In the late 1980s, Osama bin Laden gathered together a small group of trusted individuals he had been fighting with against the Soviet in Afghanistan to discuss their future after the withdrawal of Russian troops. From that fateful meeting, bin Laden formed al Qaeda. In the year since that meeting, al Qaeda would grow into the one of the world’s largest and most lethal international terrorist organization; an organization that would go on to perpetrate some of the most devastating terrorist attacks in modern history and make bin Laden, “the most wanted man on the Earth”. What was the catalyst for bin Laden to start a terrorist group and wage a global war against the United States? How could he order others to sacrifice their own lives to see his goals accomplished? How could he order the killing of innocent men, women and children?
As a young man, bin Laden had argued that Muslim nations needed to be self-reliant and not dependent on western assistance. Moreover, he thought that Muslim’s needed to demand retribution for all the injustices that they have suffered by the hands of western powers. His beliefs led him to support the Afghan resistance after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Later, when U.S. and Allied forces confronted Saddam Hussein’s Iraq after it invade Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden began to focus his attention on U.S. who he blamed for a range of actions he could not accept including its support of Israel and stationing of troops in the Middle East. Eventually, he called for a holy war against the U.S. that included calls for the killing of civilians and children ostensibly because the U.S. had done the same in its attacks against Muslims.
There is not one particular theory of criminal behavior that can fully describe Osama bin Laden’s actions. On the other hand, there are a few theories if taken together aptly explains his development. First, based on his background as a well-educated and well-off Saudi citizen that had connections to the highest levels of Saudi Arabian royalty, it can be argued that bin Laden’s behavior is best described as rational. Under this explanation his ordering of a holy war against the U.S. was made through a conscious and calculated decision-making process that weighed the risks and rewards of a particular action on the basis of if it would accomplish his social, religious or political goals. If one uses the rational choice theory in considering bin Laden’s actions, it is clear that cogent deterrents such as fortifying cockpit doors on airplanes will lead bin Laden to not try another similar style of attack.
Another possible explanation of bin Laden’s behavior can be attributed to the social learning theory where during his long experience of fighting in Afghanistan and the violence and brutality that it involved, influenced him to such a degree that he’s seeking to imitate it in his actions towards the U.S. This may be a possible explanation as to why he feels it is acceptable to kill civilians and children in the furtherance of his holy war. This theory illustrates that bin Laden can and will agree to actions that might seem unethical or immoral. A possible reaction to this would be actions a global condemnation of certain actions (such as violence against children) as a means to isolate bin Laden and force him give up the most brutal and violent of his tactics
Finally, bin Laden’s descriptions of the western-Muslim speaks about the effort of the rich and powerful to suppress the poor and the weak and his dislike of western: economic and political domination of Muslims, violations of Muslim human dignity by western powers, blocked opportunities to participate in political decision-making by Muslim minorities, war-making and violations of human right due to western imperialism. These all echo the social-conflict theory that criminal laws. Bin Laden’s actions suggest that his understanding of the system was that it was so ingrained that the only way to change it was through violence; violence so brutal that those in power would retreat to their own countries leaving the poor and weak free to create their own society based on the equality of the classes.
Siegel, L.J. (2013). Criminology: Theories, Patterns and Typologies. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Victoroff, J. (2005, February). The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches. Retrieved on June 29, 2014, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30045097