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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Terrorism as Large Scale Domestic Violence

Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

What is Terrorism? How Can It Be Understood From Psychological Perspectives

Terrorism is a large-scale version of domestic violence.

Understanding domestic batterers1 can help us to understand the terrorists who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings.

Part I of this series of posts offers an overview set of understandings of modern terrorism.

Part II sets forth characteristics of batterers, and explores similar traits among terrorists as suggested by Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorists’ speeches and writings.

Part III uses what we know about treatment of domestic batterers to suggest intervention strategies for reducing terrorism.

First, however, the following letter describes the experience of living with a batterer.

Dear Dr. Heitler,

I have been married for 11 years to a very verbally abusive and sometime physical man. … He gets in fits of anger and screams at us. He barely talks to me. Everything I say he turns around. He blames me angrily for everything that happens in our home or with the children. He has physically hurt the children in the past, but I always jump in and then the verbal abuse starts really bad. He won’t talk or be affectionate with me. He just orders me around. ..

I am very nice to him all the time. I am an educated person with a masters degree, am cute, used to be fun, and am very scared to leave him. How do I do it?

I keep telling myself that the next time he hurts of us or goes into a rage I’ll call 911. He is keeping his anger just short of a rage. I know eventually he’ll have one. I want to wait until one so I have proof for court of his rage. The shelter told me this is the only way to document it. I also have a few tapes of his belittling which help me with the reality check. Please send me some advice.

Name withheld for safety purposes.

Domestic abuse has been the subject of considerable psychological attention over the past several decades. The 1979 publication of Lenore Walker’s ground-breaking book The Battered Woman stimulated research on batterers and informal learning by clinicians who work with abusive individuals and couples. By now psychologists have a fairly comprehensive understanding of how abusers act and think, and how and why an aggressive way of handling difficult situations is learned. The present chapter integrates this knowledge about batterers, best summarized in Dutton’s 1995 book The Batterer: A Psychological Profile, with my experience as a clinician specializing in therapy with high conflict couples (Heitler, 1998).

A Word of Caution and a Bit of Context

The analogy between batterers and terrorists raises a risk. To a man with a hammer the world is a nail. Psychologists studying the individual psyche of the terrorist risk minimizing the extent to which terrorism is a group activity, not a solo project.

Terrorism in today’s world is primarily conducted by Islamic believers in Jihad.  Jihad is war on non-Muslims toward the goal of establishing the dominance of Islam over all other faiths.  Some Muslims, such as those who follow Sufi teachings, interpret Jihad as an inner struggle to become a better person.  Most Muslims however agree that Jihad is a political war, that is, a war to become dominant over others.

Amongst Muslims who accept the latter definition of Jihad, the main issue is whether this war should be conducted violently or non-violently. Al Qaeda groups endorse violent methods such as suicide bombings and bombings like the 2013 Boston Marathon explosions. Muslim Brotherhood groups prefer non-violent means such as gaining political power via elections and political appointments and spreading sympathetic views of Islam through the public educational system and colleges.

Terrorism requires organizations. Both terrorist violence and Jihadist non-violent attempts to gain positions of power for Islam also require money, a communications infrastructure and volunteer workers.  Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, and also terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, provide weaponry, logistics expertise, recruitment, ideological reinforcement, communication networks, and middle and upper management to support their on-the-street workers.

Most of the terror that plagued the world from the late 1960’s through the mid-1980’s was the product of an ad hoc alliance between Soviet Communists and dictatorial Arab regimes (Netanyahu, 1995). This terrorism tended to flourish under the banner of nationalism with catch-phrases such as “self-determination for the Palestinian people” and with terrorists characterized as “freedom fighters.” This terrorism was international in the sense that Soviet and Arab states were training terrorists from all over the world, supporting them with funding and other infrastructure, and drawing attention to their causes by means of terrorist incidents on international airplane flights, ships (the Achille Lauro), and at the international Munich Olympics.

Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who ruled Iran in the 1980’s with “medieval philosophy, administrative incompetence, and a reign of terror” (Mohaddessin, 1993), is generally credited with first seeding Islamist2 terrorism around the world. Spreading in the 1990’s and flowering in the 2000’s, Islamist organizations–paid for by Iran, Iraq, contributions to Palestinian organizations, and Saudi Arabia–have initiated much of the world’s more recent terrorist activity.

Now however, in 2013, the term “global terrorism” generally refers to the interconnected Islamist terrorist movements that have been spawning religious-inspired violence in countries ranging from Albania, Algeria, Chechnya, Kashmir, Kosovo, and the Philippines to Afghanistan, Israel and the United States.

This article mainly turns on one nationalist leader—Arafat–and one Islamist leader—bin Laden–and their groups for illustrative examples.

Which Terrorists?

The analogy between domestic batterers and terrorists applies primarily to terrorist leaders. Mandel (2002) distinguishes between terrorist instigators–the leadership that conceives and plans terrorist acts–and terrorist perpetrators, the foot-soldiers who implement terrorist actions. Strengz (1981) makes a similar but three-group distinction: paranoid or narcissistic terrorist leaders, psychopathic technicians who provide the know-how for blowing people up, and relatively naïve foot-soldiers, “muscle,” and suicide bombers who implement the terror. The last group may be young people whose evil actions arise mainly from a Milgram-like3 obedience to authorities.

Terrorist leaders bin Laden and Arafat both sadly exploit their more naïve members. In a videotape of joyful celebrating with friends after the World Trade Center attacks Bin Laden intimated with apparent pride that some of his hijackers had not known that they were on a suicide mission.

Similarly, Arafat’s Palestinian terrorist recruiters lure compliant young men to end their lives with promises of fame as a heroic martyr, thousands of dollars for their families, 70 virgins waiting for them in heaven, eternal life in heaven alongside prophets, and total forgiveness for prior mistakes in their young lives. These young men have been primed since early childhood in schools and summer camps that killing Jews and martyrdom in the name of Palestinian nationalism are virtues in the eyes of their society (Nirenstein, 2001).

While they may be naively giving up their lives to earn what they have been told is merit, suicide-bombers and other foot-soldiers do adopt and enact the terrorist/batterer mentality of their leaders. In this regard, as Freud pointed out, groups take on the personality of the leader. Peer influence further solidifies a group culture. The result is an organization that functions as a terrorist entity. Thus, when this chapter talks about terrorists, it is referring to the mentality of terrorist leaders and also to their organizations.

PART II: Domestic Abusers and Terrorists: Similarities and Differences

Domestic abusers attack innocent spouses and children. Terrorists attack innocent citizens.

Both engage in aggressive acts to establish their power over others.

The choice and number of victims differs, but in almost all other respects the mentality of domestic abusers shares much in common with the mentality of instigators of terrorist activity. The central feature of this mentality is the core belief that verbal assaults and physical violence are acceptable behaviors and that establishing dominance over others is a valued goal.

Definitional Similarities and Differences

In the United States, state statutes define and criminalize domestic abuse., Colorado Standards For Intervention With Court Ordered Domestic Violence Perpetrators defines domestic violence as: (1) the infliction of bodily injury or harmful physical contact or the destruction of property or threat thereof (2) as a method of coercion, control, revenge, or punishment (3) upon a person with whom the actor is involved in an intimate relationship.

To be labeled a terrorist as defined by the US Department of Defense, similar criteria must be met: (1)“the unlawful use of—or threatened use of—force or violence against individuals or property (2) to coerce or intimidate (3) governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives (Hoffman, 1998, p.221).

These two definitions are remarkably similar. The targets differ: family members versus citizens who in the terrorists’ mind represent a government or society. Otherwise, however, the three defining elements are basically the same: 1) hurtful force against things or people 2) to establish fear-induced dominance in a relationship (3) over a targeted other.

In both cases a “political objective,” that is, establishment of power over others, is a goal of the verbally or physically violent action. This objective stems from the abuser/terrorist’s belief that he is a victim, and therefore has a right to reverse the hierarchy, putting himself on top and victimizing the other.

On the surface it may seem that domestic abusers act out in impulsive anger while terrorism is a planned event. In fact, however, domestic abusers, like terrorists, tend to ruminate at length on how they want to injure the spouse before the injurious episode. And terrorists, like abusers, also sometimes launch impulsive local actions such as Palestinian drive-by shootings against Israelis.

Batterers and terrorists do however have one significant point of difference. The abuser attacks the same victim that he wants to control. He generally has incentives, therefore, to injure without killing—so that the wife can live to do his bidding subsequently. The terrorist by contrast attacks a small subset of citizens so as to terrorize a larger citizenry. Terrorists therefore obtain more benefit from killing than just harming. The incentives for them favor maximizing the number of innocents they can murder in order to induce maximum terror in the larger citizenry.

What About Others Who Use Violence?

Batterers, bullies, tyrants, terrorists and criminals all use violence to control others and get what they want. There is significant overlap in mentality and behaviors amongst all of these purveyors of violence.

Tyrants who rule a country and terrorists who would like to rule both use unlawful violence against innocent citizens to obtain, wield, and maintain political power—as does a domestic abuser within his home.

The under-age batterers we call bullies target younger siblings or weaker peers at home and at school to play out power and dominance scenarios.

Thugs and criminals use violence to prey on others for financial or other personal gain.

Warlords and crime rings use violence both to control turf and for direct theft that brings them financial gain.

Note that police and military personnel also utilize violence. However, like forest firefighters who use fire to fight fire, violence professionals are trained and employed by a society to protect citizens from those who would harm them. Equating legitimate police and military action with terrorism would be like equating firefighters with arsonists, or equating doctors with purveyors of street drugs.

Is a Batterer Likely to Act Violently in More Than One Arena?

Yes. Verbally violent husbands are at risk for volatility and raging at employees in the workplace. Physically violent wife batterers have a considerable likelihood of abusing their children and also have high rates of crime (Dutton, 1995).

Tyrants make war against neighboring countries; and aggressors who attack neighboring countries are the most likely to commit democide (mass murder of their own population) (Rummel, 1994). Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein all invaded their neighbors, and also brutally abused and murdered their own citizenry.

By contrast, democracies do not go to war with one another (Sharansky, 2001). They use their armies only for self-defense.

Prior to 2001 New York World Trade Center terrorist attacks, terrorism, tyranny and crime intertwined in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and his Al Queda terrorists collaborated with the Taliban’s tyrannical Mullah Omar in a brutal reign of violence against people and things. They beat and imprisoned innocents, harshly subordinated women, and decimated the economy.

Bin Laden relied at least in part for funding and money laundering on criminal trade activity such as smuggling (Block and Pearl, 2001). It is no surprise therefore that eliminating terrorism and its infrastructure are essential for resuscitation of normal civilized life in Afghanistan.

Terrorism, tyranny, and criminal violence intertwine similarly in the Palestinian world. Arafat and the Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups that work under his Palestinian Authority umbrella tyrannize their population. The Palestinian Authority runs a virtual police state with a police-to-civilian ratio at a staggering eight times higher than that of the United States, and all heavily armed. Rampant human rights abuses, reported by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, include arbitrary detention, interrogation and torture, and summary executions (Berman, 2001).

More like a crime ring than a government, the Palestinian Authority profits from drug trafficking and car theft, demands protection money from businesses and has a patronage system that dominates virtually every sphere of life (Berman, 2001). A 1998 study by the European Union found that Arafat personally channeled close to $20 million in foreign aid intended for affordable housing in Gaza to financing construction of lavish apartments for his supporters (Berman, 2001)(Barber, 2001).

Part II: Overt Behaviors

Domestic abusers differ from healthy spouses in multiple ways. These characteristics clump into five arenas: overt pathological behaviors, underlying beliefs and concerns, relationship patterns, cognitive patterns, and deficiencies in communication and conflict resolution.

The central feature of the first of these areas, overt behaviors, is harmful speech and physical injury to accomplish relationship objectives.

Verbal Abuse

Battering begins with, and is sustained by, verbal abuse. Blaming rhetoric can include excessive criticism, trumped up accusations, angry shouting, intimidating threats, and name-calling. A batterer berates his wife so she will feel bad about herself and be weakened with guilt and shame. In his verbal harangues the abuser builds a case to justify his anger, his urge to dominate and harm, and his forthcoming criminal violence.

Terrorism, similarly, begins with hate-drenched rhetoric. Hyperbolic language and recitations of exaggerated grievances about the group the terrorists hope to destroy stir up the terrorists and their followers, priming them for heinous acts. For instance, in a Palestinian Authority sermon on September 26, 2001 the preacher says of Jews, “Allah has described them as donkeys who must carry the books of the Torah – but they have not carried them…. Allah is angry at them. They are cursed with the curse of Allah in this world and in the hereafter.” Indeed, not just Jews, but in fact all “those who die not for the sake of Islam, after the deliverance of the message of the Prophet Muhammad… will end up in the fires of Hell…” (translated on

Defamation via Media Pictures

Nowadays media pictures become an additional weapon for amplifying terrorists’ hate incitement. This is an arena where terrorists are able to go beyond the verbal abuse options of household batterers with regard to painting false damning images or t heir target population.

Footage of dead and injured Afghan children dominated TV coverage in the Arab world during the months of fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in spite of low casualties because of precision bombing (Trofimov, 2001). Many of these pictures are likely to have been photographs of healthy children painted with ketsup.

Palestinians flood their broadcast media with fabricated pictures of ostensible Israeli oppression to whip up support for their cause. The famous Al Dura photo of a man and his son supposedly huddled behind a garbage can as Israeli soldiers fired them has been solidly proven to be a hoax staged and filmed to provide false evidence for the Palestinian terrorism cause.  can

Palestinian terrorists of the Intifada they began in 2000 used to invite the press and television cameras before attacking Israelis.  They then purposely positioned their riflemen in residential neighborhoods so that when Israeli soldiers returned fire, television coverage could show injured Palestinians and demolished Palestinian homes.

Palestinian terrorists also would invite the press to staged rock-throwing events, endangering young boys in order to create fresh videos of bloodied children.

The Palestinian Authority also creates films of fictional aggression based on total lies. A film clip from Palestinian television offered a “re-enactment” of an assault by the Israeli army on a Palestinian house, culminating in the staged rape and murder of a little girl in front of her horrified parents (Nirenstein, 2001, p. 54). Needless to say, such propaganda is highly potent, particularly with uneducated Palestinian and other Arab masses.

Physical Violence

In Western civilization coercive violence against innocents is considered immoral, uncivilized, and illegal4. A batterer however feels that these rules do not apply to him. He feels entitled to use violence when his spouse does not respond as he wish her to, that is, when “she deserves it.” And he believes in its efficacy.

Bin Laden sums up his belief in the rightness and efficacy of terrorist violence in an oft repeated statement that he makes while waving a copy of the Koran, “You cannot defeat heretics with this book alone; you have to show them the fist!” (Bodansky, 1999, p. 387).

Palestinian terrorist groups likewise believe that talking and negotiation will be less effective in obtaining their goals than violence. In a sense they are right. While Israel is glad to discuss how best to arrange details of political co-existence, joint economic development projects, sharing of sparse water resources, improvement of roads and other infrastructure, etc., Israel is not interested in discussing options for eliminating herself. The Palestinian terrorists’ goal of elimination of Israel is not up for negotiation. Illegitimate violence may well be the only alternative for obtaining illegitimate ends.

