Guest post: How to build a terrorist – and how to prevent it happening

Published: January 12, 2015 at 11:59am
Niels Peter Rygaard

Niels Peter Rygaard

Niels Peter Rygaard, who set up the organisation Fairstart Global to provide better training for those who look after children in care, sent the following piece in as a comment, but I have uploaded it as a guest post.

I have argued in much the same vein from the outset, but because I am only an observer and not a trained specialist in human and social behaviour, plenty of people are inclined to read what I write about this subject and say ‘that’s just her opinion and it’s no better than mine, which is is completely different’.

Niels Peter Rygaard is a Swedish clinical child psychologist and researcher in the field. He is a consultant in private practice for Danish special needs institutions, schools, foster families, social workers and clinicians, and is the author of books, studies and articles on severe attachment disorder, attachment-based treatment and development of quality care for children at risk.

He is a teacher and consultant for Danish state organisations in the fields of adoption, intervention programmes for mothers at risk and programmes to increase resilience in children.

Of the four people we know so far to have been involved in the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and at a Jewish supermarket, two of the men were raised in a French state orphanage after their parents died, and we know nothing of the background of the other man. The young woman, Hayat Boumeddine, was one of seven French siblings whose mother died when they were children and whose father, a delivery man, struggled to look after them while holding down a full-time job.


Terrorism has nothing to do with religion, but with failure in childhood care. Both Hebdo terrorists grew up in an orphanage, deprived of love and attachment.

Only 56% of the 143 million children (same number as the entire Russian population) who grow up without parents ever get a job or education. Many are deprived, maltreated and abused, and come out emotionally damaged because of substandard early care in life, unable to feel compassion, or to manage intimate personal relations.

The suicide rate for those who grew up in Swedish foster care is six times that for the rest of the population. Their risk of lifelong welfare dependency is 10 times that for the rest of the population; the risk of drug abuse 7 times as great; of serious criminality 7.5 times as great; of having serious mental health problems, 5 times as great; teenage parenthood, and so on (extensive study by Vinnerljung).

And Sweden is a rich country, one of the most developed and civilised countries in the world. Yet you should see the poor ones I work with.

Abandoned children are easy prey for fanatical groups and ideologies of any kind, as in the Hebdo case. It does not matter who recruits them, they will go with anyone who offers them a sense of belonging. As adults, they destabilize societies.

This is why we gathered child-at-risk researchers, child-policy-makers and professionals at, to offer free online education for foster carers and residential care staff and leaders, in 16 languages so far. This is a non-profit organisation which we have developed and which is implemented by local professionals and NGOs who do it at their own expense.

It is a long term project to set global standards for care, spread by people like Translators Without Borders and many other organisations.

Orphanage tourism is a blind alley. The viable strategy is to set global standards for quality child care, programmes for reuniting parents and children, supporting parents to prevent abandonment. It is important to offer attachment- and relations-research-based education to the underprivileged caregivers who work in undermanned units and care for too many children who have severe behaviour problems because of their separation trauma.

First and foremost, our aim is to help countries create local care systems on their own terms. Any government or NGO can apply Fairstart training at no expense if they have internet.
The only way to eradicate terrorism is to push governments to take their responsibility and invest in quality care monitoring systems for young children at risk. But most governments ignore the needs of their most vulnerable citizens: children whose parents were forced to give them up.

Indonesia has a population of 235 million but only 250 social workers, who are also responsible for the 8,000 orphanages. Nepal doesn’t even know how many orphanages there are there.
Until then, NGOs like ours and many others face a burden too immense to lift, even though we produce better care. And new generations of traumatized children will be enrolled in aggressive fanaticism.

Write to your government, and only vote for parties who have better child care on their agenda. Support us and other aid organisations like IFCO, SOSChildren’s Villages, Better Care Network, Zero2three, and spread this link in your networks.

We won’t stop until all children have professional, loving caregivers who practise long term, relations-based care.

34 Comments Comment

  1. Wheels within wheels says:

    Thank you, a thousand times thank you, for the work you do.

