Dr. Shlapentokh is an associate professor of history at Indiana University-South Bend. His research focuses on Russian and European history and current events.
There are libraries of books and articles related to the study of Islamic terrorism. Most of them see Islam as a reason for action. The authors of these publications fail to explain why similar terrorist acts are committed by people who often—as is the case in the United States—have no ideology and seem to choose their victims at random. This article argues that the roots of terrorism can be found not in ideology but in sociocultural aspects of society, including Western societies. This article argues that the mind of a jihadist, like any other terrorists or revolutionaries, can be roughly divided into two compartments. The first I define as “Tertullian,” based on emotions. Indeed, individuals from different cultures and societies have their own peculiar “road to Damascus.” The other, defined as “Cartesian,” is practical and helps Islamists achieve their goals. The writings of Islamists from the Russian Northern Caucasus during the heyday of their activities (2007–15) reveal how “Tertullian” and “Cartesian” minds work.
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