Creation of an Atmosphere of Fear

Domestic abusers use a small number of harm-inducing acts to induce a general state of fearfulness and powerlessness. Lenore Walker (1979), who coined the term battered woman syndrome, notes that batterers control, intimidate, and terrorize women not only through violence directed specifically at them, but also by creating an atmosphere or environment of expected violence. Batterers create this atmosphere of impending danger with intermittent harsh treatment of family members, fights with strangers, and visible irritability.

Knowing that their occasional violence has frightened and subdued their targeted other, domestic abusers can then spend much of their time in normal and quite affable states of interaction.

Other batterers, however, like the husband described in the letter at the beginning of this chapter, lock into a continuously negative stance. Virtually all of their interactions with the spouse, except perhaps those in public view, may be negative and nasty.

Terrorists use hate rhetoric, threats, and intermittent attacks to create a similar environment of perpetual threat for the targeted group. A video of Bin Laden socializing with friends shows them chuckling about the fright that they believe their World Trade Center and the Pentagon terrorism has inflicted on Americans.

One expert on terrorism, Yossef Bodansky (1999), quotes a 1979 Islamist text, The Quranic Concept of War by S.K. Malik, to explain this appeal. “Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end in itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained hardly anything is left to be achieved” (p. xv).

In a similar vein, Abu Hafs, a top Al Qaeda leader, said in an Al Jeezeera TV interview in December, 2001, “…Striking horror, panic, and fear in the hearts of the enemies of Allah is a divine commandment…The Muslim has no other option” (MEMRI, 2001).

Isolation of the Victim

Abusive spouses typically threaten their partner, “Don’t tell anyone what happened or I’ll …” They also tend to block their partner from spending time with former friends and family. They “…isolate them from all social connection, both past and present, … to annihilate their wives’ self-esteem, to enslave them psychologically” so that the batterer himself has a sense of total control over the woman’s time, activities, social life, and information sources—i.e, total control over her life (Dutton, 1995, p. 12).

Terrorists isolate their victims by turning other nations against the population they are trying to subjugate (Heitler, 2001). Al Qaeda leaders portray their terrorism as undertaken on behalf of all Islam and want Islamic nations to sever their alliances with the US. Similarly, Palestinian terrorists pay massive attention to the media in order to turn world opinion against Israel and thereby isolate her from potential European and American support.

Escalation of Injuriousness Over Time

Batterers gradually escalate their verbal and physical violence. The violence of one day must be stepped up the next to effect the same emotional potency. Batterers’ rhetoric therefore becomes increasingly virulent, and their physical attacks become increasingly harmful. At some point each batterer sets a ceiling on escalation, but some do not set a ceiling until they reach the level of murder. Listed in order of increasing escalation level, battering actions may include:

  • Criticism, blame and accusations
  • Tone of nastiness with increasing voice volume
  • Name-calling
  • Verbal intimidation (“If you do that one more time I’ll …..”)
  • Threatening physical acts such as shaking a fist in front of the wife’s face
  • Throwing objects and breaking things
  • Pushing
  • Punching, slapping, choking, etc
  • Sexual aggression
  • Use of weapons such as a heavy object or knife
  • Killing, the culmination of violent escalations.

Terrorism similarly typically begins with hate rhetoric, and escalates from there, beginning with smaller symbolic actions.

Al Queda, for instance, began its physical violence with embassy bombings and the attack on the Navy ship the USS Cole, and escalated to the large-scale four-airplane coordinated attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center that killed 3000 people in one morning.

Palestinian terrorism in 1999-2002 began with rock-throwing, escalated to drive-by shooting of individual Israeli citizens driving in their cars, advanced to suicide bombings in crowded pedestrian malls and buses using explosives packed with nails and whirling bolts to maximize the damage that could be inflicted, and then rocket attacks. Israel is ultimately concerned with the development of biological weapons in Iraq and nuclear weapons in Iran.

The thrill of aggression, battle, and the kill can become addictive, stimulating an urge for ever-greater danger and destruction. At the same time, like domestic batterers, terrorists realize that increasingly dramatic and lethal deeds may be needed to achieve the same effect on their victim population over time. “To their [terrorists’] minds at least, the media and public become progressively inured or desensitized to the seemingly endless litany of successive terrorist incidents; thus a continuous upward ratcheting of the violence is required in order to retain media and public interest and attention” (Hoffman, 1998, p. 177).

Threats Lead to Action

The batterer who shouts, “I’m going to beat your brains out!” is preparing himself to implement this threat. When Hitler’s speeches told the German people he wanted to kill the Jews, those Jews who took the threats seriously and left the country proved to be fortunate.

Al Qaeda threatens to bring Islam to dominance worldwide. They call for jihad, for holy war against enemies of Islam (Bodansky, 1999). In his book America and the Third World War, Bin Laden calls on the entire Muslim world to rise up against the existing world order. By 2001 bin Laden had in fact succeeded in creating a global terrorist network, a network whose post-Afghanistan potency is still uncertain.

Arafat’s Palestinian terrorists, in Arabic pronouncements, declare that their goal is to return all of Israel to Arab control. They threaten a multifaceted strategy that includes terror, getting what land they can from negotiation, launching military attacks from land obtained by negotiation, and dominating Israel’s democratic government via population increases from high birth rates and return of Palestinians living in Arab countries. These threats also must be taken seriously.

Dangerousness Increases with Altered States of Mind

Drugs and alcohol increase the likelihood that a batterer will have a violent episode, and increase the likely extent of harm. Obsessive rumination, which creates an altered state of mind and elevated emotions, also primes batterers for violence. Battered wives sometimes report that their spouse will wake them up in the middle of a night to act out the vision of violence he has been rehearsing in obsessive ruminations. Such ruminations pump up internal rage, further increasingly the likelihood of an emotionally explosive situation.

Islamic religion proscribes the use of alcohol, although the foot soldiers (though not the leadership) of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorists apparently did frequent bars. The Al Qaeda terrorism manual instructs terrorists to induce an altered state of mind suitable for violent action with religious readings. The video Jihad in America documents Islamic extremist (Islamist) leaders meeting with followers in the US and inducing anger with hypnotic-like religious jihad rhetoric (Emerson, 1994).

Arafat’s Palestinian Authority systematically stokes the fires of frustration, desperation, and hatred with a steady diet of hate propaganda on its radio, TV and newspapers and in its state-controlled mosques and educational system (Ragen, 2000). Suicide-bombers-in-training are then further indoctrinated with religious and nationalistic ideology.

Palestinian propaganda utilizes hypnotic-like repetition of emotionally evocative phrases and images. The term “occupation” for instance is incendiary, in spite of the reality that it has no legal basis and that most Palestinians live in areas that have been conveyed to Palestinian self-rule. Popular songs such as a recent hit song in East Jerusalem entitled “I Hate Israel” stir up anger on a daily basis. Vivid heroic imagery of martyrdom, directed toward even young children on programs like Sesame Street and in textbooks at every grade level, inspires zeal for jihad in youth of all ages (Nirenstein, 2001).

Blatant lies about Israel further fan distress–announcements that Israeli soldiers give Palestinian children poison candy, reports that Israeli tanks have nude women soldiers standing on top of them to seduce Palestinian men, fabricated reports of bombardment and “genocidal killing” of Palestinian citizens (Kelley, 2000), and, as mentioned above, enactments on TV of men dressed as Israeli soldiers raping Palestinian girls (Nirenstein, 2001). Arafat himself even declared that Israel was using depleted uranium and nerve gas against Palestinian civilians. “Official Palestinian Authority TV obligingly furnished “evidence” for this charge, broadcasting scenes of hapless victims racked by vomiting and convulsions” (Nirenstein, 2001, p. 54).

Palestinian terrorists described their actions as spontaneous acts of desperation of a frustrated people. The people no doubt do feel desperate, and rageful states of mind do increase violence potential and intensity, but this desperation has been carefully nurtured by a steady diet of incitement.

Dangerousness Increases with Availability and Lethality of Weapons

Husbands who batter inflict more damage than wives who batter because they have more muscle. Similarly, the presence of guns in a home increases the likelihood that domestic violence will become lethal.

Terrorism becomes increasingly dangerous to the extent that terrorists have access to heavy weapons. The World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks woke America up to the reality that terrorist groups could obtain dangerous weapons—hijacked planes used as missiles—without having to do the engineering, manufacture or purchase of sophisticated weaponry themselves. President Bush subsequently identified an “axis of evil” of nations whose bioterror and nuclear weapons pose most extreme dangers to the United States and its allies.

Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and associated terror groups have stockpiled an army’s worth of heavy weaponry. Arafat diverted money from international sources intended for international aid into purchase of armaments, plunging his Palestinian population into economic ruin but posing significant danger of military harm to Israel (Berman, 2001).

Psychopaths and Vagal Reactors

Amongst domestic abusers, additional psychological/biological factors seem to characterize a substantial subgroup. Dutton (1995) estimates that about 40% of the batterers who come to his clinic meet the diagnostic criteria for psychopathic or antisocial personality disorder (p. 26). These men tend to be the most recalcitrant in their lying and violence. They are the most likely to have a history of other criminal activity.

Studies by Hare (1993) have identified a disturbing commonality in this psychopathic group. They lack the emotional response of regret or pangs of empathy for the victim that other batterers show after the heat of the moment. Emotions trigger thoughts of remorse such as “I feel so terrible; how did I lose my temper like that!” These feelings and thoughts of guilt or shame, for most batterers, quickly shift to blame-“I wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t …”. Nonetheless, they do experience at least a passing moment of distress and conscience.

Psychopaths, by contrast, experience virtually no such feelings or thoughts. Brain scans performed on psychopaths indicate that when they look at scenes of violence they do not experience the normal activation of fear or pain. They think but they do not feel. Whether this condition is genetic, or caused by a permanent shutting down of emotional responsiveness in the face of harsh treatment in their youngest years, the reality in their adulthood is that they do not have the brain wiring that enables most adults to empathize with others or to look back and experience regret about causing others to suffer pain.

Further study of psychopaths by Jacobson (1993) suggested that about half of these men, which account for about 20% of batterers, show an additional neurological deficit. These men cool down instead of heating up in violent situations. Their vagal nerve, the nerve which conducts impulses between the brain and the muscles of the heart, lungs, and abdomen, reacts atypically. These “vagal reactors” actually show less instead of more internal emotional response when they are becoming violent. Whereas most people, when they become aggressive, experience a speeding up of their heart rate, sweaty palms, and heavy breathing, vagal reactors feel increasingly calm.

The Cycle of Violence

A three-phase cycle of tension build-up, violent episodes, and calm with contrition–termed “the cycle of violence” by Lenore Walker (1979)—characterizes the long-term relationships of battering individuals. The continual cycling in and out of angry arguments occurs in part because for many batterers fighting serves purposes beyond conflict resolution. Batterers may pick fights in order to release anxieties, counter depression, or bolster their self-esteem with an enhanced sense of personal power as much as to solve an actual dispute.

  • Phase I: Tension building. Superficial normalcy, with increasing verbal violence.
  • Phase II: Acute battering explosions.
  • Phase III: Calm. Recuperation after violent episodes may be accompanied by apologies and promises of repentance.

The most deceptive of these phases is the calm phase, when the perpetrator regroups and may regain credibility by appearing cooperative and even charming. This phase offers perpetrator and victim a respite before the gradual return to Phase I, preparation for the next violent incident. The absence of overt physical violence however may lull the victim and third parties into believing that battering will not recur. The wife typically begins to question whether the prior violent episode really happened. She may minimize it –“Oh well, it wasn’t that bad.” “My black eyes only lasted a day or two.” She is at high risk for sliding into believing her wishful thinking that the batterer has changed.

The United States was misled by third phase calm after the Embassy, USS Cole, and first World Trade Center bombings. The President, State Department, and Congress indulged in wishful thinking, disregarding warnings that terrorist violence would continue. Reports from terrorism experts of continued risks were labeled alarmist or right-wing and cast aside in a manner analogous to the minimizing of women married to battering spouses.

Palestinian terrorism over the past dozen years shows particularly clear cycles of build-up, violence, and then apparent cooperation. Abusive rhetoric in the early 90’s (Phase I) initiated (Phase II) a first intifada of young men throwing stones against Israeli soldiers. That intifada ended in 1993 with the “peace process” initiated at Oslo. The seven years of the Oslo period launched a phase of quiet (Phase III).

By the late 1990’s a return of Phase I tension-build-up was evident in increasingly vitriolic Palestinian propaganda rhetoric and intelligence reports of Palestinian plans for a resumption of violence. Islamist religious-based terrorists, mostly led by a new generation of younger leaders, formed Hamas (Shikaki, 2002) and gained significantly in popularity. Hamas enthusiasm for violence appealed to a Palestinian population made increasingly destitute by Arafat’s corruption and heavy investment in arms purchases and police salaries (Hroub, 2000).

In the fall of 2000 at Camp David, Arafat turned his back on the Clinton/Barak offers for a Palestinian state, giving instead a green light to his terrorist groups to resume their violence (Phase II). Stone-throwing young men backed by older men with guns—and eventually also mortars and suicide bombings–invited reprisals from Israel. As of the writing of this article in 2002, the cycle is in an active violence Phase II. It may proceed into another ceasefire (Phase III) with a corrupt Palestinian Authority still governing, the Palestinian and Israeli people both suffering increasingly, and a likely return eventually to more rounds of violence. Or, the Israel Defense Forces may take strong action that eliminates Arafat’s terrorist groups from their positions of power. The latter scenario would be designed to terminate the cycle of violence, enabling new Palestinian leadership capable of problem-solving, not just hate propaganda and violence, to emerge and an era of mutual respect and cooperation from both sides to begin.

Part III: What Motivates Batterers and Terrorists

Batterers assert that they only act violently because their wife should have done this or should not have done that. In reality, batterers become violent because coercion is how they resolve conflicts, feel in control and powerful, and avoid feeling shame.

Terrorists similarly proclaim a rationale that blames the victim and justifies their cause. They genuinely believe that their violence serves righteous ends—holy jihad, domination of the Great Satan (America); elimination of the Little Satan (Israel), etc. Underneath these justifications however lie deeper motivations.

The Urge to Dominate

The triggering event for a battering episode typically derives its power because it raises questions of ‘who is in control here?!” Batterers are motivated by an overwhelming sense that they must control and subjugate the other. Perhaps this urgency derives from experiences as children of having been harmed; perhaps their parents were not able to “tame” them to accept others’ concerns as well as their own; perhaps dominance is in some people’s hard wiring; or perhaps they learn domination from the culture in which they grow up. How much is from nature and how much from nurture is unclear, but the urge to dominate in these individuals is very real.

Al Queda terrorists feel subjugated by the United States; they seek to reverse their position instead to dominance. Islamists view the West as infidels who have been dominating their Islamic culture. They feel compelled therefore to what Bodansky refers to as “a surge toward dominance worldwide” (1999, p. 386). They also resent and feel they must wrest control from secular Islamic rulers, rulers who do not allow religious leaders with a fundamentalist version of Islam to control the state.