  2. E says:

    A failure in childhood care is not the only factor. There are plenty of teenagers, for instance, who grew up in Britain in a stable family who have run away from home to fight with ISIS.

    I agree that we can’t just condemn Islam, I am just pointing out that there is more at work than a bad upbringing.

    [Daphne – I’m afraid you are wrong. If you look at the background of those men – at least those who have been the focus of media scrutiny – you will see that there is something severely dysfunctional in their upbringing. Sometimes, what looks to you like a normal upbringing is anything but. And a background that is too strict and repressive is just as dangerous and one in which there is little to no supervision.]

    • nadia says:

      “And a background that is too strict and repressive is just as dangerous and one in which there is little to no supervision.”

      So, Daphne, what you are saying is that there an incredible amount of children all over the world who are at the risk of becoming terrorists.

      The only ones who are safe are the ones brought up in a background between “too strict” and “no supervision”. So we should all hope that there are enough parents filling that middle ground.

      [Daphne – The information and arguments contained in the post above (and it is not just ‘me’ saying this, as the post itself makes clear) refer to all forms of crime and trouble and not just terrorism. This is not a new argument, nor even a new fact of life. The bad background that almost all criminals come from is not ‘bad’ in terms of social class, as so many seem to think, but bad in terms of care.]

      • E says:

        I don’t agree. There a far too many people who have joined terrorist groups that we know nothing about. It is a huge assumption to say that they all had a bad upbringing.

        To the point you made when responding to Pb below, I don’t think that many of these troubled people are converting to Islam. Rather, they were Muslim to begin with. So I don’t think you could say that they would have flocked to any sort of violent group.

        [Daphne – Oh indeed. They were Muslim in exactly the same way that I am a Roman Catholic. Yes, those moving from Europe (or Australia) to Syria to fight with IS or train with Al Qaeda would have joined any criminal group. This one just happens to be the most famous one at the moment, with plenty of free advertising, so the inevitable happens. As for those already in the Middle East, it’s the obvious group to join. It’s not as though there is a welter of criminal gangs involved in white slavery and drugs and arms running, is there. And I never said ‘bad’ upbringing. People like this are not the products of badness; they are generally the result of a situation in which both parents go AWOL, or one does, leaving the other unable to cope.]

        I want to stress again that I am not saying all Muslims are inherently evil and as I have friends of that faith, it angers me when people try to say that. However I do believe there is something within Islam that must catalyse radicalism, especially as I have spoken with Muslim people (normal, middle class, well-brought up) who sympathise with terrorists. They wouldn’t ever carry out an attack themselves but they understand the “rationale” and regard the West as partly to blame. I think that even if they have some sort of real “cause” they lose their right to be heard when they kill innocent people.

        Hope this doesn’t come across as belligerent, I think this is an interesting debate and am keen to hear other thoughts.

  3. kev says:

    A world populated by idiots, that’s what the problem is.

    Of course it’s not about religion! It’s about being a crook. These are not religious fanatics but outright criminals. They are looting oil and other resources, trafficking in drugs and girls, and they do it in the name of Allah.

    But there’s much more. These terrorists are handled by Western intelligence forces and many of the terrorist acts are false-flag or stage-managed operations involving patsies.

    I know you find all this incredible because I am aware of your level of reasoning, but I think it’s time you children grew up. You can either read what an unknowing child psychologist had to say, or you can read what real investigative journalists have been discovering.

    Here’s a good article – and don’t dare think yourselves the wiser, because you’re not – in fact you are all laughable, incorrigible fools and you are being taken for a long ride:

    • La Redoute says:

      “In all likelihood”

      “may have been”

      “would report” vs “reported”

      Serious investigative journalism, indeed.

      Why do you believe an article that quotes USA Today and the Daily Mail?

    • Wormfood says:

      Ha! Tony Cartalucci, nuff said. I’ve sparred with that double faced loon a couple of times. I don’t know whether he’s still in Thailand or not but Kev unlike you and him, I’ve been to some the countries you mentioned quite recently. What I say isn’t necessarily mainstream swill at all.

