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“Terrorism is a Symptom”

In recent years, there has been an increasing global interest in understanding international security threats related to human nature, but such attempts have rarely drawn on findings from neuroscience, which now offers new tools to understand human behavior with greater accuracy than before. In this context, the head of the GCSP's Geopolitics and Global Futures Programme, Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan, featured on this week’s ‘McKay Interview’ for World Radio Switzerland (WRS), where he explained the implications of recent research in this field for the future of security policy.

Central to the interview is the notion that humans are “predisposed tabula rasae”. In other words, humans are free beings that “have an in-built biological mechanism for survival,” which represents one of the principle causal factors for individuals and states acting according to their own self-interest.

Professor Al-Rodhan argues that acting in self-interest, and based on “pro-survival” factors forces actors, both individuals and states, to respond using their perceived emotions, which can sometimes lead to irrational outcomes.

Contrary to traditional International Relations theory, which often considers states as rational actors, Professor Al-Rodhan believes that “even the most sensible human can descend into a pro-survival mode” in critical situations. In such instances both individuals and states can be extremely irrational and respond with overreaching actions.

These characteristics of human nature, also referred to as “emotional amoral egoism” by Professor Al-Rodhan, tie into modern terrorism. Irrational responses caused by a perceived emotion, such as a fear of specific groups of people, can lead to the alienation, discrimination and humiliation of minorities within societies. The lack of opportunity and equality in such an environment can make humans vulnerable, allowing the ‘manipulators’ from international terrorist groups to reach out to them and create security threats.

Terrorism is therefore a “symptom” of “emotional amoral egoism” created by the sociopolitical environment around the world and which, according to Professor Al-Rodhan, is a national security concern that is fixable.


>> Listen to the Interview