This paper presents the results of an indirect assessment of the personality of Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network at the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States and allegedly chief strategist for al-Qaida operations and personal physician to Osama bin Laden.
Al-Zawahiri’s primary personality patterns were found to be Contentious/oppositional and Dominant/controlling, with secondary features of the Dauntless/dissenting and Ambitious/self-serving patterns.
The amalgam of Contentious (negativistic, or passive-aggressive) and Dominant (aggressive, or sadistic) patterns in al-Zawahiri’s profile suggests the presence of the “abrasive negativist” syndrome. For these personalities, minor frictions easily exacerbate into major confrontations and power struggles. They are quick to spot inconsistencies in others’ actions or ethical standards and adept at constructing arguments that amplify observed contradictions. They characteristically take the moral high ground, dogmatically and contemptuously expose their antagonists’ perceived hypocrisy, and contemptuously, derisively, and scornfully turn on those who cross their path.
The major implication of the study is that it offers an empirically based personological framework for conceptualizing Ayman al-Zawahiri’s antagonistic negativism, single-minded commitment to a cause, inflammatory rhetoric, and forceful persuasiveness — qualities instrumental in Osama bin Laden’s insidious campaign to propagate diabolical enemy images of the West as a catalyst for incubating a political culture contrived to inculcate religious extremism in the Islamic world.
Copyright © 2003 by Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics / Aubrey Immelman
Immelman, A., & Kuhlmann, K. (2003, July). “Bin Laden’s Brain”: The abrasively negativistic personality of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Paper presented at the 26th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Boston, MA, July 6–9, 2003. Retrieved from Digital Commons website: http://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/psychology_pubs/31/
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