Inside the Mind of a Terrorist

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When I began to write The Chechen’s Revenge, I needed to figure out what went on in the mind of a terrorist. Questions arose such as: Why do they make the decision to become a terrorist? How do they become willing to be a suicide bomber? What triggers their rage? There are any number of questions that can be asked. As a writer I felt I had to try and understand the psyche of a terrorist. As a former journalist I recognize that research is important. My approach to such questions was to read academic arguments about terrorists, what they do, and why they do it.  I found a great deal of very interesting theory on the subject of terrorists and terrorism. By no stretch of the imagination did I read everything available, but I feel I covered enough to form ideas about how to develop the character of Marek Kafirov.

I made the character Marek of Chechen birth, so that meant I also needed to have some fairly well grounded understanding of the environment that such a character would be born into and be raised to adulthood. I read histories about Chechnya, again not everything that is available but enough that I began to understand that almost any child born there in the past 100 years or so would undoubtedly have suffered in a variety of ways, especially, I think, psychically. The history of Chechnya is fraught with turmoil and violence. There has been an enmity with Russia for many decades covering several generations. In recent history Russia has been regarded as perhaps the worst possible aggressor.

An Islamic View of Terrorism by Mahan Avedin provided an interesting perspective as I worked through articles about terrorists generally and Chechen Terrorists more specifically.  I found a point of view that suggests that since Islam forbids terrorism, an individual of the Muslim faith would have to abandon Islam to become a terrorist. That seemed to be contradictory to a common understanding.

An article by Dr. Almon Leroy Way Jr. titled Jihadist Manifesto, Part 1 examines some passages of the Qur’an and suggests that it is permissible to fight against non-believers or against the friends of Satan. The article goes on to espouse the idea that if attacked, this in the context of Russian atrocities in Chechnya, there is a right to return the attack. This notion allowed me to create a terrorist character emboldened to fight anyone who could be considered the friends of enemies.

In my research I came across material written by Osama bin Laden. In a piece called First Order-Ladenese Epistle: Declaration of War, Part 1, bin Laden argues that the Qur’an that obedience to Allah will garner forgiveness and the achievement of great success. I believe that bin Lade can certainly be regarded as interpreting the Qur’an in a manner that suits his own interests. I am certainly not a scholar of the Islamic holy writings, but I think I can understand that a charismatic figure can use holy words to incite followers. I therefore chose to put my character Marek Kafirov in a situation where a charismatic figure would have opportunity to persuade a largely defenseless youth into a life of terrorism by manipulating his circumstances. Bin Laden’s article stresses the issue of duty to overcome, that there is no greater duty after Belief, than fighting an enemy who is corrupting life and religion. My character Marek is thus drawn into such a structure of understanding to the extent that martyrdom is to be desired. By the way Islam and the Qur’an, by my understanding and that of experts beyond my level of study, does not permit suicide. Bin Laden’s teachings appear to go way past that concept.

Maj. Jason Orlich in his article Sources of Ideological Authority introduced me to the idea of religious conditioning. Orlich quotes a former PLO terrorist, Walid Shoebat, who claims that when religious conditioning is taught to Muslim masses using allusions of misery, historic manipulation and illusions of the virtues of a distant past to convert those masses into angry, pride-filled, remorseless killers. I am not convinced this necessarily works as advertised, but I can agree some in the crowds are going to go along with such claims. They become dissident though still a minority. I can also agree these dissidents become exceedingly dangerous because of their new found attitudes. My character, Marek, is thus made to be filled with rage to the extent he is committed to the cause of the suicide terrorist.

Orlich also introduced me to the variety of Islam known as Wahhabism, proposed in the 1700’s CE by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, as a means of returning Islam to its pure form. In most of the Arabic world where Wahhabism gained a foothold, the followers are mainly peaceful. But in Chechnya, radical Wahhabist teachers turned the focus to violence. My character Marek is developed as a young boy coming into the sway of such a teacher. I don’t use the term brainwashing in describing what Marek went through, but such a term could probably be applied.

As I end this particular post, I feel I need to recognize from the histories that I read that many young children experienced very horrendous atrocities. Many survived without turning to a so-called dark side. I have no doubt, however, that all suffered mental turmoil, some to the extent that they grew up troubled by such horrible images that PTSD would be inevitable for many of them. My character is profiled as a victim of PTSD, but that is discussion for a future post.

In this post I have tried to provide some insight about how I went about creating and developing a character driven to do harm in the world. I cannot say that I hope you will enjoy this character, but I do hope this information will help you enjoy The Chechen’s Revenge overall.

Good reading everyone. Thanks for your support.

Ron Stotyn, PhD

I am a retired college professor and former broadcast journalist. I live in Vermont with my wife. I write near the shores of Lake Champlain. As an author I cast characters in the task of anti-terrorism efforts. The setting for my stories is Canada. My first novel is The Chechen's Revenge, a story of Sean-Guy O'Dwyer-Lariviere and his team of Canadian Anti-terrorism Service agents on the trail of a rebel Chechen, determined to create havoc and death on Toronto's Go Train system. The Chechen's Revenge is now in print and can be ordered online at https://mkt.com/northof49publishing.

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2 comments on “Inside the Mind of a Terrorist
  1. Turpal says:

    Marek is not a chechen name, armenian yes, chechen no way.

    There’s a lot of old chechen names(Turpal,Vakha,Jamboulat,Boyskhar,Djammirza,Djond,Berd and etc) , and islamic(arabic) names(Muhammad,Islam,Musa,Isa, Mansour,Shamil,Djovkhar) and some names of Turkic descent(Timur,Astemir,Bulat,Aslan,Ingiskhan,Chingiskhan and etc) in Chechnya.

    • This writer is correct, however, to clarify the matter, readers of The Chechen’s Revenge will understand that the name “Marek” was assumed by the terrorist to disguise his real identity. Thus it really does not matter much if the name is Chechen or not. The novel is fictional, and the author believes that a certain amount of poetic license is completely okay. Thanks for the comment Turpal. I do appreciate your interest. Regards
      Ron Stotyn, PhD

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