Words like ‘oppressed,’ ‘subjugate’, and ‘dominate’ pepper Islamist and particularly Al Qaeda writings. “Terrorism is the means for calling on the oppressed to terrorize the tyrants,” writes Bin Laden’s supporter Mustafa Kamil in his book Terrorism Is the Solution (Bodansky, 1999, p. 403). Similarly, Islamist scholars in Jordan proclaimed in 1999: “O Muslims! Today you are between two alternatives: either you are silent, submissive and acquiescent of what the puppet rulers are doing to you, and whatever results from the domination of the infidels over your countries and resources, and from your downfall and utter ruin in this life and in the afterlife. Or you move effectively to seize the power of those rulers…for ..our return to our past glory as the greatest Ummah the most powerful state ….” (Bodanksy, 1999, p/ 389).

Arafat is similarly locked into oppressor/oppressed assumptions about relationships5. The abrupt departure of Arafat from the 2000 Clinton/Barak/Arafat Camp David negotiations unveiled the reality that Arafat’s ostensible goal of Palestinian-Israeli peaceful coexistence was a sham. He turned out to have been gaining time to arm his security forces in order to crush Israel. Living in side-by-side states was the American and Israeli goal. Arafat’s goal, as stated in the PLO charter and removed legalistically but not in the hearts of PLO leaders and membership, was not co-existence. It was domination, or better yet, elimination, of the Jewish state.

Hypersensitivity to Humiliation and Shame

Humiliation and shame play a central role in domestic abuse. As Dutton (1955) explains, “People who have been exposed to shame will do anything to avoid it in the future. They blame others for their behavior. .. The shame-prone person feels the first flashes of humiliation at the slightest affront and responds quickly with open rage or humiliated fury. … . Both (shaming and blaming) are hallmarks of the abusive personality. … …Externalizing blame protects the individual from having to re-experience the shame.” (pp. 90-91)

Seeds of sensitivity to shame generally  are sewn in painful shaming experiences growing up. Shame may be powerfully evoked in childhood from abusive family interactions, abandonment, rejection, or distress associated with a parent who was reputed to have shamed the family with financial failures or sexual infidelities. Shaming also may have occurred in school from bullies or harsh teachers who control their students with humiliation. Psychological theory posits that a pool of rage and shame may lie latent until adulthood when the feelings re-emerge and fuel verbal or physical battering to fend off potentially shameful feelings. (Dutton, 1955)

Saudi intelligence profiled Bin Laden, portraying him as a loner in a large family of 52 children who were raised in the strict puritanical Wahhabi sect and whose father was killed in a plane crash when Bin Laden was 11 or 12 (McFadden, 2001). As a teenager Bin Laden is said to have flown often to Beirut where he partied in casinos and nightclubs, chased women, and got into occasional brawls. The shaming piece may have centered on his mother, a Syrian woman who was set apart from the other wives. The whisper of scandal that surrounded her may have deeply affected her son (NY Times, p. B5, Sept 30, 2001).

Bin Laden’s hatred of “Zionists and Crusaders” is based on his view that the West has “debased Saudi Arabia with corrupting Western influences.”(Bodansky, 1999, p. vii) The word debased resonates with the larger sense of shame at Islam’s having lost its dominant position in the world. In the 7th century, Arab forces retreated from Europe in the face of European armies, and have continued to decline in global power and influence to the present time. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in Vienna in the late 17th Century proved to be a final crushing setback, followed by ever-increasing internal weakness, war, tyranny, and corruption–while the West has risen to economic and scientific ascendancy (Lewis, 1995).

This cause—the renewal of Islamic hegemony—attracts both wealthy and poorer followers to the Islamist banner. In many ways the ideology is strikingly similar to Hitler’s Nazi appeal to Germans to become again a superior race. Both start from a position of feeling shamed and seek to return to a former status of dominance.

Wanting to Be Good

Domestic batterers want to be seen as powerful. In their understandings, being strong and dominating are good traits.

Terrorists are similarly motivated by following the religious command to Jihad.  If they help Islam to become powerful and dominant in the world, they are conforming to what they believe their society and religion considers to be the highest good, domination and/or killing of infidels.

Part IV Terrorist and Batterer Relationship Patterns

Psychologists focus on “attachment patterns” to understand individuals’ behavior in relationships. That is, the type of bonds children experience in their relationships with their parents tend to be repeated in their adult intimate relationships. Batterers tend to form relationships in which they feel attached and needy of the other, but experience anger to the point of rage when the other seems to frustrate and fail them. They experience such frustration, however, in circumstances that most people would read as non-provocative or at best mildly irritating.

Anger, Hate, and Victimology

What causes a batterer to hate his wife? Many factors within an individual who is prone to blame others for problems, to “externalize” as psychologists say, can lead from frustration to anger to hatred.

Psychologists use the word “transference” to describe the phenomenon of transferring onto figures of adult life feelings that first developed in response to parents or other important figures in the family of origin. An adult who consciously or unconsciously resented his parents or a sibling is likely to development resentments toward his spouse

A batterer may lock into a stance of anger because he views his wife with suspicion and distrust, and therefore interprets her innocent actions—say, leaving dishes unwashed on the countertop–as meaning something negative, e.g., that she does not care about him. This interpretation fuels feelings of fury as if his guess about his wife’s motivation were based on fact.

Angry feelings at his spouse tend to well up in a batterer when the vicissitudes of his life are posing problems. Life circumstances that produce anxiety such as difficulties with a boss or financial insecurities produce elevated emotional levels that quickly transmute into anger. Batterers may hate also in order to distract themselves and their victim from these distressing problems—especially if they feel ashamed of their problems and do not want to discuss them.

Batterers tend to experience anger in place of vulnerable feelings like hurt, sad, shame or fright. They create a narrative that explains why they should hate, and then fixate in a stance of anger, distrust, and revenge at the scapegoat. In this way they flip vulnerable internal feelings outward so that they can feel empowered by anger instead of weakened with disappointment or fright.

Terrorist leaders do the same. Terrorists identify scapegoats they can hate. Having an enemy can be invigorating; hating brings coherence and purpose to one’s life.

The Islamic concept of Jihad gives religious sanction to hating and dominance.  Anyone who professes a religion other than Islam, or other than the terrorist’s particular subgroup within Islam, is labeled an infidel.  Hatred and domination over infidels are the goals of Jihad, which is a religious imperative.


Ironically, both batterers and terrorists typically believe that they are not the instigators but rather the victims of wrongdoing. They feel anger and hatred in response to something they regard as a wrong that was done to them. They believe that because they are victims, they have a right to be angry. Because they are victims, they have a right to hurt others.

Ultimately, “victimology,” the belief that because I am a victim I have a right to victimize others, lies at the heart of the self-justification for violence.

Hierarchy and Oppression

As described above, the urge to dominate arises in part because a batterer sees all relationships as hierarchical. Either I dominate you or you are subjugating me. Batterers’ vocabulary of relationships does not include cooperative egalitarian partnership.

Terrorists similarly assume that relationships inevitably involve someone on top, maliciously controlling others, and someone below, exploited and humiliated. They typically accuse their enemies of this kind of hierarchical and oppressive mentality, assuming that the other acts the way they would in the dominant position. Thus Bin Laden talks of America “dictating” to the rulers of Saudi Arabia (Bin Laden, 1998). A Saudi Arabian Islamist insists, “Jews hate those of all other races except their own, and think that… others are their slaves and created only to serve them…” (MEMRI, 2002d).

Palestinian propaganda demonstrates this view of relationships as inherently dominant/submissive with its insistence that Israel’s presence in Palestinian areas is occupation. The inflammatory term “occupier” accurately expresses the Palestinian sense of victimization and subjugation, but it says more about the subjective feelings of Palestinians than about the legal or political reality, as Israel has granted these most of the area within territories self-governance under the Palestinian Authority.

Legally, the Israeli presence in the West Bank disputed territories does not constitute an occupation. Multiple Arab states lined up to attack Israel in 1967. Israel succeeded in fighting them off. The result of this defensive war was that land on which Arab tanks had been amassed, land that had been under the control of Jordan, was transferred to Israeli control.

International law designates that lands taken in response to military threat from neighboring countries can legitimately be administered and even annexed by the new controlling entity. After World War II, for instance, America undertook administrative responsibility for the Philippines. The Sudetenland and the Free City of Danzig were annexed unilaterally and ratified by the UN (Goldbert, 2001). Again, Palestinian use of the term occupier can be understood as an accurate description of the subjective experience of Palestinians, but it is a distortion as a label of the legal reality.

In some ways Palestinians rightfully describe Israeli “occupation,” but they seem unaware of the role of Palestinian terrorism in inviting occupier-like behavior. A recent incident in my state of Colorado illustrates this phenomenon. Two dangerous prisoners escaped from a local prison, killing a policeman in their escape. The full town was put under blockade and the people of the town told to stay in their homes or offices until the criminals were arrested.

Similar “lock down” was implemented in the Washington DC area during the DC Snipers killing spree in   Again in Aparil of 2012 police in Watertown, Massachusets ordered citizens to stay indoors until they captured the last of the two Boston Marathon bombers.  Note also that in both of these cases, the killers were motivated by Islamic ideas of Jihad.

When Palestinian terrorists commit similar criminal violence, the Palestinian people are similarly restrained while the Israeli army attempts to capture the dangerous felons and prevent further attacks. The Palestinians however then say to Israel, “Look, you are an occupying army!” There is a measure of truth and also of irony in this accusation. The terrorism intended to subjugate Israel actually brings forth Palestinian subjugation.

Part V: Family Modeling and Psychological Stances

Most battering is learned behavior. Domestic batterers may have grown up in a household where they observed their father interacting in a controlling, demanding, or abusive way toward their mother. The batterer as a child may have been treated abusively himself.

In a healthy family the parents are firmly and authoritatively in charge. In a battering family, by contrast, one or both parents is likely to be either overly controlling—intrusive, strict, harshly punitive, or verbally or physically abusive—or overly permissive. In the latter case the child himself may have learned to control the adults via anger and tantrums.

Children who grow up in families where domination (by parents or children) lets you rule the roost are likely to carry on this tradition in their adult lives. Cooperative problem-solving is not in their repertoire. Rather, they learned from their families that the way to get what one wants in frustrating situations, and the way to stay safe, is to dominate the other.

Several journalists who interviewed the father of Mohammed Atta, the lead terrorist in the World Trade Center attacks, commented on his seeming to be an angry man. It is certainly possible that Atta grew up with an authoritarian father who modeled angry, blaming, and perhaps abusive behavior. Similarly, abuse in Palestinian families, known to be widespread (Feldner, 2000), may teach children that physical violence is a legitimate way to obtain their goals, personal and political.

Chronic Stance of Distrust

The abusive person tends to distrust information from the other whom he abuses. He develops beliefs about what she really thinks, and disregards anything she says that differs from his prior assumptions. For instance, one verbally abusive man in my clinical practice keeps iterating that his wife, an independently wealthy woman who is divorcing him, will not leave him with enough money to live on. As many times as his wife tells him the generous instructions she has given her lawyer, he still insists that she is not going to do what she has said. Unfortunately, my client’s distrust is so provocative that he may well eventually convince his wife to renege on her word and leave him with less money than she had planned.

In a similar case, another verbal batterer in my practice fears that his girlfriend will leave him. His mother had abandoned him by committing suicide when he was a youngster. When his girlfriend so much as looks aside when she is talking to him, he berates her for not caring about him, fearful that if he allows even her eyes to stray she too will abandon him. This chronic distrust generates anger because the batterer believes his interpretations rather than the reassuring information his wife offers him. So much anger makes the batterer most unpleasant to live with. Women therefore do in fact leave him.

Osama Bin distrusts the United States. Irrespective of what American officials might declare he is certain that America is seeking to dominate the Islamic world and that American troops are dishonoring Saudi Arabia

Arafat distrusts Israel. Despite offers from Israel’s former prime minister Barak to create a full Palestinian state, he believes Israelis decided long ago to keep the territory they took in the war Arab countries waged against them in 1967. Arafat’s terrorism may however prove him right. His Palestinian Authority government may in fact drive Israel into permanent annexation of the disputed land as a desperate measure to halt Palestinian terrorism.

Obsession with the Other

Paradoxically, in spite of a batterer’s distrust and anger at his spouse, he also tends to think of her obsessively, getting stuck on the object of his pounding. The more anger he feels, the more bound he becomes to his victim in his inability to stop thinking about her. The anger can become like an addiction. Sadly, the batterer may sacrifice investment of his energies in healthier and more productive satisfactions to this obsession with controlling his wife.

Terrorists obsessed with overpowering those they hate likewise may neglect healthier life projects. As Al Queda and the Taliban focused increasingly on dominating and punishing infidels, they spent less time on health, education, and stimulating a healthy Afghan economy. By the end of their rule, poor Afghanistan lay in ruins, their economy, the education and health systems, and even most of the buildings, in shambles.

The same pattern has occurred with Arafat. The economy in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority has cratered as its resources were poured into buying and building munitions with all other sectors left fallow. Normal life has shriveled up to the point that neighboring Jordan has closed its doors to Palestinians because so many want to leave their land. With the Palestinian leadership blaring on their controlled media that Israel alone is to blame, only anger against Israel has been able to flourish.

Zero Toleration of Difference in the Other

The domestic batterer finds differences between himself and his spouse intolerable. When he wants to walk fast and she is walking slowly, he experiences frustration and anger. Instead of comfortably accepting that her pace is simply more leisurely, he may interpret her slower pace as wrong, personalize it as an attempt to make him mad, regard her slow pace as a power play–and then criticize her, demanding that she walk faster. Differences trigger a belief that there will be a winner and a loser, and he certainly does not want to be the loser. Differences become threats to his integrity, autonomy, and self-esteem.

Toleration of differences may be learned initially from parents’ responses to their children. Abusive parents have zero tolerance when their child does something other than what the parent wants them to do. When a young boy is shamed for gentleness– “Don’t be such a sissy!”—or told he can’t be who he feels he is –like Hitler who always wanted to be an artist—he learns intolerance of others who are different. Harshly punitive parenting teaches the child to hate the parts of himself that differ from how the parent says he should be—and to be angry at others who do not act the way he thinks they should. The harshly overly-controlled child may develop an urge to wipe out those who are different in his society the way he was punished for what was different in himself.

Alternatively, intolerance can come from parenting that is overly permissive, with the child controlling his parent by raging and hitting. As mentioned above, either excessively authoritarian or excessively permissive parenting–-particularly when these have been coupled with witnessing violence between his parents–- may train a child for abusiveness as an adult.

Part VI: Terrorist and Batterer Cognitive Patterns

All of us, most of the time, rely on habitual patterns of behavior. When we get into the driver’s seat of a car, we do not need to think about how to start the motor, steer, or brake; these actions have become automatic patterns. Thinking patterns become similarly automated. The mental processing habits that batterers develop, however, tend to block smooth information flow and ignite conflict. The essence of these provocative patterns is their underlying stance of “I’m okay, you’re not okay”. Batterers perceive events with distortions that enable them to maintain the fiction that what they do is only virtuous and what the other person does is always wrong.

Blame Instead of Insight

To the batterer, problems are not for solving, they are for blaming. To the healthy individual, mishaps trigger a search for insight, for understanding, for learning, and for problem-solving. This forward-looking orientation assumes that mistakes and misunderstandings happen, and responds to them with a process of insight, self-correction and re-programming that prevents similar mishaps in the future. One couple in my practice, for instance, did not have enough money one April to pay their taxes. One had seriously overspent and the other was not earning at the level he could. Instead of using their energies and time with blame and recriminations, however each spouse focused on what s/he could do to scrape up funds for the time being, and then looked ahead at how to insure that tax money would be build into their future financial planning. A batterer, by contrast, externalizes; that is, he immediately looks outward. He assumes someone is at fault and wants to be certain that the stigma of blame gets pinned on someone other than himself. He regards himself as a blameless victim of the other’s actions.

