The Seeds that Give Birth to Terrorism

A look at the various components that contribute to a terrorist-laden society

Posted Dec 04, 2015

To understand terrorism, it is important to realize that terrorism is beyond religion. While some death cults may appeal to identification with certain religions (everything from Heaven’s Gate to Islam to Catholicism to radical Christian Pro-Life groups), terrorism is really about a group of people using hate and terror tactics to achieve a political cause. Or as Merriam Webster states, “The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

Think about that for a moment. Politics can exist in a government, business, neighborhood, school, and family—pretty much in any group of people that are joined together and connected in some fashion. As you consider politics and imagine folks that have been coercive with their agenda, you can probably recall numerous people. In fact, you may witness (or even commit) some form of coercion every day (especially if you watch television!). Now, taking this one step further where coercion is taken to the extreme in the form of terror will help in dissecting and understanding the seeds that give birth to terrorism.

I once had a professor who taught ‘Methods of Social Control: Mass Communication & Persuasion’ who repeated one dictum over and over again throughout the semester, “No human behavior is caused by one single factor.” People are complex and their behaviors and underlying motives are similarly complex. In examining how a person becomes a terrorist, several factors need to be taken into consideration. Birth and family. Health and epigenetics. Social support systems. Anger. Identity and culture.

Birth and Family

A baby is entirely dependent on its mother the first year after he/she is born, not just for feeding and diaper changing, but also for healthy brain development. This dependency extends into the first years of life where love, trust, soothing, protection, and genuine attunement (attunement is listening to and empathizing with the child’s needs instead of forcing, coercing, neglecting, and frightening) helps shape the child’s healthy brain development. Any disruption (especially if it is the norm, like continual neglect and ignoring baby’s cues) can result in a deficit of neurotransmitters needed for effective self-soothing and empathy along with frontal lobe impairment, which can result in lack of understanding consequences, how to delay satisfaction, and other learning and processing issues (Gerhardt 2004, Siegel 2012). If significant enough, the child can become aggressive and antisocial—and even antagonistic to others when not provoked because they can view ordinary behaviors as aggressive (Dodge and Somberg 1987). According to Gerhardt, all of the varying types of brain chemistry and aggressive behavior combinations make it difficult to believe a “gene” exists for aggression.

Health and epigenetics

While a terrorist “gene” has not been discovered, there are a number of health and epigenetic factors that can contribute to aggression. Some issues can manifest from the more obvious traumatic brain injury (TBI) causes. While others can be more stealth as the child and/or adult is exposed to environmental toxins. There are thousands of hazardous chemicals without enough long-term epidemiological research to prove their disastrous influence—however, lead, which was banned from use in household paints and pipes in 1978, still lurks in air and some buildings today and is highly dangerous for children as it competes with calcium for absorption in developing bones. One researcher found that seven-years-old with lead toxicity displayed lower IQs, higher impulsivity, and heightened aggression (Cai 2007).

In addition, there is vast research on the influence of diet and nutrition on health and developing nervous systems. Sugar, food colorings and additives, monosodium glutamate (MSG), gluten and malt (found in wheat flours) have been shown to increase cortisol levels, resulting in higher levels of inattention, restlessness, irritability, and aggression. Headaches, digestive disorders, learning and memory issues, and childhood diabetes can be traced back to insufficient dietary needs. Diet has such a dramatic impact that one researcher found eliminating sugars, junk food, and food additives and improving diet among prisoners showed as corrective to criminal behavior (Schauss 1980). Other researchers found that the most violent male prisoners with antisocial disorder and alcoholism had much lower cholesterol rates and lower serotonin levels than other inmates while displaying extreme high glucose tolerance, suggesting a connection with higher insulin levels and extreme violence (Virkkunen and Huttunen 1982). Conversely, a litany of studies continuously reveal the benefits of essential fatty acids on brain and nervous systems (decreasing depression and increasing attention), multi-vitamins with vitamin D and minerals like magnesium, mineralized filtered water, exercise, and experiencing nature and sunlight on a daily basis.

Diet can also impact genetic expression. While it was suggested that a terrorist gene doesn’t exist, interestingly diet can play a role in the expression or non-expression of certain genes—the basis of epigenetics. One study measured the effects of pre-natal nutrition on agouti mice. The fat yellow agouti mice that were not given pre-natal nutrition gave birth to fat yellow agouti babies with the full expression of the agouti gene. However, the fat yellow agouti mice where the mother was given pre-natal vitamin supplementation gave birth to slender brown babies. The slender brown still inherited the agouti gene that is linked to higher cancer and diabetes rates, yet the gene was turned off. Moreover, other research reveals nutrition during pregnancy is most important during the earliest stages of pregnancy (usually a time when a woman is unaware that she’s pregnant and/or unable to hold food down due to “morning sickness”).

