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Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, Ph.D.

Psychoanalyst Counter Terrorist Expert


The prologue to violence is early childhood.  I make explainable the violent nonverbal language of the jihadis which I call Jihadese. It reveals a rage that exceeds murder itself, as if it were serial killing.  Jihadese holds the key to political terrorism. Jihadese shows that the rage is not of this time, not of this place.  A deep dive into their psyche reveals this. Let's dive right in by exploring my work.

On the ground

Clinic, Military, Police, Educators


A psychoanalyst who becomes a counter terrorist expert delving into the mind and body language of the jihadi is a rarity. This is what I do - one of the deepest dives to date, to the best of my knowledge, into the mind of the jihadi. Having taught military and police, I realized that they do not have the opportunity to study early childhood development which is critical in order to understand why jihadis do the violent things that they do. They have a rage that exceeds murder itself. They annihilate the other and produce body parts as in serial killing. They are the tip of the spear. Also ontributing editor Weekly Blitz

The Backstory

The Backstory

I developed a theory of imagery to explain the unconscious meaning of the Islamic suicide attack demonstrating that it embraces a death fusion, i.e. concretely fusing together in death. It is the opposite of the life fusion, the maternal symbiosis: think of either the  image of a pregnant woman and/or Madonna and child.

By Doïna Harap with a cameo appearance of Dr. Kobrin


My "deep dive dictionary" reveals their special disturbed nonverbal language in which the jihadis communicate. I spent eight years creating The Jihadi Dictionary: The Essential Tool for Military, Law Enforcement, Government and the Concerned Public. The dictionary received an outstanding review in German in the prestigious journal Psyche.  As of this writing the dictionary has been translated into French by Joëlle Perelberg-Houriez and is being translated into Spanish by La Universidad de Granada. 

The dictionary builds out a subfield within counter terrorism studies about childhood development. Fear is not terror. Terror is deep, early and nonverbal. The jihadis speak in a "maternal" pantomime about their own terrors. They don't feel their terrors. They become the terror. They project it into us. Just press the mute button on the big screen. Ask yourself what are the jihadis really saying?

Has the dictionary been helpful? To cite one example, the dictionary is now in the hands of the French lawyers who continue to pursue justice for the horrific jihadi murder of Sarah Halimi z"l 2017. Her assailant, Kabili Traoré, was high on marijuana. There is a long history of drug use also including captagon. Hashish is a weapon of jihad. There is an entry on hashish. Indeed the word "assassin" is thought to derive from Hashish.

The Misuse Of The Object

Like children in play therapy the jihadis can not identify their terrors. They never developed the capacity to turn the corner to take a look at themselves, to ponder why they are so perpetually enraged. They have Primitive Mental States (PMS) (Burgess Levine). They lack empathy. People are nothing more than objects to them. Their murderous psyche spills out on to the canvas of the crime scene. They are clueless as to how transparent their behavior is. They also bond with hard objects such as weapons and bombs in order to support their fragile personalities. 

The Maternal Bond And Its Traumatic Bonding

Believe it or not, their violence is a nonverbal communication about their first bonding experience in life with their mothers (or primary caregivers) because  it is through the maternal attachment that you unconsciously learn how to bond to others. They bond violently to us. They have a problem called traumatic bonding (Dutton) routinely seen in borderline personality disorders and in psychopaths. It is a social taboo to separate psychologically from one's mother in shame honor cultures (Timimi). Needs are experienced unconsciously as toxic. That is why they are constantly projecting their toxicity on to us. 

Yet we must never blame the mother because she and her children were victims of horrific abuse. The entire structure of patriarchy is predicated on the misuse of the female. The Other (minorities) is perceived as the threatening female and thus hated, such as homosexuals.

Honor Killing = Domestic Violence's Murder-Suicide = Islamic Suicide Bombing = Interrelated Violent Bonding

Domestic violence's murder-suicide  and honor killing express traumatic bonding. That is why there are high rates of domestic violence in jihadi cultures as well as in shame honor cultures of clans, tribes, the mafia etc. Jihadis constitute a hyper shame honor subculture. Even though Islamic Suicide Bombing is a political tool it remains a type of murder-suicide concrete fusion. Thus, it is related to honor killing and domestic violence's murder-suicide.

Shame - Soul Murder Of Children

The Green Prince, Son of Hamas, said that the greatest enemy is shame. In Arab Muslim culture you must willfully spill blood in order to cleanse male honor. Female honor if lost is a death sentence. The converts who radicalize also come from families who shamed them. If simply yelling at a child induces severe anxiety, imagine what life under a chronic shaming environment does to a child who then becomes a mother at all to young an age. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

The Volcanic Iceberg Mentality

I coined the term The Volcanic Iceberg Mentality to describe the nice guy next door who turns into a mass murdering jihadi such as the psychiatrist Nidal Hassan of the Fort Hood Massacre. Giving the appearance of a nice "cool" guy, he is really a seething volcano of rage.

Ideologies Arise Out Of Fantasies

Political ideologies merely package this volcanic rage. The ideologies cleverly cloak this fundamental internal problem of the jihadis giving it cover and justification within their reverse world mentality. Even the ancient prophets understood this twisted mind:  Woe to those who call evil good and good evil . . .Isaiah 5:20

95% Of Brain Activity Is Outside Conscious Awareness

(Van Rymenant, neuroscientist) 

Political ideologies are emotionally lived beliefs which arise out of unconscious fantasy life created during the maternal attachment concerning unmet needs. The fantasies are part and parcel of that 95%. While Artificial Intelligence accesses the non-conscious, this sub-terrain is the heart of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a unique semiotic meaning-making endeavor of the unconscious. All of human behavior is potentially meaningful.