  • Blame the victim: after committing violent acts, the batterer immediately clarifies that his violence was the fault of the victim. “I only did it because she….”
  • Blame the messenger: When someone tries to offer a perspective that implies the batterer himself could be part of the problem, the batterer attacks the conveyer of the message. “You aren’t so innocent yourself you know; you….”

A batterer’s wife may accept the blame, agreeing that she is at fault. Her self-blame quiets her husband, reassuring him that he will not be criticized, held responsibility for problems, or exposed to shame. If the wife validates an abuser’s belief that problems have been her fault, they are in agreement, but at both of their expense. The wife’s excessive willingness to acknowledge her role in problems while exonerating her partner invites the depression of battered woman syndrome. And her excessive willingness to claim fault, in what psychologists call co-dependent behavior, enables and perpetuates her husband’s blame habit.

Terrorists, like batterers, blame their violence on the victim. If Americans died in the World Trade Center, the fault is America’s because American troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia. If Palestinian suicide bombers kill Israeli families eating lunch in a pizzeria at the mall, Israel is to blame. The bomber was only retaliating because the week prior Israel had arrested or killed a terrorist leader. Blame the victim.

Blaming in terrorist thinking can reach the point of a ‘Damed if you do damned if you don’t’ blaming stance. For instance, America is criticized whichever actions she takes. “Step into the ticket (as Bill Clinton did in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the foreign power is damned for its reach. Step back, as George W. Bush did in the first months of his presidency, and Pax Americana is charged with abdication and indifference” (Ajami, 2001, p. 10).


Projection refers to the cognitive habit of accusing the other of what a person himself is doing. Projection occurs when a person reads his own thoughts, feelings, or actions as transpiring in another person—in the manner of a movie projector that projects the film that is inside itself onto a screen on the other end of a theater. For example, rather than acknowledge his own urge to dominate, the abuser will insist that the other is bent on dominating him. Dutton explains this “primitive defense” as a way to avoid feeling bad about oneself, “a safety valve …rather than take responsibility for unpleasant feelings, we relocate them in others” (Dutton, 1995, pp. 104-105).

To a sophisticated listener, projection reveals the speaker’s underlying motives and concerns. The Other becomes a screen on which a batterer projects the true but less acknowledged parts of himself. For instance, a Saudi Arabian journalist who sympathizes with Al Qaeda deals writes, “The West still divides the world into types of peoples….even the attitude toward the progressive Asian countries is one of jealousy on the part of the U.S.” (MEMRI, 2002b). That is, he accuses the West of jealousy such as he himself tends to feel.

In a somewhat more complicated version of projection, another Saudi Arabian journalist accuses the American press of attempts to “separate the Arabs and America …by depicting the Arabs as barbarians ruled by their sexual and materialistic impulses, and [by showing Arab] traditions and beliefs as the height of backwardness” (MEMRI, 2002). That is, the journalist accuses the American press of saying about Arabs the very stereotypes that the Arab press repeatedly writes about America (“ruled by their sexual and materialistic impulses”). The journalist is accusing the American press of saying about Arabs what the writer himself subconsciously fears may be true about his own people–that their traditions and beliefs are “backward.”


Scapegoating is an on-going pattern of attributing blame for a wide variety of problems to one particular person or group. The motivation for scapegoating may be distraction. A batterer scapegoats his wife to divert attention from actual problems elsewhere. Picking fights with his wife, for instance, enabled one batterer to prevent his wife from finding out about his increasing gambling debts.

Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorists join in scapegoating both America and Israel. Their rationales for choosing these scapegoats vary from event to event and speaker to speaker, but the targets remain fixed. The following rationale, translated by Palestinian Media Watch, is from the Palestinian Authority newspaper of September 9, 2001 (note: two days before the World Trade Center attack). “”…The United States of America and the Zionist State are two identical cases of historical development. Each of them came into existence by invasion and mass extermination of the original residents, and [each] still occupies land belonging to others…” (Palestinian Media Watch, 2001). Whatever their rationale for picking the US and Israel as targets, however, the purpose of focusing on scapegoats is to distract their people from potentially focusing on the very real social and economic problems caused by their own rulers.

No Responsibility-Taking

Blame, projection, and scapegoating enable a batterer to avoid taking responsibility. Rather than suffer feelings of shame for socially unacceptable impulses, mistakes, or dishonorable acts, the batterer quickly shifts responsibility on to others.

One of the more extreme examples of avoidance of responsibility was a conspiracy theory, widely disseminated and believed in the Islamic world, that Israel, not Islamist terrorism, was responsible for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. ”I heard that 4,000 Jews didn’t report to work on Sept 11. This is all a Zionist plot to discredit Islam and an American ploy to gain control of Central Asia’s oil reserves so that the United States become less dependent on the Arabs,” said the American-educated foreign editor of a Saudi newspaper whose son studies at an American University (Dorsey, J., 2001).


The domestic violence offender feels justified in using violence, yet at some level of consciousness knows that violence is wrong. In response to this contradiction, he may minimize the dissonance by labeling his violence by a lesser term. “I didn’t hit you, I just touched you.” Or, “I wasn’t raging; I was just frustrated because you…”

Similar minimizing is evident in terrorists’ preferred terms for describing their actions. Hoffman (1998) describes a “…. trend towards ever more convoluted semantic obfuscations to side-step terrorism’s pejorative overtones… Terrorist organizations almost without exception now regularly select names for themselves that consciously eschew the word ‘terrorism.’ Instead these groups actively seek to evoke positive images such as freedom and liberation (e.g., the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine)…or religious virtue (e.g., jihad)” (p. 29).

Hoffman points out that the media have been sadly complicit in aiding terrorists’ minimizing. Their use of terms such as militant and extremist obfuscates the reality that groups who kill innocent civilians in order to accomplish political objectives are terrorists. When newspapers label acts of terrorism merely as militant or extremist, their minimizing confuses the public. The Bush Doctrine of hunting down and eliminating terrorists and those who harbor them does not appear to apply if these acts are labeled with the less pejorative terms. Journalists who minimize terrorism by using lesser words are acting in the manner of a co-dependent abused wife with black eyes and broken bones who covers for the husband by telling the police, “He just was upset tonight. He didn’t really hit me.”

An Arafat aid once said that Israeli deaths from suicide bombers “are no more innocent that the Palestinian women and children killed by the Israelis…” (Hoffman, 1998, p. 34). This quote illustrates three other minimizing techniques common to batterers and terrorists:

(1) Distortion by inflation of what the other is doing;

(2) You are doing it so I can do it; and

(3) Muddying moral clarity with inappropriate moral equivalencies.

The reality is that Israel’s military makes every effort to avoid Palestinian civilian injury or death. Like the U.S. military, they have developed high precision weapons to minimize citizen casualties. In addition, except in targeting military installations where surprise is an essential factor, Israel’s army and air force warn the Palestinian Authority prior to targeting buildings and arms depots so that people in the area can be cleared from danger. Some civilians are killed collaterally, which is an inevitable and regrettable fact of war. Palestinian terrorist thinking minimizes these distinctions, however, equating Israeli inadvertent collateral damage in spite of best efforts with terrorists’ explicit strategy of bombing Israeli civilians.

Exaggeration, Denial and Lying

When minimizing does not look like it will suffice to prevent repercussions from violence, a batterer may resort to exaggerating the faults of his victim, denial of his role in problems, and blatant lies.

Often, when a couple with domestic violence is in therapy, the woman’s jaw will drop in appalled outrage when she hears her husband’s exaggerated version of what she ostensibly has done that provoked his violence. These fabrications may go well beyond what could be accounted for by differences in the couple’s narrative due to different perspectives or perhaps misunderstandings. The batterer significantly distorts the facts to make his case—and can be a very convincing spokesperson for an imagined or quite twisted version of events. Unfortunately, because the batterer begins to believe his own lies, he then feels he has strong justification for his anger at his spouse and for subsequent aggressive episodes.

Americans experienced similar outright lying in reports from the Taliban in the early weeks of the American assault on Al Qaeda and the Taliban after the World Trade Center attacks. Taliban spokespeople said 95 American soldiers had been killed; the U.S. reported that three had died, none in combat. The Taliban claimed to have shot down at least two U.S. helicopters. The Pentagon reported three helicopter accidents, two from bad weather and one from a hard landing. The Taliban claimed up to 1500 Afghan civilians had been killed. “Fiction,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responded. Precision guided bombs minimize collateral damage (Buzbee, 2001). As Dennis Ross, former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a 1990’s special envoy to the Middle East in charge of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, said in a broadcast on Al Jazeera, “The terrorists are twisting facts and forging [making a forgery of] history” (MacFarquhar and Rutenberg, 2001).

In January of 2002 Israeli naval commandos captured a Palestinian-owned boat, Karine A, loaded with illegal heavy weapons purchased from Iran and manned by Palestinian security force personnel. Arafat and the Palestinian leadership brazenly denied any Palestinian Authority involvement—even though the ship’s captain, interviewed on American TV (Fox News), had openly admitted the opposite and papers documenting the ship’s purchase bore verified Arafat signatures (Bennet and Greenberg, 2002).

Turning Upside-Down

Batterers stun their victim with statements that are diametrically opposite to the truth. One batterer, for instance, often said proudly, “I think of myself as a truly righteous man.” His family by contrast told the therapist, “He is truly an evil man.”

“It would be stupidity on our part to be misled by Western ideas about freedom, human rights, and equality among peoples,” claims an Al-Riyadh editorial, “because … [America] led both world wars in the name of avaricious aspirations, racism, and annihilation of the other human civilizations, claiming racial superiority….” (MEMRI, 2002c). Bin Laden refers to the secretary general of the U.N, Kofi Annan, as a “criminal” (MacFarquhar & Rutenberg, 2001). America was referred to in a sermon broadcast December 7, 2001 on Palestinian Authority radio as “head of world terror” (Palestinian Media Watch, 2001).

Turning upside-down is closely related to projection. That is, upside-down accusations tend to include descriptions that sound remarkably like a portrait of the accuser. Terrorism analyst Hoffman (1998) calls this process of turning upside-down and accusing the other of one’s own crimes “obfuscation-projection.” A Saudi preacher from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Saudi Arabia, appearing on Al-Jazeera television in February 2002 insisted, “…There is no doubt that Osama Bin Laden waged Jihad against the infidels, against the aggressor and the oppressor. America does not want Islamic values and principles [to exist] on the face of this planet …” (MEMRI, 2002e). There was an aggressor and oppressor, but Bin Laden, not the U.S. should get the credit for these roles. Bin Laden’s organization explicitly dedicated itself to wiping out American values.

This terrorist accusation that terrorism’s victims are the real terrorists is a particularly common terrorist obfuscationprojection. If it were not for their oppression, the terrorist asserts, he would not have felt the need to defend the population he claims to represent (Hoffman, 1998, p. 30) (Dorsey, 2001).

One way that upside-down declarations obfuscate reality is by describing events devoid of context. When the context, such as the precipitating event of the World Trade Center destruction, is omitted, America may look like an aggressor against Al Qaeda. Palestinian news reports similarly describe Israeli military actions without mention of the prior suicide bombing or missile attack to which they are a response—creating the false impression that Israel is blindly and belligerently hostile.

Upside-down statements and projection almost always coalesce around a grain of truth. In response to Bin Laden’s attacks, for instance, the US did indeed become aggressive and seek to eliminate, his terrorists, and all they stand for. But America’s aggression was defensive and preventive—aggression that is unambiguously sanctioned by international law.

Palestinian terrorists have shown particular mastery in turning Jewish imagery upside down against the Jewish state with the Biblical story of David and Goliath. The conceptual frame this image conveys has ratcheted up sympathy for Palestinians throughout the world. However, the success of this upside-down imagery does not make the distortions correct. Israel might seem big and strong to Palestinians, and Palestinians may portray Israel in this way to gain world sympathy, but Israel is still the David vis a vis the coalition of Arab states that back Palestinian terrorism.

In addition, the Goliath metaphor is inaccurate in that strong in Israeli culture does not mean violent. Certainly Israel does not handle every situation perfectly; nor are all Israelis by any means consistently respectful to Palestinians. Such especially is not the case when Palestinian terrorists attack Israeli citizens on a daily basis. Arafat’s Palestinian leadership has fostered a culture of domination, hatred, fighting and glorification of brutal violence and murder (behaviors counter to the teachings of what many would consider to be true Islam). Israel’s government and people, by contrast, explicitly seek to fight terrorism without relinquishing Judeo-Christian ethics–seeking peace, valuing kindness, and attempting to pursue highest standards of morality.

Justifying Means by Ends

A batterer believes that his violence is justified because of the vital importance (to him) of his goal. He must be violent to get his wife to do what she should—that is, what he wants her to do. Terrorists similarly justify their violent means by the importance they attribute to their end goals.

Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of the Lebanese terrorist group responsible for Terry Anderson’s kidnapping, writes in his book In Invisible Armies, “We don’t see ourselves as terrorists because we don’t believe in terrorism. We don’t see resisting the occupier as a terrorist action. We see ourselves as mujihadeen (holy warriors) who fight a Holy War for the people” (Hoffman, 1998, p. 31).

Arab nations generally claim that “terrorism is OK as long as it’s directed at Israel” (Bartley, 2001). Similarly, Arafat addressing the UN General Assembly in November 1974 stated, “The difference between the revolutionary and the terrorist lies in the reasons for which each fights. For whoever stands by a just cause and fights for the freedom and liberation of his land from the invaders, the settlers and the colonialists, cannot possibly be called terrorist …” (Hoffman, 1998, p. 216).

International law experts now are drafting legal definitions of terror to be signed by nations world wide clarifying explicitly that terrorism—violence against innocent civilians—is never justified, no matter what the ends, and instead is the equivalent to war crimes.

Simplistic Either/Or Thinking

Healthy mature thinking includes complex information processing (thinking) patterns. Complex thinking involves mental capabilities such as the ability to:

  • analyze problems into multiple component parts
  • consider seemingly contradictory or paradoxical facets of situations
  • evaluate solutions on a continuum rather than as all good or all bad
  • modulate emotional intensity so thinking can proceed and excessive emotion does not threaten the other
  • integrate one’s own perspectives with those of others using ‘Yes, and…’ additive thinking.

The last of the abilities listed above, integrative “Yes, and…” thinking, enables two people with different visions of a situation to remain cooperative because they appreciate that they each are focusing on different aspects of the dilemma, different parts of the total elephant. If I hold up a book between two people, one will see the front cover and the other the back cover. What does the book look like? Simple thinkers say it looks like either the front or the back cover. More complex thinkers can utilize the understanding that both views are partial, and both are right.

Batterers, by contrast, tend to view situations simplistically as all-good or all-bad, black or white, who’s right and who’s wrong. Particularly when they are angry, batterers see what they see, and are unable to incorporate also into their understanding the dimensions that others see. My way or the highway is the rule.

Able to see only one point of view, batterers quickly believe that if an alternative viewpoint is expressed, one side is right and the other wrong. They adamantly defend themselves lest they be seen as the one who is wrong. They have little or no interest in hearing what might be right also in what the other is saying.

