RATIONAL IDEALOGUES OR ORTHODOX FANATICS? DISCERNING IDEOLOGY’S ROLE IN TERRORIST ORGANIZATION BEHAVIOR
Gill, Cory Richard
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There have long been divergent perceptions among scholars and policymakers regarding the relevance of a terrorist organization’s ideology to its actual decision making process. Some observers believe that terrorist organizations are legitimately committed to applying the methods and achieving the goals laid out in their respective ideologies. Yet others perceive ideology as irrelevant to terrorist behavior, or otherwise a veneer of legitimacy that terrorist organizations exploit to pursue self-interested goals. Discerning whether terrorist organization ideology, on balance, actually plays a significant role determining the policy options that such groups pursue can afford significant insight into their internal machinations. This thesis paper seeks to weigh ideology’s relative influence on the decision making process of terrorist organizations by weighing it against two other factors that scholars frequently cite as consequential: a predilection toward rational choice, or strategic, utility-maximizing behavior, and the need to manage intra-organizational dynamics. The comprehensive scope of the paper wherein all three factors are considered against one another adds value to existing literature on this subject, which tends to focus on only one or two factors. Furthermore, the paper seeks to assess ideology’s role with respect to “strategic” terrorist organizations, or terrorist groups that possess concrete goals and direct ties with a constituency, and “universal/abstract” terrorist organizations, which lack constituent ties and maintain less concrete goals. It also works to ensure a thorough assessment of ideology’s role by examining a variety of terrorist groups with fundamentally different historical origins and goals. This thesis concludes with research and policy recommendations and suggests how they may be applied in efforts to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which poses arguably a larger threat to the U.S. today than any other terrorist group.