedoms and way of life because of our irrational fear. In other words, everything that Donald Trump wants to do is exactly what ISIS wants us to do.

Wil Donnelly

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