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Twemlow, S.W. (2005). The relevance of psychoanalysis to an understanding of terrorism. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 86(4):957-962.

(2005). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 86(4):957-962

The relevance of psychoanalysis to an understanding of terrorism Related Papers

Stuart W. Twemlow

Psychoanalysis has much to offer an understanding of terrorism, in two primary domains: first, the social context and group dynamics of terrorism, and, second, the understanding of the individual psychopathology of the terrorist. My argument is anchored in several givens (Akhtar, 1999; Twemlow and Sacco, 2002):

1.   The terrorist label is always assigned to the other person; it is never a self-assigned role.

2.   The term is applicable to individuals. For example, the FBI has classified the school shooters as domestic or anarchic terrorists.

3.   Terrorists usually consider themselves the victims of humiliation by the enemy with incompatible political, religious or personal ideologies.

4.   The definition of terrorism is influenced by the political and social mores of the time. Yesterday's terrorist may be tomorrow's hero, as in the case of members of the French Revolution like Robespierre, and other revolutionary leaders.

These givens are empirically observable, with the unique potential contribution of psychoanalysis being to understand the dynamics of the processes as they play themselves out in the social context much as an individual plays out his conflicts in interpersonal relationships. These contributions can be grouped into the following four main areas.

Terrorism as a transference re-enactment of past trauma

Analysts often experience being terrorized, especially those who have a significant number of borderline patients in their practices, or who work with violent and paranoid patients.

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