Attempts to discuss contested issues with someone with a batterer mentality therefore become extremely frustrating. Batterers’ and terrorists’ mouths keep opening, spewing their angry viewpoint, while their ears stay consistently closed.

Self-Justifying Narrative

Batterers create a self-justifying narrative, a story line that explains for them why they are doing what they are doing. “I really never loved her; I just married her because I was ready to get married. She’s not well matched for me. That’s why I get so mad at her,” a batterer told me recently—forgetting his prior reports of the deep connection and mutual understanding he had felt with his wife that had propelled him to ask her to marry him.

In the case of Bin Laden, self-justifying narrative rises to the level of a paranoid belief system. The American military presence that remained in Saudi Arabia to block further Iraqi aggressions from Iraq after the Gulf War in Kuwait lies at the core of this delusional system about the “Crusaders” who have come to stay. “’This has been a bigger calamity than I had expected, bigger than any threat the Arabian Peninsula had faced since God Almighty created it,’ wrote the religious scholar Safar al Hawali, a master practitioner of the paranoid style in politics. The Americans, he warned, had come to dominate Arabia and unleash on it the West’s dreaded morals.” (Ajami, 2001). This narrative portrays America as the villain, but at the same time indirectly condemns the Saudi government, which is probably the real target of the scholar’s wrath.

Maps in Palestinian schools illustrate the self-justifying Palestinian narrative. These maps show no Israel. Instead the land internationally recognized as the state of Israel all is labeled Palestine. The Palestinian narrative claims that the Jewish land of Israel always has been, is, and should be Arab Palestine. While the actual historical basis for this belief is not in accord with reality, this narrative is all that Palestinians who have grown up in these schools know (Nirenstein, 2001). From their perspective then it is understandable that governance by any Israelis on any land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is “occupation.”

Resistance to Change

Well-intentioned friends and family of abused women sometimes naively suggest, “You need to give him another chance.” Battered women, when asked why they stayed so long, often say sadly, “I thought he might change.” The reality, however, is that abusive personalities tend to be highly resistant to change, and many if not most will never change. Abusers who are able to acknowledge and take responsibility for their battering have potential for growth; but for most batterers, what you see is what you will continue to get, escalating in frequency and severity over time.

Arafat exemplifies this pattern stability. As many times as Arafat has declared he wants peace, he each time has renewed his violence—often planning and purchasing arms for the next attacks at the very same time as he is talking peace. A classic example: When Israel captured the Kaline A, mentioned above, the ship was carrying enough weaponry to cause serious damage to every city in Israel. Yet this capture occurred the very week that Arafat had been declaring in English to President Bush and the Western world that all he wants is peace—and to his Palestinian people that full capture and conquest of the Jewish state lay just ahead. His declarations of change are political manipulations, not statements of genuine intent or capability.

Communication and Conflict Resolution Patterns

Batterers are by no means the only people who demonstrate cooperative dialogue skill deficits, but batterers as a group are exceptionally dysfunctional in this arena. They typically feel hopeless about addressing differences constructively, and rightfully so, because their aggressive dialogue patterns mitigate against productive problem-solving. Instead of talking with their spouse, they fight her. When differences arise, they launch verbal battering. Their adversarial posture and tone quickly convert dialogue into battle.

Emotional health and marital success both correlate with ability to conduct problem-solving dialogue in which participants quietly verbalize their concerns, seek to understand each other’s perspectives, generate options, and conclude with solutions (Heitler, 1993). Batterers, by contrast, assume that negotiation is a process of dominating over the other’s perspective. Demands and ultimatums, blame and criticism, exaggeration and denial, attack and defense are their battle tactics. In the heat of the adrenaline and animosity batterers whip up in themselves with these tactics, inflicting injury may replace problem-solving as the battle objective.

Terrorists similarly eschew dialogue. Dominating and destroying are their methods of dispute resolution.

Hyperfocus on the Other

Batterers function as if they are holding a remote control devise that governs the other person. When a boy flies a toy plane with a remote control mechanism in his hand, his attention focuses on what the plane is doing and how to make it do what he wants. The attention of the abusive husband is similarly locked on to his wife instead of focused on expressing his own thoughts, feelings, or preferences.

Healthy couples follow the basic rule “I can talk about myself or ask about the other’s thoughts and feelings—I don’t talk about or for the other.” Thus a healthy spouse might say: I didn’t enjoy going for a walk with you today; I was too anxious about problems at work to relax or talk (talking about self, verbalizing insights about one’s own thoughts and feelings).”

By contrast, the abusive spouse, fixated on the other, uses his thinking ability to guess, interpret, and control his wife’s thoughts and feelings instead of to express his own. He might say, “You didn’t like walking with me today, I could tell by the way you were frowning.” If he does reference his own feelings, he attributes these feelings to something his wife did rather than taking personal responsibility for his reactions. Instead of saying “I feel irritated,” he declares, “You made me mad!” Instead of focusing on guiding his own actions–“I think that tomorrow I will…”, he gives orders to his wife about what she must do– “You better act nicer to me when we go walking tomorrow!”

Terrorists similarly catalogue their opponents’ supposed wrongs and make demands instead of expressing their own group’s concerns and exploring together how these might be met.

Inflammatory Language and Exaggerated Claims

The batterer builds his case for how terrible his wife is with hyper-emotional language that over-states her wrongs. Pejorative words, demeaning name-calling, over-generalizations, curses and hyperbole are meant to convince her—and himself–of how terrible she is, has been, and always will be. “You fucked up again, you slut. You wrote down the wrong phone number. You can’t get anything right. You have a bean-ball where your head should be. I married a total idiot.”

Inflammatory language cycles synergistically with inflamed emotions. The more angry a batterer feels the more pejorative the words he uses to label his wife; these incendiary labels in turn inflame his anger. These escalating reciprocal interactions—negative labels for his wife’s actions produce more intense angry feelings which in turn produce increasingly negative name-calling—ratchet up emotional intensity and increase the likelihood of injury.

Bin Laden claimed to have attacked America because the United States has military forces stationed in Saudi Arabia. His description of this situation uses classic hyperbole, inflammatory language, and exaggerated claims. “For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples” (Bin Laden, 1998).

In a sermon in Gaza City, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, which is currently the most popular Palestinian political organization, declared, “Six million descendants of monkeys [i.e., Jews] now rule in all the nations of the world, but their day, too, still will come. Allah! Kill them all, do not leave even one” (Hoffman, 1998, p. 99).

Complaints and Criticisms Rather Than Requests or Solution Suggestions

Batterers express what they don’t like, but they have difficulty saying what they would like. Unfortunately, complaints inhibit effective dialogue, creating defensiveness instead of empathy and solution-building in the receiver. A husband who says, “You put too much salt in our food!” is going to create tension, resistance, and resentment. By contrast, a husband who requests “I have to lower my salt intake. I’d prefer if we each put our own salt on our food. Would that be okay with you?” creates empathy, goodwill, and solutions.

Criticism is inherently backward-looking. Batterers criticize in part because their attention locks onto past wrongs; they have difficulty shifting their focus to present dilemmas and options for the future. Islamist and other terrorist rhetoric similarly rivets on complaints about the past. How to make things better for their people now, how to build an economy for the future, improve education, construct housing, do not enter the dialogue. As one Arab commentator writes of his culture, “In the Middle East, the past is rarely ever just that. In the shape of the motivation for and legitimating of the present, it hangs like a millstone around everyone’s neck” (Makiya aka Al-Khalid, 1993, p. 160).

One surprised observation of American negotiators at the 1999 final Clinton-Barak-Arafat Camp David negotiations was that when Arafat rejected Barak’s offer for a Palestinian state, he offered no counter-proposals. Unfortunately, when someone fixates on the past and can only complain, opportunities to generate forward-looking positive solutions are squandered. On the other hand, one Palestinian writer suggests that Arafat knew that the rising younger and more militant leadership would have mutinied if he had accepted a peace settlement, so his participation in these talks may from the outset, as mentioned above, have been disingenuous (Shikaki, 2002).

Listening to Negate, Not to Understand

Effective dialogue requires that each side absorb new information from the other. Like a game of catch, dialogue ends when what has been tossed does not get caught. In dialogue the sign that information flow is stopping because data is not entering a participant’s system is the word “but.”

But negates and rejects whatever was said immediately before. But indicates listening for what is wrong with what the other is saying, not to understand the speaker’s point.

But listening may not pervade batterers’ friendly interactions. Negating the other generally occurs only when differences emerge or when someone feels threatened and wants to assert his dominance.

Negating rather than listening was blatant in a Bin Laden video broadcast on Al Jazeera TV. “This [America’s military response to the World Trade Center attacks] is a matter of religion and creed; it is not what Bush and Blair maintain, that it is a war against terrorism” (MacFarquhar, and Rutenberg, 2001).

Fixed Beliefs, Rejection of Non-Confirmatory Data; Closed Informational System

Batterers develop fixed beliefs about their spouse, beliefs such as “She doesn’t care about me,” or “She just wants to keep me under her thumb.” The fixed beliefs often are based on a grain of truth and a bucket of projection. Batterers then sustain these fixed beliefs by rejecting data that does not confirm them. Because disconfirming new information is not allowed into his data set, his beliefs become fixed like ideologies. The only new information about controversial situations that the abuser adds to what he already believes tends to be information that confirms his prior beliefs and paradigms. For instance, if a batterer believes that his wife is having an affair, he will not accept her explanation that she was late coming home from work because of traffic; he will persist in believing that she was staying late at work flirting with someone. But if he sees her smiling at a man in the elevator, he takes this information immediately—it confirms her flirtatiousness. The result is a closed informational system.

It would have been useless for Americans to explain to Bin Laden that we have had no interest in humiliating the Islamic world by stationing our troops in Saudi Arabia. Telling him that we have troops there only to halt further Iraqi invasions would be issuing protestations sure to fall on deaf ears. Reminders that America defended Muslims in Kosovo would similarly have had no impact on Islamist assertions that America is at war with Islam.

Similarly, Palestinian terrorist groups fixed beliefs about UN Resolution 242. They insist, contrary to the actual language, that this reolusion mandates that Israel give up land captured in the defensive war of 1967. As mentioned above, international law specifies that land captured in a defensive war does not need to be returned. The drafters of UN Resolution 242, Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the UN and Arthur Goldberg, the American ambassador, specifically stated that “It would be wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of 1967 because these positions were undesirable and artificial….” This non-confirmatory data is flatly rejected (Honest Reporting, 2002).

Only My Concerns Count

Batterers show remarkable inability to empathize, or even to hear, their wife’s concerns. Hers are of no import. Focused with such emotional intensity on getting what he wants, the batterer ignores, disparages and dismisses his wife.

Sadly, deafness to his wife’s concerns decreases the batterer’s chances of getting his own concerns met. For example, a batterer may insist his wife open the window because he is hot. If she resists because she does not want to sit in a draft, he becomes angry and demanding. In fact, he could have simply taken off his sweater—but controlling his wife’s actions takes primacy even over meeting his own needs, and certainly over responding to her concerns.

Ability to take into account others’ concerns as well as one’s own, a skill I refer to as bilateral listening (Heitler, 1997), is a hallmark of emotional maturity. When a batterer who hears only his own needs has a wife with excessive altruism (or battered woman syndrome), they may form a stable relationship in which both agree that only his needs count. If the wife has strong preferences on a particular issue and does venture to assert her concerns, however, fighting ensues. The concept that there are two people in a couple is foreign to batterers. In this regard the batterer is to his wife like an infant to a mother—only his needs count. Terrorism functions on this primitive level. Only the terrorists’ concerns count.

All-or-Nothing Conflict Resolution—Disinterest in a Win-Win Process

Americans describe politics as the art of compromise and are increasingly enamored of win-win methods of conflict resolution. Batterers by contrast seek winner-take-all solutions.

Win-win solutions emerge from “interest-based bargaining” (Fisher and Ury, 1981), that is, from proceeding from initial solution propositions to exploring underlying concerns, and then finding plans of action that are responsive to the concerns of both sides. Win-win requires that participants’ attachments to their initial solution ideas be loose enough for flexible exploration of new options once both sides’ concerns have been clarified.

Bin Laden proclaimed clearly that his 9/11 goals were to wreak destruction on America, remove American troops from Saudi soil, and establish his fundamentalist version of Islam as the dominant governing authority worldwide, including in the place of the secular Saudi regime. His underlying concerns appear to center on regaining Islamic pride and self-respect, and on cleansing his people of rule by infidels. A negotiation process that focuses on identifying underlying concerns and finding winwin solutions would be of zero interest to Bin Laden. His goal is to eliminate opponents, not to find mutual solutions to differences.

To the extent that Palestinian interests center on regaining a sense of dignity, becoming self-governing, having a state of their own, and living in an economically viable political entity, these concerns could easily be accommodated with Israel’s desire to live in a safe neighborhood. A solution that would entail two friendly neighboring states was the ostensible goal of the Oslo peace-process. Arafat and his fellow terrorists, however, left Oslo to return to their prior all-or-nothing demands. All or nothing meant that their desire for exclusive Arab control over the region would be satisfied and Israel would get nothing–no safety and no Jewish state. Insistence on all for me and nothing for you makes a conflict intractable.

Interestingly, while batterers typically find win-win paradigms incomprehensible, they are often surprisingly comfortable with lose-lose outcomes, perhaps because their primary concern is controlling, humiliating, or harming the other. As long as the other is harmed or does not get what s/he wants, then the negotiation has been satisfactory. Bin Laden may lose his Al Qaeda network from America’s attacks on Afghanistan, but as long as Al Qaeda has succeeded in striking a bit of terror in the hearts of Americans, the plane hijackings were, in this view, successful.


“What is at stake today is nothing less than the survival of our civilization.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, September 20, 2001

Speech to the US House of Representatives’ Government Reform Committee.

The batterer characteristics described above, plus research and treatment with domestic batterers, suggest a number of principles relevant to the design of terrorism cessation strategies.

Overt Behaviors

The first goal of domestic abuse treatment is to assure the safety of the victim. Until that goal has been accomplished, exploration of underlying concerns, root causes, the victim’s role in dissentions, or long-term change is irrelevant and potential dangerous.

When safety has not been established before bringing a couple with battering problems together in a therapy session, if his wife discusses sensitive subjects the husband may batter the wife after the session. For instance, one batterer, infuriated by a comment his wife made in a therapy session, grabbed a hammer and beat his wife in the car on the way home from treatment. First, safety and total violence cessation must be accomplished by removal of weapons, separate living arrangements, arrest, etc. Then, and only then, talking can begin.

Similarly, the first goal of terrorism interventions must be cessation of violence.

The Role of Law, Police, Courts, Arrest and Imprisonment

In America, violent behavior is illegal. Violence is assault and battery. Violence as a method of conflict resolution lies out of the pale of civilized behavior, and is not tolerated. A man’s home may be his castle, but even in his castle a man is not allowed to injure his wife, children, or anyone. The first step in a society’s attempts to halt domestic violence therefore is establishment of law that criminalizes battering. The second is arrest. The third is to use the court system to insure that batterers who are likely to repeat their crimes are restrained with probation, restraining orders, and/or imprisonment.