      • kev says:

        Tiehux ghalik, Wormfood, but the only thing you got right is your handle. You’re in the same pool as La Redoute: Level ZERO.

        To me and many others who know EXACTLY what we’re talking about, you all come out as idiotic loons. I know your reasoning inside out. I know how difficult it is to believe such stuff when you’re disinformed, but I’ve had enough of pitying you lot. You mainstreamers are pulling the rest of us down with you.

      • La Redoute says:

        That is flattery, indeed. I’d hate to think we were on the same level.

        Tell us, Kev. How do you choose your sources and establish their credibility among the world’s loons and outliers?

      • Wormfood says:

        But of course! People everywhere need the CIA to tell them that they’re unhappy about their rulers shitting on toilets made of gold as they keep them ignorant, oppressed and screw them out of every penny they get.

        Do the likes of the CIA try to get their fingers in the pie? Sure they do! I’ve also tried to bed many women but I wasn’t always successful either.

        Pity yourself Kev, you exhibit the mindset as that of a cult member.

      • Wormfood says:

        erratum: in toilets.

      • kev says:

        Read this article by Thierry Meyssan. It seems to tackle the subject with mainstreamers in mind. The gist here is that these are not Jihadists at all. So who are they and who is handling them?

        The overarching truth goes way beyond this article, but it’s time you people start waking up.

    • Mila says:

      Mr. Rygaard explains what sort of young person is most likely to be vulnerable to recruitment by criminal organisations (including IS) and why they are more likely to become fodder for extremists.

      He points at skills learned in childhood which impact one’s ability to steer away from radicalization and encourages people to push for the raising of children better equipped to resist manipulation and explanation by extremists.

      [Daphne – It’s not really about giving children skills. Skills suggest something specific. It’s about ensuring they are resilient and that they do not develop an anti-social personality. An anti-social personality can be created in the parental home as well as in care-homes.]

      Perhaps if one is a tad less angry and eager to push a particular agenda one might realize that who finances or arms terrorists was not the focus here neither the focus or remit of this gentleman’s work.

  4. While I have nothing but praise for the initiative of Mr Rygaard which should be supported, I cannot go along with him that other factors, apart from lack of good family upbringing, have “nothing to do terrorism”.

    Yes, persons deprived of love in their formative years are likely to accept the support of those who can provide a substitute for this deficiency. But does that mean that an organized international culture that embraces violence against those with whom it disagrees becomes irrelevant? Do we have to remain complacent and do nothing until the noble aims of Mr Rygaard are achieved?

    Does the terrorism by self-declared fundamentalist Islamic groups, all the way from Indonesia, to Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Gulf, North and Central Africa such as in Nigeria, mean nothing?

    Under what category shall we put the terrorism of abduction of girl students by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the murder of some 140 students by the Taliban in Pakistan?

    • La Redoute says:

      I don’t read Mr Rygaard’s note as a statement that nothing should be done about terrorism until all children in care are properly cared for.

      Mr Rygaard is explaining what needs to be done long-term to provide children with a secure environment so that they do not grow up to become anti-social with tragic consequences for themselves and others.

      That doesn’t exclude fighting the organisation of terrorism by rooting out and disabling its organisers.

  5. Pb says:

    Sounds more like an Islam apologist than a psychologist in my opinion. I wonder if Saudi Arabia financed any of his studies like they finance most departments of Middle Eastern studies at leading western universities.

    • La Redoute says:

      He speaks of psychology, not religion.

      Religion doesn’t make religious fanatics of us all – nor terrorists, for that matter.

      The differentiating factors are socio-psychological, not religious.

      • Pb says:

        Why are they attracted to Islam and not Christianity? Islam definitely plays an important role.

        [Daphne – They are NOT attracted to Islam. If it were a matter of religious conversion because of genuine belief, and a quiet life lived as a law-abiding member of society going to work and to the mosque every Friday, they wouldn’t be interested. They are attracted to violent leaders and to the excitement of guns and bombing. They are pulled in by a sense of belonging to a special group. It is exactly the same as with all those crazy sects that sprang up in America in the 1970s and 1980s.