My Ph.D. In Islamic Literature

I wanted to be even-handed in understanding the Middle East. I undertook my first doctorate in Islamic literature, Ahadith of 16th century Spain written in Old Spanish in Arabic script called aljamía.

I have an extensive language background in Romance and Semitic languages. The late Prof. Anwar Chejne was my advisor. He wrote Muslim Spain (University of Minnesota Press, 1974).  I studied convivencia, i.e. coexistence. However, there is not one word of jihad in his famous history book. Not even the Berber Ummayad commander Tariq Ibn Ziyad's invasion of Spain in 711 A.D. is referred to as jihad, fi sabil Allah, fighting in the path of Allah. 

Prior to my doctorate I did two separate B.A. degrees,  the first in Spanish and Portuguese, the second in Jewish Studies, followed by an M.A. in Spanish and Portuguese and post-graduate work in Biblical Hebrew, Ladino and medieval Italian including German and Latin.


After these studies I undertook the equivalent of a "second Ph.D." in psychoanalysis at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis to where I commuted while living and practicing in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I taught  and supervised psychiatry residents. I specialized in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had my own private practice.

However,  when the Islamic suicide truck bombs went off in Lebanon in 1983 I was treating trauma patients, victims. I started to research the mind and body language of the perpetrator - the jihadi. Then I began to think functionally about the problem as a violent bonding between perpetrator-victim.

Somalia and Minnesota

As academic as all this may sound, I am a proponent of seeing it on the ground, hence my clinical training and communal involvement have enriched my work. In 2005 Minneapolis Sheriff McGowen invited me to educate 325 deputies on radical Islam. I also conducted prison interviews, many of whom were Somali and Sudanese.

In 2007 I began corresponding with the last two crypto-Jews, a mother and son who were born and raised in Somalia. They were trapped in Mogadishu as the situation deteriorated. This young man educated me about Somali culture first hand. I studied a bit of af-Somali.


In 2008-9 I was a military contractor with BAE Systems.  I graduated from the Human Terrain Program, Leavenworth, Kansas in conjunction with the U.S. Army  and the Afghan Studies Program at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. I  was slated to deploy to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. I studied study Dari and Pashto.


In 2010 fulfilling a life-long dream I immigrated to Israel where I continue my work. I have authored five books on the subject with three translated into Hebrew, French and Spanish forthcoming.


In addition I am involved in normalization of relations between Israel and Pakistan - people to people. I was given the honor to be the first Israeli live-streamed from Islamabad by the Sufi leader Syed Peer Mudassir Shah in August 2020. The Pakistanis contacted me after reading my first book The Banality of Suicide Terrorism. A Pakistani colleague  wanted to translate the book  into Urdu.

Normalizing Israeli-Pakistani Relations - Podcast

The Prologue to violence in early childhood - Podcast

I also am a senior research analyst with the Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism directed by Noor Dahri.

Commendations From “The People Who Know”

For me the most important validation which has been gratifying is from those who have had first-hand experience having grown up in the shame honor cultures of the clan and tribe.  They repeatedly reach out to me to not only to thank me but to also  say that I have explained to them what they have endured under the oppressiveness of the patriarchal shame-honor environment.​

Why The Deep Dive?

Why bother doing the deep dive? Or why should we bother to dig deep psychologically? Because to know the mind and body language of the jihadis gives you an exceptionally powerful psychological tool and edge. It not only makes sense out of the terror but this special knowledge turns down the volume on the terrorism. One can see transparently the old adage of the Emperor's New Clothes. Thus, such knowledge facilitates making wiser and more effective interventions. This knowledge also fosters resiliency in the long war.

To Mow The Lawn Or To Do A Root Canal?

So do we "mow the lawn" i.e. play whack-a-mole with the jihadis or do we do a deep dive to the root of the problem? The answer is not one or the other but demands both strategies because they are coextensive and synergistic, hence more effective and long lasting.

To Conclude

Finally as savtah (Hebr. grandma) to seven, I remain unbreakably optimistic for your grandchildren and mine. This problem is containable and treatable. Education remains the key. Even though there is no silver bullet and resolution will not happen tomorrow, we can not afford not to take up the task for our sanity and for the sake of future generations. Do not be terrified to take the dive. Yallah.

My Books For The Deep Dive

The Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth About the Psychology of Islamic Suicide Bombing

The Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth...

(English Edition)

Penetrating The Terrorist Psyche

Penetrating The Terrorist Psyche

The Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth About The Psychology of Islamic Suicide Bombing (Hebrew Edition)

The Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth...

(Hebrew Edition)

The Last Two Jews of Mogadishu: Living Under Al Shabaab's Fire

The Last Two Jews of Mogadishu: Living Under Al Shabaab's Fire

The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi

The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi

The Jihadi Dictionary: The Essential Intel Tool for Military, Law Enforcement, Government and the Concerned Public

The Jihadi Dictionary: The Essential Intel Tool for Military, Law Enforcement...

"Peace will come when they love their children more than they hate us."

Golda Meir


Golda, Ben Gurion and Me

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