Data on the role of the court system in reducing domestic violence episodes has been enlightening. Dutton (1995) studied abusers who have been arrested and put on probation. During the four years of his research project, only 4 percent of battering men re-offended while they were on probation. Immediately after their probation was lifted, however, 40 percent of batterers resumed their pre-arrest violence. While a strong third party entity, in this case the criminal justice system, maintained power over offenders, violence ceased. Without suppression by a powerful third party other, the battering returned.

How might these findings apply to halting terrorism? Terrorist arrests must include not just those involved on the scene of a specific terrorist action. Everyone involved in the planning and implementation must be arrested and prosecuted, and the organizational infrastructure and funding terminated. In addition, all sponsoring states must sever their support. As the Bush Doctrine clearly and appropriately delineates, terrorists, their group infrastructure, funding, and weaponry, plus those governments which harbor them, all must be brought to an end.

Terrorists would argue that without the option of violence they have no power for leverage in getting what they want. Their partners in negotiations and third party intermediaries must clarify that they are sympathetic to the legitimate concerns of the people terrorists claim to speak for, and that these concerns will be addressed by talking cooperatively. At the same time, they must make absolutely clear that terrorism is simply not an option. One can become wealthy most quickly by stealing, but stealing similarly is not an option.

What About Ceasefire Agreements?

Prior to American laws regarding domestic violence, when police received calls for intervention in domestic disputes their only recourse was to separate husband and wife enough to end the immediate assault, talk with the batterer and the trauma victim, and hope that the batterer would not become violent again. The message to the batterer and his wife from this kind of ceasefire was that violence would bring about no serious consequences.

A landmark Minneapolis study in 1984 (Sherman & Berk) gathered empirical data on the results of arrests as opposed to just ending the acute violent episode, talking with the combatants, and hoping for the best. Over a six month period, batterers who had not been arrested had a 20% repeat arrest rate, whereas those with an arrest had half that rate, 10%. The study suggested that arrests help, but they clearly do not insure prevention of further battering episodes. However, the data in favor of arrests was strong enough that in response to these findings, the Attorney General of the United States recommended that arrest rather than “ceasefire agreements” be made the standard treatment in cases of misdemeanor domestic assault (Holtzworth- Munroe et al, 1995).

This study, if it can be applied to terrorism, suggests that some terrorism may come to a halt if third parties bring about a ceasefire. The likelihood that a ceasefire will be effective may double, however, if terrorists are arrested. At the same time, even with a brief arrest, a significant group of violent people are likely to perpetrate violence again. Distinctions must be made among terrorists to clarify which are wedded to violence and which terrorists will be able to shift to mediated constructive dialogue if there is cessation of violence.

When do Arrests and Other Reprisals Make a Difference?

An arrest is essentially a brief punitive action with threat of more to follow. Arrests do prevent subsequent violence with some batterers—primarily those who are employed and married and therefore feel they have something to lose from another arrest (Sherman et al, 1992). However, batterers who have less to lose from an arrest, such as those who are unmarried and jobless, react in the opposite manner. In one study, arrests for this group resulted either in no change or in increased violence. Perhaps they regard arrest as only a minor nuisance, or the reprisal provokes anger that in turn leads to more violence. In any case, for men who have little at stake in terms of career or family, arrest alone has low odds of stopping violence.

Sherman et al (1991, 1992) further found that immediately after an arrest, many batterers went on good behavior, their violence reduced by 50%. However, that leaves many batterers on whom arrest had little impact. And by the second year of follow-up, brief arrest actually resulted in more reports of continued violence. In other words, confirmed batterers became inured to arrest as a reprisal, and continued or increased their pattern of battering. Arrest seems to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for deterring subsequent violence (Lerman, 1992). For a significant proportion of batterers, arrest needs to be followed either by treatment, which is helpful to a relatively small percentage of confirmed batterers, and/or by prosecution and conviction, with potentially longer term incarceration.

One-time reprisals to terrorism such as Clinton’s single missile against Al Queda camps seem to confirm these findings in the terrorism realm. The missile had either no impact or encouraged increased violence. Israeli reprisals to Palestinian terrorism, which have fallen well short of imprisoning all terrorists and dismantling their infrastructure, have been similarly ineffective. They seem only to increase Palestinian resentment and to fuel continuation of the terrorism. Cessation of terrorism seems to need to be total in its containment of violent elements in order to have positive impact.

What Can Be Done About Verbal Violence?

The legal tools of arrest and punishment can be used only to control batterers’ overt physical violence, and can be implemented only after violence has been perpetrated and victims injured or killed. Intervention while the aggression is still just verbal could potentially prevent violence before tragedies occur, but freedom of speech makes early intervention complex.

Self-help books, women’s magazines, TV and radio shows, and newspaper sections devoted to relationships and family life convey a remarkable amount of information about mental health, raising the bar with regard to acceptable and out of bounds verbal behavior in marriage. Courses on the skills for marriage success, courses on anger management, and psychotherapy for couples also spread the message that verbal violence is unacceptable and teach alternative healthier methods for handling frustrations. These kinds of public mental health education set standards so that spouses are less likely to tolerate verbal battering and more likely to insist that the couple seek professional help.

With regard to terrorist hate incitement, in America hate rhetoric is not allowed to travel through the mails, although the internet unfortunately offers a new vehicle for its dissemination. Hate rhetoric is regarded as unseemly if not illegal in newspapers and magazines, and in TV and radio.

How can our government influence the rampant incitement of hatred on the media, in mosques, and in school textbooks of countries that produce terrorism? Tools of diplomatic pressure conveys a message either that hate rhetoric will be condoned or that it must be curbed. Sanctions such as discontinuation of financial aid and weapons to hate-mongering nations like Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia whose state-controlled presses regularly print anti-American and anti- Israel diatribe also merit consideration. In the meantime, it would be helpful if the American media informed Americans of the extent of anti-American Islamist hate incitement in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and in the areas governed by the Palestinian Authority, not to mention in avowedly hostile countries like Iraq. Our naiveté makes us vulnerable.

Interestingly, the self-help information on communication skills in marriage that floods American publications and media is only beginning to appear in the Middle East. In 2001 I was interviewed on the subject of marital fighting and  conflict resolution by an Arabic newspaper in Beirut. The article received a startlingly strong response as the topic had not before been addressed publicly in Lebanon’s Arabic press. The gap between knowledge about marriage communication skills that is common to most Americans and the extent of that knowledge in the terror-spawning countries of the Middle East is vast.

Is There an Equivalent to Psychotherapy for Terrorism?

Information is a powerful ingredient of therapy treatment groups for batterers. As batterers learn about the kinds of patterns described in this book chapter, a significant percentage of them will resort to denial, but another group will be motivated to change their ways. Psycho-educational approaches generally only work, however, with men who have come to the point that they acknowledge their violent behavior instead of minimizing and denying it, are taking responsibility for it instead of still blaming their wife, see that violence is not getting them what they want, have experienced major negative consequences from their violence, and are ready thereby to learn and change.

Psychotherapy for domestic batterers also works in part by strengthening healthier voices within the violent offender’s thinking. Anti-terrorist countries need to reassess the investment they make to strengthen healthier voices within terrorproducing societies. In Iran, for instance, a younger generation is speaking out against the religious tyrants who sponsor hatred and global violence. Assisting these young people, as America assisted the younger generation who used democratic means to oust Milosevic in Serbia, could make a significant difference.

Sadly, in the Cold War days of fighting Communism American support for subgroups in other countries often went to violent groups like the Taliban. Too often, the CIA’s counter-Communism efforts bolstered dictators and supported terrorists, giving American involvement in the politics of other countries a bad name and setting the stage for future tyrannies and terrorists. Care must be given to support only democratic groups, groups that espouse problem-solving rather than hatred, in order for these interventions to be therapeutic in the long-run.

Exchange programs and scholarships in American universities for students from terror-producing countries could build a next generation of international leaders who will espouse freedom and democracy rather than tyranny and terrorism. One Muslim student from Pakistan, for instance, who studied in a university in this country, went home after graduating and launched Pakistani-Indian conflict resolution gatherings of college students there. Such young people provide hope for a next generation of more sanguine world leadership. However, the warnings of Kramer (2001) with regard to the “yawning gap between the actual conduct of Islamist movements and their representation by the academy” (p.57) must be heeded. Academics in many college departments of Middle Eastern studies, Kramer explains, have had a dreadful track-record of minimizing the problems that have given rise to terrorism in the Middle East. Their minimizing and denial have not served foreign—or American—students who study these regions well.

Psychotherapy for domestic abusers generally includes a large component of communication and conflict resolution skill training. This aspect of psychotherapy as applied to terrorism suggests interventions aimed not at the terrorists themselves, but rather at others in their society with more potential for growth and change. Psychologist Herbert Kelman (1999) describes workshops he offers to teach these skills to young professionals in countries with histories of conflict. The National Peace Foundation in Washington funds similar programs to improve dialogue between young Palestinian and Israeli civic leaders. Conflict resolution courses are unlikely to impact current crises, but could have a long-term positive impact on societies that breed terrorists.

Lastly, domestic abusers who want to be able to remain with their wives eventually can benefit from working out their marital conflicts with the help of a marriage therapist. The terrorist equivalent to marriage therapy would be negotiations. A note of caution, however, is in order. Mediators who work with terrorists in negotiations after a ceasefire, like therapists who work with battering couples, must be exceptionally strong. Even if everyone involved wants to bring about peaceful solutions, batterers and terrorists, as described above, typically lack the skills to participate in collaborative problem-solving without a knowledgeable mediator’s tight rein and step by step guidance.

What Risks does the Cycle of Violence Suggest?

As was pointed out in Part I of this chapter, the periods of calm that follow batterers’ violent episodes can easily undermine a wife’s confidence in insisting that her husband leave or get treatment. Moreover, a wife may be understandably reluctant to press charges when her spouse seems repentant and loving. She may fear of reprisals from him, she may rely on his income to support the family, she is likely to need his help with their children, and she seeks his affection when he is in a positive mood.

Successes in combating Al Qaeda and the Taliban similarly could lull the West into believing that terrorism no longer needs to be a concern. Americans certainly have reasons to want to withdraw from terrorism wars. They would rather not keep their military in danger situations. War is expensive, utilizing resources that otherwise could go to schools, healthcare, or other domestic needs. Yet, though the Taliban has been ousted, the new Afghan government needs support to take hold. Al Qaeda appears to have been vanquished in Afghanistan, but the extent to which terrorist cells still exist around the world is unclear. Iraq and Iran are rushing to produce weapons of mass destruction. Stopping the immediate Al Qaeda violence alone does not build peace. The current lull in terrorism against the U.S. may be a mere respite before resumption of ever more dramatic Al Qaeda and other terrorist tragedies.

Arafat’s periodic ceasefires likewise can be dangerous. Terrorism expert and former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu writes in this regard:

Arafat recently said, “The PLO offers not the peace of the weak but the peace of Saladin.” What is not stated explicitly, but what Muslim audiences understand well in its historical context, is that Saladin’s peace treaty with the Crusaders was merely a tactical ruse which was followed by Muslim attacks which wiped out the Christian presence in the Holy Land (Netanyahu, 2001, p. 87).

The point is that a ceasefire does not stop terrorism. It is an essential first step, but must be followed by a thorough routing out of the full terrorist infrastructure, and then a massive investment in resolving the underlying problems in the terrorisminfested country. That means, at a minimum, finding new political leadership, developing democratic institutions capable of sustaining peace, rebuilding infrastructure (health, education, roads, communication systems), and replacing poverty and joblessness with a viable economy.

What can be Learned from Battered Woman Syndrome?

Some women respond to battering with total clarify that their spouse’s violent behavior is wholly unacceptable. They keep their spunk, they clarify to the spouse that they will leave if there is any sign that another episode could occur, and theyleave immediately if he is unwilling or unable to end the angry behavior. By contrast, the battered women who lose their power and become hopeless and depressed do so to the extent that they

  • begin to believe the criticism and blame levied against them by their abuser,
  • begin to believe his assertions that his violence is justified, and
  • believe they have no means for stopping the violence, and do not receive third party support that validates the criminality of violence and halts its continuation.

Once a batterer’s violence has been brought under control by arrests and treatment, then the time is right for the wife to soul-search, to look at what she has contributed to the problems in the relationship. At that point she needs to reach out warmly and generously, showing her husband that his changes will be worthwhile. At the risk of repetition, however, I cannot emphasize strongly enough the need for a wife initially to be tough. If a wife offers self-scrutiny and generosity toward the batterer before he has been arrested, put in jail or on probation, relieved of weapons, and firmly taught that battering will only bring him disaster, she feeds his violence and endangers her life. For everything there is a time. Sequence is all-important.

Do the same principles apply to terrorists? Most likely the answer is yes. Over-eager battered-woman-like attempts to make peace, to ask “What did we do wrong?”, and to enter negotiations prematurely may inadvertently prolong violence. “Peace talks” with terrorists are a misnomer; they invite more violence. Terrorists and their organizations must first experience something that convinces them that terror will not succeed in gaining them what they seek. Like Germany or Japan at the end of World War II, they may need to experience unambiguous domination and defeat. The power balance between victim and perpetrator must shift pendulum-like for terrorism to cease. Later the defeated husband or terrorist can regain self-respect. First however the defeat must be crushing enough that they have zero incentive or opportunity to return to violence.

President Bush showed strong leadership in response to the World Trade Center/Pentagon disasters, speaking to the nation in a way that unified Americans against the Al Qaeda terrorist threat. He, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and British Prime Minister Blair gathered together a remarkable if temporary world-wide coalition, including UN support, for ending Al Qaeda terrorism. Their effective leadership, like the spunky voice of a woman who effectively halts her husband’s abuse, prevented Americans from becoming demoralized when terrorists attacked us and then blamed us for their violence.

Israel, by contrast, and particularly the Israeli media, was for a long time dominated by battered woman syndrome voices. “It must be our fault. We just need to give more. Arafat will change. We should have ….:.” Ironically, Israel has been particularly weakened by well-intentioned “peace” activists, the political left-wing voices that shatter the unified national resolve necessary to bring peace via effective decimation of terror groups. On the one hand, these Israeli voices empathize appropriately with the Palestinian people who, like children in an abusive family, have suffered terribly from their leaders’ violence and from genuine problems in the prior status quo. Unfortunately, however, in the manner of abused women, these voices also minimize the violence of the offenders, err on the side of excessive altruism, and take a stance of self-blame that corroborates and strengthens the trumped up accusations of Palestinian terrorists.

What is the Role of Third Parties?

To end domestic abuse, third parties such as family, friends, police, the criminal justice system, religious leaders, and therapists almost always must actively intervene.

In most cases the abuse victim herself can do very little to stop verbal and physical harassment. At best she is likely to be able to obtain a restraining order, call the police and press charges if he is actively violent, and seek a separation or divorce. If she cannot or does not want to evict the batterer from the marriage, she can beg and plead with the batterer, offering him more of whatever he wants–which only enhances his sense of power, rewarding his violent tactics. She can try to become a better, more open and honest, communicator—which feeds the perpetrator’s sense that she is weak and he is strong. Information is power, and he can use information she gives him against her.

