Empathy for Terrorists, Bullies and Delinquents?

How understanding helps make us all much safer.


A recent article in the New York Times provides a rare glimpse into the motivations behind four convicted terrorists, Zarein Ahmedzay, Saajid Badat, Bryant Neal Vinas and Najibullah Zazi, who willingly became Qaeda fighters, only to question later whether they were being brainwashed into committing mass murder. Reading their accounts of training camps and the almost boyish camaraderie they experienced under the mentorship of strong willed, ideologues, I can’t help but feel a pang of empathy for men who come across like needy children in search of a friend, a father figure, or both. I don’t say this to excuse what they did in any way. My motivation is instead to find the best way to change them, or prevent others from becoming just like them.


That same empathy is, I hope, evoked by my recent novel, The Social Worker…


By Michael Ungar, Ph.D