The Psychological Battle Against Terror

A man prays by a memorial for the dead. Image credit: Christian Hartman, REUTERS.

There is a special aspect to be considered when analyzing the modus operandi and tactics of jihadist movements. As we all know, criminals usually act in secrecy, trying to leave no trace of their underground activities and avoiding capture. However, jihadi attacks and claims of responsibility have largely proven that violent extremisms aim to operate in the open.

In a word where communication is key, contemporary terrorism has become a constant and disruptive daily presence. Because their attacks are in the open, we feel a threat even when terrorists seem inactive.

The reason of this spectacularization can be found in their main purpose: what do terrorist groups want to gain from their attacks?

Behind all criminal activities, there is a certain desire for power. In the specific case of terrorism, it is all about power to influence people’s emotions.

It is plain to see that terrorists want to instill fear. As the German philosopher Hannah Arendt stated, “fear is an emotion indispensable for survival”- but violent extremism has led to a pathological and relentless “state of terror”. The Big Threat of our time has quickly wormed its way into our lives, and now we need to cope with its several consequences.

Terrorists want to develop a general and constant state of insecurity that follows people everywhere, in everything they do. The impact of terrorist attacks on the human psyche ranges from short-term psychological conditions to long-term pathologies: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, constant sense of doom, anxiety and anguish about future risks, feelings of terror and helplessness, anger and desire for revenge.

If even a few of these signs sound familiar to you, then their aim has been achieved.

It is not easy to deal with the effects of terrorism on mental health, and it is even harder to put into practice effective strategies to properly counter this insidious violence.

It is clear that we all should play an active role in facing this threat by taking action on a daily basis with a pure “contrasting strategy.” This strategy simply consists of disappointing the terrorists’ expectations: since extremists want to disrupt our sense of safety, we should be even more resilient, take back control of our lives, and resume our daily activities as soon as possible.

The most challenging part of this strategy will be learning to deal with our personal emotions, which is why civil and governmental institutions should try diverse approaches to boost social cohesion and control. This will help people mitigate the sense of loneliness and helplessness that normally occur after shocking events and traumatic times.

Given the amount of power terrorists now wield over everyday life, it is critical that we do not give them any more influence. Ultimately, the power to reduce this influence begins in our own hearts and minds.

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