There is no such thing as a neutral response from third parties. Every third party response influences the abuse one way or the other. Passivity (doing nothing, staying silent as if nothing is wrong) gives the message that abusive behavior is acceptable. Suggestions that the woman “try talking to him” demoralize the victim and increase the likelihood that the abuse will continue. To bring about change, third party interveners must clarify that violence is the batterer’s responsibility, that violence is not the responsibility of the victim he blames, and that further violence will not be tolerated.

Government leaders and the press similarly bear third party responsibility to clearly condemn all terrorist violence. Bush’s response to Al Qaeda terrorism has in this regard been on target. By contrast, Palestinian terrorists have received ambiguous messages from American administrations, and encouragement from third party European and Arab governments, allowing their tactics to grow increasingly bold and lethal.

Intervene Early, as Violence Escalates over Time.

Policy-makers and police need to note where hate rhetoric buds, nip these groups early, and monitor them closely. At the first signs of physical violence, the response must be immediate and conclusive.

Strong anti-terrorism action after the first World Trade Center and the several embassy bombings by Al Qaeda would have prevented the more than 3000 New York and Pentagon lives lost on September 11. If small-scale Palestinian stonethrowing in Israel at the end of the year 2000 had been forcefully and abruptly terminated, hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries on both sides might have been averted.

Assume that Threats will be Implemented

Newspapers and TV in many Middle Eastern countries broadcast virulent anti-American hate rhetoric. American policymakers must heed what they are saying. Continued calls for jihad against America must be taken seriously. Iran’s Rafsanjani has made recent statements about using his rapidly developing nuclear weapons to eliminate Israel. These statements too must be heard with utmost concern and merit development of preemptive plans of action.

Collect Weaponry

Domestic abusers must be relieved of access to guns.

Weaponry of terrorists also must be captured. The U.S. military is currently engaged in this project vis a vis Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Karzai has made establishment of security in his country one of his top priorities.

The Oslo peace agreement in 1993 specifically outlawed Palestinian possession of any weaponry designed for use beyond local criminal or crowd control, but Israel and the West were mistakenly permissive in allowing non-compliance (Luft, 2001). Israeli incursions into Palestinian villages and cities for the dual purposes of arresting terrorists and removing arms depots up to this point (January 2002) have not been frequent or thorough enough to contain Palestinian terrorist dangerousness.

Removing Palestinian weapons depots however poses challenges. Palestinian Bassam Eid, director-general of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, explains, “The Palestinian Authority has built security facilities in every neighborhood, along every road, in every town, in nearly every home. It is destructive to daily life. And then, when Israel wants to shell a police station, 20 more houses are destroyed. And I say to the Palestinian Authority: why did you put them there in the first place?” (Prince-Gibson, 2001). The result is that when Israel does attempt to remove these arms caches, there is significant danger of collateral damage. Mothers crying over injured children and damaged homes create strong public relations images.

Responding to Underlying Concerns

One particularly difficult question is what to do about deeper issues such as the sense of inferiority, jealousy, and obsession with domination that seem to motivate many terrorists. Without intending to be in a competition, the West has outdistanced Islam in political power and in the realms of science and technology that are so core to today’s world (Lewis, 1995). Yet to hobble ourselves to soothe Islamists clearly makes no sense.

Alternative Solutions to the Urge to Dominate

Al Qaeda espouses a course of action that is dreadfully destructive—to triumph over the United States by killing U.S. citizens and destroying buildings that symbolize our power. Sadly, Islamists have not found playing fields that provide victory without destruction. Sports are marvelous in this regard, ideals of what Freud termed “sublimation” of urges. How different the world would be today if Bin Laden’s training camps turned out champions for the World Cup. Olympics organizers are considering providing sports facilities in refugee camps around the world. If jihad could be fought with soccer balls instead of swords, the Crescents against the Crusaders, the world would certainly be a safer place.

Nationalist terrorism has proven similarly destructive for the people they purport to help. Nationalism and self-determination were buzz words that were quite fashionable for a number of years. However, nationalistic separatist movements such as those of the French in Quebec, the Basques in Spain, Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, like Palestinian nationalism, have not on the whole had sanguine impacts. Separation may not in fact be an ideal solution for meeting the full range of legitimate concerns of these people—concerns for self-rule and dignity combined with economic viability and good governance. Increased status and power within the pre-existing larger states may provide better solutions to ethnic aspirations than separatist movements, better both for the smaller group and for the region as a whole. For example, though it is politically incorrect for either Palestinians or Jews even to suggest a one-state solution with Palestinians living with full citizenship in a pluralistic larger state of Israel, such a solution may be more advantageous for both sides than the two-state option that the Oslo agreement disastrously attempted to implement.

Be Aware of Distortions Caused by Hypersensitivity to Shame

As described in Part I, a situation that most people might regard as normal or neighborly may trigger a sense of subjugation and shame in a batterer or terrorist. This tendency for terrorist spokespeople to present distorted readings of situations needs to be understood by people working with terrorists.

For example, in his Fatwah of February 23, 1998 Osama Bin Laden declared, “The Arabian Peninsula has never— since God made it flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas—been stormed by any forces like the crusader arm is now spreading in it like locusts, consuming its riches and destroying its plantations…”

While the hyperbole in this quote is poetic, this narrative says more about how victimized and humiliated Osama feels by the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia than about their actual activities there. It bears little or no relationship to the reality. American forces are most circumspect in their presence in Saudi Arabia. They stay isolated for the most part on remotely located military bases. Women soldiers—even women fighter pilots–wear an abaya, the oppressive head-to-toe body covering required of women, when they must travel. They follow local rules and do not drive, and leave the base only if they are escorted by a “brother,” in this case a male soldier. Bin Laden’s description of a rapacious army is a particularly perverse reversal of reality in that American troops are stationed there in order to prevent a genuinely malevolent country, Iraq, from invading.

Unfortunately, too many journalists and government representatives hear such hyperbolic distortions as descriptions of fact. It is incumbent on responsible government and press professionals in terrorism environments such as Islamist and Palestinian regions to translate, or at least verify, statements that describe people feeling shamed and humiliated, oppressed and dominated– not just report such statements as reliable fact.

Relationship Patterns

What can be done to ameliorate battering relationships? The aim of batterer relationship changes needs to be cooperation—not reversal of who is on top and who is on the bottom.

Unfortunately, a collaborative relationship is generally not what terrorists seek. Terrorists seek to “win,” as the Taliban did over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. If they win, that is, succeed in reversing the power relationship, however, they are at risk for establishing an oppressive relationship with those they then govern that is equal or even worse than the power asymmetry that existed prior to their power reversal.

End the Relationship

The best relationship with a batterer may be one as ex-spouse. Battered women often cling to the partner, believing, as described above, that better options do not exist, that she cannot survive financially, that the children need their father, or that says she must tame the beast. Sometimes the batterer does improve and become a reasonable spouse, but lasting change with serious batterers is the exception more than the rule, and generally requires considerable psychotherapeutic intervention. A victim who clings to the idea that a batterer will be able to fulfill the role of husband more likely only prolongs her suffering and prohibits herself from finding a more suitable mate. Interestingly, though women often remain in a bad marriage for the sake of the children, multiple studies confirm that children in families with major fighting often are happier if the parents divorce.

With terrorists similarly the best relationship may be no relationship. Defeat of terrorism allows healthier elements in the terrorists’ society to step forth. After the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, America did not allow Al Qaeda or the Taliban to negotiate a way to stay in power, or even in existence. Al Qaeda and Mullah Omar had harmed the Afghan people far more severely than they did damage to America. In ending a “relationship” with them America freed the people of Afghanistan in addition, hopefully, to ending the Al Qaeda power to harm citizens of the United States. Similarly, Arafat and his Palestinian terrorist organizations have wreaked devastation on their populations. If Israel removes Arafat and the terrorist organizations he protects, both Israel’s citizenry and the Palestinian people are more likely to be able to prosper.

What Can Counter Terrorists’ Hate?

Terrorists may hate because of family of origin experiences that engendered overwhelming shame, pain, or sense of abandonment; because they developed a pattern of anger and externalizing in response to problems; or because of other reasons delineated in Part I.

Members of terrorist organizations as opposed to the leadership, however, and members of a population who support terrorists, typically hate for a different reason. Their hatred is almost inevitable given the information they have about their supposed enemy. Propagandistically dwelling on and exaggerating their enemy’s supposed negative attributes and actions, this mis-information points them directly to hate. As one courageous journalist who had traveled in Northern Pakistan during the year prior to the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks wrote:

The Pakistanis, Afghans, and Arab prisoners of war I interviewed in Mas’ud’s prisons had all believed in jihad against Mas’ud, whom they variously characterized as an “infidel” or a “lackey of Russian infidels.” After their capture, some—though by no means all—changed their minds, recognizing Mas’ud as a devout Muslim and a great mujahid, a holy warrior, against the Soviet Union. They told me how Islamist preachers in Pakistan’s northwest frontier and in Kabul had deluded them into believing that the Tajik Afghans weren’t really Muslims…..For many prisoners, Mullah ‘Umar and Usama bin Ladin had been godheads. .. these prisoners had lived to die and to fulfill their masters’ words” (Gerecht, 2001, p. 77).

Similarly, as described above, Palestinians have been told all their lives in schools and mosques and all their news media that Israeli land is really Palestine and simply temporarily occupied by Jews. Every map they have seen in school or as adults designates the area that the rest of the world knows as Israel as Palestine. Of course they hate the “occupiers.”

To combat the climate of hate and the ethic of destruction terrorist groups instill into the people who follow them, a change in leadership may prove essential. A strong leader who eschews violence, like President Musharraf in Pakistan and the sheiks of several of the Gulf states, can lead a country in solving its problems instead of feeding hatred of scapegoats. Particularly in cultures like the Middle East where most people grow up in hierarchical families, people look to their governmental leaders to explain to them what they should do. Changing the information and narrative of people who hate will be a task that will require extraordinary leadership. Ultimately, however, without new leadership and new narratives, the hatred is not likely to stop. Outsiders can contain violence, but insiders in each culture must present alternative belief systems.

What of the role of intellectuals? Too often, according to one Arab writer, intellectuals in Arab regions respond with silence (Makiya, aka Al-Khalil, 1993). “The painful thing to observe is the unrelenting stridency of the Arab intelligentsia’s attempt to blame every ill on the West or Israel” (p.235). Yet, as Tom Friedman so aptly wrote in the New York Times, “President Bush has warned us that the war on terrorism will be a long struggle. …We will have won round one once we’ve killed Osama bin Laden and his allies and the leaders of the Arab-Muslim world have killed his ideas. That’s the division of labor. We have to eliminate the killers and they have to de-legitimate his ideas” (Friedman, 2001).

Can Cultures that Breed Relationship Violence be Changed?

If the world is to become safe from violence, families must become more reliable incubators. Children need to grow up in emotional safety and with modeling of collaborative marital partnership. “Much of what is specific to cruelty in the modern Arab world is traceable to violence against women,” Kanan Makira writes in Cruelty and Silence (1993, p.299). Makira paints a shocking insiders’ view of violence within Arab, and particularly Iraqi and Palestinian, culture. According to Makiya, an emphasis on honor and shame, much of which centers on women’s virginity and its violation, feeds a culture of cruelty to women, as does a gender-based hierarchical social system. “Traditional cruelty toward women always originated in their powerlessness and diminished status in the culture” (Makiya, 1993, p. 298).

While many and particularly educated Muslims form mutually respectful and humane husband-wife relationships, more conservative Islamic scholars posit that “It is better for the husband to beat his wife a little, to make her feel she was wrong, than to destroy the family through divorce” (Feldner, 2000, p. 49). These rulings are interpretations of verses 4:34 from the Koran which are often quoted to legitimize wife beating:

Men are responsible for women…so virtuous women obey [their husbands] … Admonish those of them on whose part you apprehend disobedience, and keep them out of your bed, and beat them (Feldner, 2000, p. 48).

One study of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban concluded that the Taliban imposed the most draconian measures and arguably the most systematic repression of women in history. “It is terror designed for total power, total control—a process that may yet kill millions of Afghan women and leave the rest to face an array of mental health problems that are likely to haunt Afghan society for generations to come” (Schulz & Schulz, 1999).

In the Pashtun culture from which Taliban arose and which hosted Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, “family members are engaged in a permanent and often violent struggle for power in which only two human types are recognized—the weak and the strong….Domestic violence is regarded as the main entertainment of village life, and women routinely display bruises and scars they have received at the hand of their husbands” (Hilton, 2001).

Palestinian rules of wife-beating as listed in the Islamic rulings section of the October 1998 Palestinian Authority’s daily newspaper set limits on beatings by forbidding stabbing. This limitation perhaps encourages somewhat less visible damage than Pashtun customs permit, but otherwise also normalizes battering practices (Feldner, 2000).

It is no wonder that in Pashtun and Palestinian societies, where men are expected to dominate women and wifebeating is an accepted domestic practice, so many citizens regard terrorism as normal and legal rather than criminal political activity. Such countries are likely to continue to offer fertile territory for breeding terrorists. Perhaps therefore in the long run the critical tactic for ending global terrorism may be to launch worldwide campaigns for women’s rights and against family violence— wife abuse, child abuse, and any other forms of verbal and physical battering.

Marriage courses, especially when they are sponsored and sanctioned by religious and government authorities, can change mores by teaching mutually respectful marital relationship, communication, and conflict resolution skills. Interestingly, third world countries are showing significant interest in teaching such courses to their populations. I personally have had trainees for my marriage skills course, The Power of Two, from Australia, Maylasia, the Phillipines, Lebanon, and Jordan; inquires with regard to establishing government-sponsored course from Iran and the United Arab Emirates; and the book has been translated for publication in China, Turkey, Israel, and Brazil. Fast-rising divorce rates in many of these countries (averaging, for instance, between 40% and 70% in United Arab Emirates) are motivating governmental agencies responsible for family affairs to seek solutions.

Changes in parenting skills also would make a massive difference. Kindly but firm parental authorities, as opposed to harshly punitive and shaming parental dictators, are necessary to produce children who tolerate differences in themselves and in others, who take responsibility for their mistakes, and who problem-solve in the face of challenges rather than devolving into blame. Parents can be taught authoritative skills to replace overly permissive or authoritarian parenting techniques. Along with conflict resolution skills and education for egalitarian marriage partnership, parent education can make a significant increase in a society’s ability to produce humane citizens and violence-free democracies.

Mary Bentley Abu-Saba in Lebanon focuses on an additional highly influential institution. She writes that in her country, long racked by sectarian violence and civil war, authoritarian schools with corporal punishment and shame-based discipline have been a training ground for violence. Reform of such school systems, and inclusion of conflict resolution training in the curricula, is vital. Initial successes of one such program in Lebanon included a 60% success rate in convincing principals to banish violence against children in their schools. (Abu-Saba, 1999) One lesson the world has learned from Islamist madrassas—what children learn in school makes a massive difference in the values of children as they grow into adulthood.

In sum, cultures of violence are learned (Galtung, 1994). To end terrorism, cultures of peace need to be taught instead. In the meanwhile, however, cultures of violence must be contained lest they continue to imperil their neighbors and wreak harm on the rest of the world.

Cognitive Patterns

A good inoculation against batterer or terrorist propaganda may be education about their cognitive distortions. Awareness of these patterns gives a listener self-protective listening tools: a shield to which blame and criticism do not stick, Geiger counters for finding rich lodes of information to uncover, x-ray techniques for understanding batterers’ inner concerns, and translation devices.