        They will go with anyone or anything who gives them that. Right now, it’s IS and Al Qaeda. In Sicily 40 years ago they would have joined the Mafia. In Mexico they would be working for a drug cartel. In Ireland in the 1970s they would have joined the IRA. And so on. We only notice these things now because the world is at its most civilised point in history, and because we have terrific means of instant communication. But throughout history, the opportunities for men with an inclination towards violence were myriad and part of routine life, so they didn’t stand out and weren’t branded as pariahs. Viking raids, Mediterranean piracy, skirmishes, corsairs, slave-trading, wars and battles…]

      • bob-a-job says:

        In Malta in the 70s they joined the MLP and Mintoff in particular.

        Give them enough rope now and they’d gladly do it again.

        One does not necessarily have to live in an orphanage to have a failed childhood. Some parents can set a terrible example for their children. One teacher once told me that it takes the school a whole term to educate a seriously violent child and only a short stay at home to undo it all.

    • Painter says:

      Saudi Arabia doesn’t speak for all the Muslims of the world just because Mecca is there just how Italy, France or Bosnia and Herzegovina do not speak for all Christians of the world just because the Vatican, Lourde and Medjugorje are located in them.

      He is not an Islam apologist but someone who explains clearly how people become bad, religion or no religion.

    • Wormfood says:

      He is right in pointing out that it is one of the main factors although by no means the only one. Believe it or not, it was the Soviet bombing of the villages of Afghanistan that indirectly led to the creation of the Taliban. Hundreds of young boys ended up orphaned and alone seeking refuge in Pakistan because of that, the rest as they say, is history.

  6. Andrew says:

    Surely this is more of an academic argument than anything else. People are trying to decide whether religion is causative, but to what end?

    Arguably the cause varies in each case of terrorism – even terrorism that can be classified as radical Islam. Whatever people decide doesn’t seem to be the most important thing to me; but rather what to do about it.

    Because fascism is a growing problem in Europe, with many different faces. You could choose to not have an opinion on it and acknowledge the need for better education, care, etc. in order to prevent such fanaticism.

    You could also chose believe that this particular incident is completely isolated of religion but still advocate the need to restrict who should be allowed to be an imam to try to reduce the number of radical imams in a country.

    If religious preachers were required to read for a diploma (like RC priests in Malta) in which they had to demonstrate critical thinking, things could be different.

    • Wormfood says:

      ‘but rather what to do about it. ‘

      Going nuclear and buying less, much less, from the Arab kingdoms of the Persian Gulf would be a good start. May DA3Sh behead all the rulers there.

  7. H.P. Baxxter says:

    I think Mr Rygaard is absolutely spot on, even from a purely selfish anti-terrorism point of view. That’s what hearts and minds is all about. A few millions spent on proper care for today’s children saves billions in bombing campaigns twenty years later.

    • La Redoute says:

      Oh, dear. You’ve just dragged yourself down to my level in Kev’s estimation.

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        I’ve been called an empiricist. I don’t mind the label. I just look at facts and try to make sense of them.

        In this instance, it seems to me that history teaches us many lessons.

        The rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century was fuelled by dire economic circumstances after the First World War.

        The rise of extremism and terrorism in North Africa, the Middle East and all the way to the Philippines is fuelled by a demographic bulge in the military-age male cohort, plus dire economic circumstances.

        This suggests that one way to fight terrorism is to attack the circumstances which give rise to it.

        More empiricism: Northern Ireland simmered down round about the time that the Irish Republic and the UK recovered from the economic disaster of the 1980s.

        Of course you need real economic progress, not just modernity (vide the evil Gulf oligarchies, the massive income inequalities, and the terrorism it breeds).

        Anyway, I don’t think anyone’s listening so I’m not bothered about labels at this point.

  8. Conservative says:

    Of course, this gentleman is completely right – it’s a scientific subject and the syndrome is called “attachment disorder”. There is enough material on the internet to spare a sermon here.

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