How to Profile a Terrorist

Everyone can recognize one, right? He is the man who is fighting for a cause; the man who will go where his leader sends him; a man who will kill for an ideal; a man who will die for that ideal.

This description is not that of a terrorist. The description is that of a soldier. Every war that America has fought has involved men of just this profile. Young men, donning army uniforms, leaving their loved ones far behind, to do service to their leader, to kill in the name of freedom, to be willing to die for the country they love. Even those less enthusiastic will reluctantly go to war in order avoid being called un-American or gutless, and to avoid the unpleasant consequences of jail or a life across the border.

We cheer these men and call them heroes. Put an Arab face on the men and we call them terrorists. Why? Because we are the targets and the battle is fought on our ground and in sneak attacks that have caught us sleeping.

Some will argue that we were not at war, but Bin Laden would counter that the war has been going on for ages and because the United States is a powerful and well-armed enemy, the war waged against the Americans must be calculated, patient, and well-timed. Bin Laden is but a general of a trained and loyal army.

Before you, the reader and patriotic American, turn away from such a concept with fury and indignation, keep in mind that to save ourselves from an enemy we must understand and recognize what we are dealing with. Portrayals of terrorists as savages with evil sneers will only cause us to fail in recognizing factions of soldiers preparing the next assault. A terrorist is not a psychotic; he is not some deranged lunatic. If he grew up with some kind of a family life and social values, he may be a soldier who believes in defending his country. If on the other hand he has spent his youth as an orphan in an all-male refugee camp being educated by a fundamentalist mullah with war as the only past, present, and future life he has known, knows, and will know, he is so seriously disaffected that he may well be as psychopathic as a serial killer or mass murderer. He wants to kill; he wants to cause pain; and he wants to "matter" in this world, if only for a moment, and only as a destroyer. Regardless of where the terrorist ranks on the soldier/psychopath continuum, dying gloriously is far better than living a life that is unrecognized and undistinguished.

Without knowing these characterizations of the terrorist/soldier, the individual American will find it extremely difficult to identify the man on a mission of destruction. Traditional war makes it much easier for us to know our enemy. They are the ones in the other uniform pointing guns at us. The covert war of terrorism uses men in everyday clothes, carrying no obvious weapons. They don't charge over hills or swarm out of helicopters. They drive up to buildings, travel through subways, and board airlines. They truly are wolves in sheep's clothing and we cannot expect to recognize a terrorist when we see one.

If we cannot determine a terrorist by looks or public presentation, then how can we assist in fighting the war on terrorism? Let's take a look at what makes a soldier a soldier and what we can do to diminish his capacity as a fighter. Returning to our definition of the soldier, we can find some tools with which to make a difference.

First, a soldier must have a commander. A commander must have power over, control of, and communication with his army. Any reasonable break or interruption of these abilities leaves a soldier in the field without orders. This is a soldier that ceases to fight. The elimination of the leader and the destruction of cells of fighters, the diminishing of funds to support and train the army - these tactics return a soldier back to civilian life and civilian concerns. Conversely, identifying the soldiers of the commander and pursuing their elimination, imprisonment, or deportment decreases the army as well.

Next, cause and ideal can be crushed. After years of men going off to fight in Vietnam, the public began to espouse the concept that the war was senseless, fruitless, and morally wrong. Young men who might have felt the necessity to fight for their country previously, now felt validated in rejecting the role of soldier entirely. Likewise, the guiding philosophy of a terrorist can be changed through education, public relations, opportunity, and a governmental change of foreign policy.

Lastly, the more value one places on one's life as it is now, the less likely one is to be willing to sacrifice it. The country that offers more to its citizens will have fewer citizens willing to give up their good circumstances for misery and death.

At this point, most readers will note that the government would appear to be the entity necessary to enact procedures for eliminating terrorism. This leaves the average citizen wondering what they can do NOW to prevent terrorist attacks. If the terrorist is already here, the plan is set, and he is ready to attack, what does the individual do to stop him? If terrorists LOOK and act pretty much like the rest of us, what DO we look for in this person to stop him?

At the community level, the terrorist must be approached much like the serial killer. It is not the casual meeting that will set off alarm bells to the citizens. It is the long- term history of the individual. People can hide thoughts and issues for a short time, but it is rare that they can playact twenty-four hours a day, week upon week. The longer one knows the individual, the more one will find evidence of his agenda. A serial killer, for example, will show his disdain for authority, his dislike of women, his grandiose thinking, and his pathological lying and penchant for manipulation will become obvious after a while. He may also show a fascination with violence, death and weapons. Likewise, a terrorist will exhibit a narrow focus of interest, will be less than fascinated with the future, his relationships will be stunted, he will have a strict dogma and have rules he must follow, and he may have odd interests in tools of annihilation, bombs and other items of mass destruction. He may show a short-term interest in some "hobby" or "business" that seems out of character or he may wish to learn a skill that doesn't fit his lifestyle. His associations, his conversations, his library books, and those odd explosive devices in his garage may be tip-offs to the observant citizen.

At the time of the planned attack, odd behaviors and out-of-place persons or equipment can be noted by the average citizen. Even if a terrorist is hard to detect in everyday life, when the time comes to kill the enemy, the terrorist MUST do something unusual. Whether we perceive that unusual element in time to prevent disaster is another matter. False papers, strange statements, circling vehicles and individuals abandoning cars or trucks in unlikely places or times, odd bags or satchels turning up under benches or "accidentally" left behind - these are the kinds of things we can all watch out for. It is also important to keep in mind that while suicide terrorists have caught our attention, more acts of terrorism are committed that do not require the clear sacrifice of one's life. For this reason, we must be all the more wary of individuals who leave, send, or throw items of destruction.

Clearly, as many fear, we cannot stop all terrorists from committing acts of killing. While this is true, it would be advantageous to keep in mind that we cannot stop all acts of God like tornados and earthquakes, we cannot keep all drunk drivers off the road, and we cannot stop all other predators and violent criminals from living in our midst. In other words, some people will die by these horrible misfortunes and though we should always work to prevent and reduce these deaths, they will occur in some number regardless of our vigilance. Because there is a possibility of becoming a victim, does this mean we should never drive again, go to a mall, visit Mexico, or extend a handshake of welcome to our friends from the Middle East?

This would be foolishness and a waste of our time on earth. Life should be lived fully and while we should use our intelligence and skills to reduce our risks of attack by terrorism, we should not magnify our fears and "profile" terrorists as unending hordes of unstoppable lunatics who will kill us all. Even the horrors of Hitler's campaign of terror came to an end with the elimination of soldiers, supplies, and Hitler himself. With the commander gone and nothing to support the regime and ideal, Nazi terrorists no longer had power and control over the German people and the world. Many of those that were Nazis ceased being Nazis when the winds changed and so it will be at some point with the Taliban terrorists.

Profiling terrorists is much the same as profiling any other group; view them as human beings with the same needs and desires as any other human. This realistic approach will be more of an aid to understanding terrorism and how to handle it than profiling terrorists as foreign villains that we cannot comprehend. Profiling is having an understanding of human nature and logically applying that understanding to the culture, circumstances and psychology of an individual or group. Armed with this knowledge, we can better predict what future actions these people will take and be able to address the greater political issues at hand, or at least thwart or reduce the actual incidents of terrorism enacted by certain individuals against our nation and its citizens.

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