Create a shield against blame

Battered wives typically dwell on questions like “Why is he mad at me?” and “What have I done wrong?” They take to heart their husband’s blame and criticism. These questions are risky and wrong. A batterer blames because of patterns of response within himself, not generally because of the actions of the victim. Reversing the question so that the focus is on the batterer—“What is he doing wrong?” or “Why is he acting this way?”—by contrast creates a helpful shield behind which listening to batterer or terrorist diatribes can be safe.

To healthy individuals, this prescription may sound odd. When problems occur in a healthy relationship, looking at oneself, for what I am doing wrong, is appropriate and helpful. Looking at oneself to explain a batterer’s anger, however, misses the point—and is a set-up for battered women’s syndrome. Women who have difficulty leaving an abusive situation or doing something definitive to bring abuse to a halt typically have succumbed to this mistake. Believing a batterer’s accusations, accepting his insistence that “I am only doing this because YOU…,” leads to battered woman syndrome. If a recipient of a batterer’s attacks slides into battered woman’s syndrome, she becomes depressed, feels hopeless about ever changing her situation, and is rendered ineffective.

Use Finger-Pointing and Blame as Geiger Counters

In response to criticism, accusations, and blame many people fall into the trap of defending themselves. Defending is a weak position, and encourages ever more accusations. Rather, finger-pointing can be used by a sophisticated listener to identify when a discussion is honing in on an issue of import. Negative comments like criticism, accusations, and blame can be listened to like a Geiger counter. The louder that verbal battering ticks, the more likely that important information is hidden beneath.

Verbal battering signals the presence of underlying fears, shame, and circumstances that are motivating a critical upsurge. Listening in this way is not easy when verbal battering feels dangerous. A first step may be to extricate from such a situation. Recollection and analysis from a safe distance from the diatribe however can uncover important understandings.

Use projections as X-rays

An understanding of the nature of projection offers an x-ray view inside batterers’ or terrorists’ subconscious thinking. To read the x-rays, the listener thinks about how each accusation may apply to the speaker. For instance, in his fatwah against America Bin Laden’s stated, “They [the U.S. military] come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.” A reading of this projection tells us that Bin Laden himself, the speaker, would like to do what he accuses the U.S. of doing—i.e., come to annihilate and humiliate his enemies, the United States and the secular Saudi leadership.

Translate Minimizing, Exaggerating, Denial, Lying, and Turning Upside-Down

The main intervention with these habits is awareness, including public education. For instance, as described in Part I, Defense Rumsfeld was very helpful when he responded to lies the Taliban told about casualties they had supposedly had inflicted on American forces. Rumsfeld explained pointedly to the American public, “When we have a helicopter that goes down…we tell you. And these other things (the Taliban is saying) are not happening. They are fiction” (Buzbee, 2001).

The press bears especially important responsibility for educating the public in this regard. Journalists themselves cannot afford to be naïve. They must be able to distinguish propaganda from truth. They need a keen ear for when terrorists they quote may be blaming, minimizing, lying, turning upside down. In these cases, they must be careful not to simply report terrorists’ quotes as valid descriptions of situations. Addition of a clarifying quote from a reliable alternative source alongside quotes from known terrorist leaders and spokespeople is vital to help readers sort the truth from the reality distortions. Journalists must be especially careful not to adopt terrorists’ terminology when it minimizes the violence and criminality of their actions or exaggerates the wrong-doings of terrorists’ victims. It is incumbent on journalists to verify “facts” received in briefings from terrorist spokespeople. The gullibility of many reporters covering terrorism in the Middle East has been most unfortunate in this regard (Nirenstein, 2000).

Maintain Moral Clarity

In the face of batterers’ and terrorists’ distortions of events, maintaining clarity about who is right and who is wrong, what is good and what is evil, can be difficult. Couple therapy cases that involve verbal or physical battering almost always pose enigmas for a therapist. Determining who is reporting accurately and who is distorting what occurred is initially challenging. Ultimately a fairly reliable indicator of reliability is the extent to which each individual takes responsibility for his part in difficulties or instead blames the other. Ironically, the batterer, who has the least to blame the other for, generally does considerably more blaming.

As to where good or evil lie, the bottom line is that all genuine religions basically agree that, in general, that which brings about despotism, destruction and death is bad. That which brings about peace, good will, growth, freedom, responsibility, justice and well-being is good. In our everyday lives we seldom have to worry about this distinction. But in the topsy-turvy chaos of terrorist violence, basic values get confused. Millions in the Islamic world idolize Bin Laden. Palestinians regard suicide bombers who blow themselves up to kill Israeli families relaxing at a sidewalk cafe as heroic martyrs.

Terrorists obfuscate good and evil by hijacking religious or political concepts of goodness. Framing hostility toward America as a religious duty, and jihad as an activity that will be rewarded by God, enables bin Laden to legitimize Al Qaeda violence to fellow Islamists (Mandel, 2002). Framing Palestinian violence as an essential for gaining self-determination f or the Palestinian people couches evil in an ostensible good. In general these obfuscations depend upon justifying the means by the ends. “… the greatest acts of evil … were caused … by those who believed with certainty that they were acting in accordance with the word of God and were, therefore, on the side of righteous and against the side of evil” (Mandel, 2002, p.105).

For success in combating global terror, the world must build an international consensus on moral and legal principles regarding violence so that such obfuscations will no longer succeed. All terror must be delegitimized, not all except terror for this or that cause, Basque or Chechen, Islamist or Palestinian (Netanyahu, 2001)(Bremer, 2001). On this project we have a long way to go.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Attempts to negotiate with terrorists as ‘partners in peace’ are generally ill-conceived. Bin Laden is simply bent on destruction; there is nothing that America could negotiate with him. Terrorists with psychopathic patterns of lying like Arafat do not take agreements seriously. They regard legal documents as binding for the other side, but not for themselves, so negotiating and signing agreements wastes everyone’s time and sets up a deception about violence to come.

Dominate in Response to Dominance

When terrorists regard negotiation—the give and take of talking to resolve differences–as a sign of weakness, talking with terrorists as equal negotiating partners rather than arresting them can be a dangerous error. Palestinian Leila Khaled, one of the early airplane hijackers, later reported to BBC that she considered their 1970 terrorist operation a great success because it  showed “that governments could be negotiated with and that we could impose our demands…[that] gave us the courage and the confidence to go ahead with our struggle” (Pollock, 2001).

In the 1980’s American leaders dealing with terrorists succeeded in halting, temporarily at least, burgeoning Arab terrorism. In response to car bombings aimed at the American embassy in Beirut in 1983 which killed 240 American Marines, Secretary of State George Shultz and President Reagan developed a posture that was uncompromised and unrelenting. They flatly refused to negotiate with terrorists. When PLO gunmen who took over the cruise ship Achille Lauro or hijacked airliners made demands, Shultz responded with counter-threats that if the hijackers harmed their hostages in any way whatsoever the American government would hunt down and wipe out every one of them (Netanyahu, 2001).

Going even further, Shultz declared that passive defense was not enough. At a 1984 meeting on international terrorism Shultz declared “From a practical standpoint, a purely passive defense does not provide enough of a deterrent to terrorism and the states that sponsor it. It is time to think long, hard, and seriously about more active means of defense—defense through appropriate preventive or preemptive actions against terrorist groups before they strike.” Congress then passed legislation closing down Arafat’s PLO offices throughout the U.S., the PLO at that time being the primary purveyor of international terror (Netanyahu, 2001).

Talking collaboratively with terrorists, that is, negotiation, at best leads to ceasefires, which invite cycle of violence preparations for the next round of violence. Unfortunately, however, in the 1990’s the State Department made this error repeatedly with regard to both Taliban and Palestinian terrorism. The few U.S. officials who met Afghanistan’s widely admired Northern Alliance leader Masoud advised him to try harder to find a modus vivendi with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar instead of giving him aid and a green light to eliminate Taliban and Al Qaeda (Gerecht, 2001). History clearly proved this advice tragic. U.S. officials long insisted that Israel’s leaders negotiate peace agreements with Arafat. This advice also courted disaster.

If negotiating with terrorists is a bad idea, what are the alternatives for bringing peace where the cancer of terror has taken hold? Summing up what has been mentioned above, three steps are crucial, The first must be to overpower terrorists. With moral clarity (clarity that violence is an unacceptable mode of conflict resolution), blocked financing (closing bank accounts and organizations that channel funds to terrorist groups), and whatever military action is necessary, the Bush Doctrine needs to be implemented—i.e., eliminate terrorists, their organizations, and the governments which harbor them. Second, negotiations can begin with new leadership. Third, and simultaneous with the second step, the hand of friendship and aid for rebuilding then can be extended generously, but only to new leaders espousing cooperation, democracy, and dialogue–not to leaders who have been terrorists or tyrants.

What Must Mediators Know for Negotiations with Terrorists?

All rules have exceptions. Terrorists, like batterers, exist on a continuum from those who use only verbal violence to terrorists eager to murder. There may be times when negotiations with milder terrorist organizations may be constructive.

In these cases, mediators bear responsibility for maintaining rules of healthy dialogue, much as traffic police maintain the rules of the road. They must channel the discussion along pathways that will lead to win-win solutions, avoiding side roads and traps that could derail productive discussion. That means that they have to set ceilings on intensity of emotional expression, keep each person verbalizing his own concerns and digesting others’ rather than attacking or defending, and keep all participants listening constructively. They must maintain tight control of the process, constantly channeling participants onto the safe pathways of cooperative problem-solving.

Batterers and terrorists, however, insist on being in control. They do not willingly follow rules or let others control them–and therefore predictably will turn on the mediator, accusing him/her of interrupting, favoring the other, or not letting him say what he has to say. This attack is a power showdown which the mediator must pleasantly but firmly win for subsequent negotiations to proceed productively.

In this power showdown the batterer will be highly aware of potential humiliation in front of the others at the mediation. To help him save face but still maintain control, a mediator can call a brief caucus to meet alone with the batterer. In this private setting the mediator can explain how the rules of collaborative dialogue work, clarify that these rules will be followed, and offer ways to help. In this manner the negotiation becomes educative as well as potentially successful. Note that a caucus alone with one participant or negotiating team must be followed, for symmetry sake, with a brief meeting also with the other.

Batterers generally say what they feel in bludgeoning rather than tactful formats. The mediator can suggest that when the abuser blurts out his feelings unconstructively, the mediator will then translate for him into more tactful language. For instance, if the batterer, or in this case terrorist, were to lament, “You Israelis have occupied our country too long and too brutally!” the mediator might translate his complaint into a statement that is positive (what he wants rather than what he does not want), a statement of insight rather than blame (using I, not You, as the subject), and re-framed in non-provocative language: e.g., “I would like my Palestinian people to feel independent on their land, self-governing and free of Israeli military presence.”

Overview of Intervention Strategies

Speculation on the root causes of terrorism has typically focused on two issues, poverty and nationalistic aspirations (Pillar, 2001). Yet the Marxist view, that economics determines all, is contradicted by the many countries whose dire poverty spawns no terrorists. And nationalism may be as much a result as a cause of terrorism.

A look at the sources of domestic violence suggests alternative hypotheses with regard to terrorism’s roots. Although some domestic violence occurs in most cultures, domestic violence seems to flourish where two factors converge.

1. Individuals with a batterer mentality.

2. A culture that condones violence and intimidation tactics–e.g. where men are expected to dominate women, domestic violence is legal, macho is admired, and fighting is regarded as manly.

Terrorism flourishes where three factors converge. Terrorism needs organized groups to be added to the mix.

1. A leader with a batterer mentality.

2. A culture that condones violence and intimidation tactics as evidenced by normalization of domestic violence, by an oppressive, non-democratic political system, and by allowance and even encouragement of terror organizations..

3. Organized groups that endorse violence and that have funding, weapons, and planning capacities.

The Bush Doctrine as implemented in Afghanistan included elements responsive to all three of these factors.

1. The leaders, Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden, were militarily removed from power.

2. The former and more benign Afghanistan culture was reasserted. A new government being nurtured by Western consultants espouses cooperation and democratic values. Hopefully the emerging social culture that will prevail will not be dominated by violent Pashtun norms. Afghanistan’s culture prior to the Russians in the late 1970’s had been becoming relatively egalitarian with regard to women, valued Western education and democracy, espoused humanitarian rather than violent norms, and that certainly did not condone woman-beating on the streets or random violence by ethics police against citizens (Hilton, 2001).

3. Their terrorist organizations were dismantled, and the middle management and communications infrastructure, financing, and weaponry destroyed.

Israel’s struggle against Palestinian terrorism, as of this writing in early 2002, offers a striking contrast Counterterrorism measures there appear to be insufficient in all three dimensions. Terrorism continues to wreak increasing havoc on the lives of both Israeli and Palestinian residents.

1. Terrorist leaders remain at large so healthier leadership has not been able to emerge.

2. Palestinian culture has become increasingly supportive of terrorist violence. The Palestinian press and broadcast media continue to incite violence with unrelenting hate propaganda against Israel. Third parties in Europe and the Middle East add their voices to the rhetoric. The dominant Palestinian voice at this point is from Hamas, destructively insisting that more violence and jihad will succeed with elimination of all of Israel. Dissenting Palestinian voices such as that of Bassam Eid of Human Rights Watch– “I am so angry; the intifada has caused us 100 percent damage, with no benefits” (Prince-Gibson, 2001)–are rare.

3. Terrorist organizations have continued to grow.

In sum, surgical removal of terrorists such as Bin Laden and Arafat, their organizations, and governments that harbor them like the Taliban and the Palestinian Authority is imperative to stop the spread of tumors of terrorism throughout the world. These are emergency crisis intervention procedures we must implement to save our globe from the malignancy of violence.

Surgery however must be followed by long-term care that strengthens the immune system of the host cultures. New leaders must reorient their people toward political health–democracy, not tyranny–and toward social and economic growth– investing in better lives for their people, not in killing neighbors. New leaders must replace incitement of hatred with inspiration of faith in cooperation and pluralism. They need to stop claiming victimhood and start engaging in constructive problem-solving with the neighbors they have been terrorizing.

New leaders also can insure that their people will embrace life, not glorify war, by institutionalizing changes in families. Laws must make violence against spouses and children illegal. Instruction on sanguine marriage, parenting, and conflict resolution skills must become a part of the education of every citizen and in every school. Where families are led by stable couples who share power; where well-nurtured children receive parenting with firmness, not harshness; and where people resolve conflicts by talking, not fighting—in such cultures domestic violence and terrorism have little chance to metastasize.

Politically healthy governments and emotionally healthy families inoculate against evil. With such immunities, the dove of peace could have the chance forever, globally, to fly free.

“On September 11, I, like everyone else, was glued to a television set watching the savagery that struck America. Yet amid the smoking ruins of the Twin Towers one could make out the Statue of Liberty holding high the torch of freedom. It is freedom’s flame that the terrorists sought to extinguish. But it is that same torch, so proudly held by the United States, that can lead the free world to crush the forces of terror and secure our tomorrow. It is within our power. Let us now make sure that it is within our will.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, September 20, 2001

Speech to the US House of Representatives’ Government Reform Committee

Terrorism and Domestic Violence 42


1 Women also can be abusive, but because the preponderance of batterers and terrorists, and those who inflict the most damage, are men, I will use the male pronoun in this chapter.


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