Published on Feb  8, 2013

The University of Central Florida Nicholson School of Communication is proud to bring you the third in a Lecture Series on Terrorism and Communication.

The title for this lecture is “How Culture Shapes Terrorism

Professor Jonathan Matusitz has 95 academic publications and over 100 conference presentations, he taught at a NATO-affiliated military base in Belgium in 2010.  In 2011, Dr. Matusitz’s research was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tonights special guest speaker is Congresswoman Sandy Adams (2011-13)  Ms. Adam’s background in law enforcement and as a U.S. Congresswoman gives her a unique perspective on this subject matter you are fortunate to hear.

The DOD definition of terrorism is “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”.  A RAND study showed that 96% of worldwide terrorism is Islamist related.  Therefore, understanding terrorism is of paramount importance to every American.

With that in mind – Professor Matusitz and Dr. Danielle Franco want to make this information on terrorism available to the general public.

“Terrorists are inspired by many different motives. Students of terrorism classify them into three categories: rational, psychological, and cultural. A terrorist may be shaped by combinations of these.
This excerpt below on Culture and Terrorism is sourced from, ” U.S. Army, Field Manual 100-20, Stability and Support Opperations, (Final Draft), “Chapter 8: Combatting Terrorism.”

Cultural Motivation”

Cultures shape values and motivate people to actions that seem unreasonable to foreign observers. Americans are reluctant to appreciate the intense effect of culture on behavior. We accept the myth that rational behavior guides all human actions. Even though irrational behavior occurs in our own tradition, we seek to explain it by other means. We reject as unbelievable such things as vendettas, martyrdom, and self-destructive group behavior when we observe them in others. We view with disbelief such things as the dissolution of a viable state for the sake of ethnic purity when the resulting ministates are economically anemic.

The treatment of life in general and individual life in particular is a cultural characteristic that has a tremendous impact on terrorism. In societies in which people identify themselves in terms of group membership (family, clan, tribe), there may be a willingness to self-sacrifice seldom seen elsewhere. (Note, however, that American soldiers are less surprised at heroic sacrifice for one’s military unit; the difference among cultures is in the group with which one identifies.) At times, terrorists seem to be eager to give their lives for their organization and cause. The lives of “others,” being wholly evil in the terrorists’ value system, can be destroyed with little or no remorse.

Other factors include the manner in which aggression is channeled and the concepts of social organization. For example, the ambient level of violence is shaped by the political structure and its provisions for power transfer. Some political systems have no effective nonviolent means for the succession to power. A culture may have a high tolerance for nonpolitical violence, such as banditry or ethnic “turf” battles, and remain relatively free of political violence. The United States, for example, is one of the most violent societies in the world. Yet, political violence remains an aberration. By contrast, France and Germany, with low tolerance for violent crime, have a history of political violence.

A major cultural determinate of terrorism is the perception of “outsiders” and anticipation of a threat to ethnic group survival. Fear of cultural extermination leads to violence which, to someone who does not experience it, seems irrational. All human beings are sensitive to threats to the values by which they identify themselves. These include language, religion, group membership, and homeland or native territory. The possibility of losing any of these can trigger defensive, even xenophobic, reactions.

Religion may be the most volatile of cultural identifiers because it encompasses values deeply held. A threat to one’s religion puts not only the present at risk but also one’s cultural past and the future. Many religions, including Christianity and Islam, are so confident they are right that they have used force to obtain converts. Terrorism in the name of religion can be especially violent. Like all terrorists, those who are religiously motivated view their acts with moral certainty and even divine sanctions. What would otherwise be extraordinary acts of desperation become a religious duty in the mind of the religiously motivated terrorist. This helps explain the high level of commitment and willingness to risk death among religious extremist groups.”


2 Responses to How Culture Shapes Terrorism – Dr. Jonathan Matusitz & Rep. Sandy Adams

  1. Eugene Hough says:

    I appreciated reading this article.
    How do we engage and promote a more patriotic and engaged community and society at large.
    Our American Legion Post #668 in Wayn PA has some ideas.Please see our program video on You Tube…Saving Hallowed Ground.
    Every community has living history memorials which provide the opportunity to re engage our youth and communities.
    Our program approaches schools and work with students in going to these monuments, selecting names and in teams research and report on the times that these veterans and patriots lived.
    By example we are off to a good start and your work is most appreciated.
    Granted some of the topic areas are beyond some of our youth, but this project allows youth and adults to re gain patriotic values in our communities, thus allowing us to confront challenging times based on patriotic values and fortitude.
    Thank you,
    Eugene Hough Saving Hallowed Ground
    Possibly you may direct our program to a community in need.

  2. Austin Kobs says:

    With globalization comes the spread of Western values, which are often in conflict with the traditional values and belief systems in the countries undergoing the “modernizing” effects of globalization. Some people within these countries may feel like their norms and identities are “under attack” by the spread of Westernization, and may believe that violence is their only recourse. Thus terrorist organizations use violence as a tool for political and social change in an attempt to preserve what they view as the “correct” way of life from the effects of the “wrong” values associated with Western Culture. While this cultural explanation applies to such organizations as AL-Qaeda, this phenomenon is not limited to radical Islamic terrorist organizations.

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