Despite common American impressions, terrorists are “psychologically normal” and do not violate their interpretation of Islamic law by participating in suicide bombings, terrorist expert and GW professor Jerrold Post told students Wednesday night in Funger Hall.
“(Terrorist) groups expel disturbed people because they are a security risk,” Post told a crowd of about 70 people.
Post said Americans are often confused that Islamic terrorists commit suicide attacks, because Islamic law prohibits suicide. Post quoted several “extreme” Islamic religious leaders who called suicide terrorists martyrs claiming their actions do not break Islamic law.
He said terrorists who attack the United States are highly committed to the cause because they spend many years preparing for their mission.
A frequent guest who provides insight into bin Laden and the war on terrorism on CNN and other news networks, Post teaches psychiatry and political psychology.
Post said he is currently creating a psychological profile of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born millionaire suspected of orchestrating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and past terrorist acts against the U.S.
He said the main motivation behind terrorism is to spread fear.
Post called the threat of contracting anthrax from the mail” quite small” but said the recent anthrax attacks are accomplishing the terrorists’ objective of striking fear.
“It is a wave of terror affecting every American and represents a quite effective act of terror,” Post said.
Post said bin Laden views the United States as an enemy of Islam.
“A destructive, charismatic leader needs an enemy,” Post said, referring to bin Laden. He said bin Laden shifted his attention to the West after the Soviet-Afghan war ended in the ’80s.
“Osama bin Laden is the commander in chief of radical Islam in the holy war against the West, whose commander in chief is President George W. Bush with the able assistance of (British) Prime Minister Tony Blair,” Post said.
Post faults moderate Muslim leaders for distancing themselves from terrorism conducted in the name of Islam.
“(These actions are) distorted and extremist, but those people on planes were killing in the name of Allah,” he said. “It’s important for mainstream Islam to deal with this.”
Post also discussed ways the country can respond to terrorism.
“This is not a war to be won as a conventional war with a winner and loser . it is a struggle to make terror interfere as little as possible with Western life,” Post said.
He suggested that bin Laden be given less publicity and presented as someone threatening modern Islam.
“Charismatic leaders have to be de-idealized. Every personal attack on Osama Bin-Laden gives him stature,” Post said. “I’d like to see the $25 million reward (for the arrest of bin Laden) reduced to $1.”
Post also recounted his experience interviewing convicted terrorist Khalfan Khamis Mohamed while he awaited sentencing for his role in the 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Post was called in as an expert witness during the trial and asked to profile Mohamed.
“The normality of the discourse is what makes it so chilling,” Post said after reading excerpts from his interviews with Mohammed.
Freshman Shaohna Ascher said she attended the lecture because she thinks criminal psychology is an important field.
“With this holy war, we have to look to terrorists’ motivations to stop (terror),” Ascher said.