Social Support Systems

Going back to the baby that’s dependent on its mother for developing healthy neurotransmitters for effective self-soothing can be extended into social support systems later in life. Perhaps the infant didn’t receive the attention it needed, yet through loving familial structures, healthy friendships and positive support groups later in life, the person is able to receive the positive feedback he/she needs in order to rebuild positive neural networks. They may also be extra dependent on these continual ties for optimal functioning during regular life stages that can trigger abandonment, fear and anxiety.

Here is where the dangers of cults and gangs come in. If the child hasn’t been able to establish healthy ties and support and is lost, they are more vulnerable to the coercive recruiting tactics of cults and gangs. Death cults, like al-Quaeda, Jim Jones’ Jonestown, Charles Manson’s The Family, and the Catholic Church break-away sect The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, thrive on recruiting vulnerable and isolated people. One of the first recruiting tactics is isolating the person from their original family members (either through initial attraction and/or abduction). They proceed to indoctrinate the new member through a series of breaking down old belief systems and teaching new ones. This insertion of ideas can be reinforced through torture, violence, and a variety of brainwashing techniques that leads a person to traumatic bonding, fear and obedience. So, if a person is not already an anti-social sociopath primed to hate and kill, they can be tortured and beaten into a type of submission that mimics and/or creates such tendencies.


Anger is such a corrosive emotion that an entire mega movie franchise, Star Wars, was based around the dangers of surrendering to the “dark side” of anger and has continued to endure for four decades. Who can forget that moment when handsome young Anniken Skywalker succumbs to Sith Lord’s lures of power, jealousy, and anger and then battles his own wife and teacher, only to slide into the fiery burning lava and get ‘reborn’ as the vengeful Darth Vader.

In addition to biology and nutrition as described, other sources of anger can be caused by abuse, discrimination and bullying, learning problems, repeated failures, family dysfunction, unrealistic expectations of perfection by self or others, and feelings of shame, despair and inadequacy.

Red-flags of anger that teachers can look for in school that could indicate conduct-disorder include:

  • Preoccupation with violence
  • Highly aggressive behavior
  • Emotional outbursts, rage and tantrums
  • Prejudice, bullying, and cruelty to others
  • Excessively rigid values and lack of empathy
  • Chronic fighting, stealing, vandalism and criminal behaviors
  • Extreme profanity, criticism and contempt
  • Rebelliousness and resistance to authority
  • Lying, distorted perceptions, blaming, and paranoid behavior
  • Cutting school, isolation and withdrawal
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Identification with anti-social groups
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse

While terrorism is beyond religion, the connection of many death cults to some form of religious appeal is fascinating. First, throughout time the relationship with God served to legitimize one’s power and influence. Yet because every dominant religion has a mixed path sprinkled with peace, healing and love and also peppered with control, murder and revenge, the appeals to religious ties by any death cult can be easily distorted. In addition, there is something far deeper in the evolution of religion that might shed some light on a hidden battle that has persisted for generations.

Indian Mystic Rabindranath Tagore said, “If Shakti (female divine energy) disappears, the creative force in society is inhibited, the men lose their virility and become mechanical in their habits.”

The first religions were Mother Earth matriarchal religions. The feminine was honored and cherished. Matriarchy is not hierarchical, so there wasn’t a caste system. No one-up, one-down type of perspective. No battling for supremacy. Yet, somewhere along the line, patriarchy took over and God became father and a caste system was instituted. Now while some Old Testament (the connecting tie of Judaism, Islam and Christianity) religious scholars suggest that God was female and that the Holy Spirit was female and that the Adam and Eve story has been distorted—along with modern day scientists who point out that the X chromosome is what connects all people and is the source of all the rich genetic material—the God as father patriarchy has dominated the world for thousands of years.

This point is not to suggest that men are the problem or that God is not Father. It is to suggest that underneath the pervasive accounts of terrorism and abuse lies a perpetual and systematic oppression toward women, which can get reinforced through patriarchal culture. Living in a world where genital mutilation, forced sex, forced marriage, incest, and abuse and not condemning it reinforces a culture that breeds terrorists. Chronic mistreatment of women and girls, including sexual exploitation (in advanced civilizations) does the same. Women have come a long way, yet not to the place where the female is honored and cherished. Instead, women are still battling for pay, respect, promotions—and juggling that with raising their children. When they are not honored and cherished and taken care of, they cannot in turn take the essential steps to ensure healthy nutrition in their first trimester, let alone all of the full-time attention needed to give their baby once they are born.

Honoring the feminine, the mother, and the family can be one thing we can do to change a terrorist-laden society. It will take time, generations, so consider if you think the future is worth it. I look forward to your comments.

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