The Cult of Osama

Psychoanalyzing Bin Laden and His Magnetism for Muslim Youths

by Peter Alan Olsson, M.D


A psychobiography of bin Laden, his early life losses, grief and growing narcissistic rage, with explanations for how those psychological wounds led to a mindset that reverberates with many Arab and Muslim youths searching for meaning, indentity, and heroes.

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November 2007


Pages 184
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Psychology/General
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In The Cult of Osama, Psychiatrist Peter Olsson examines Osama bin Laden's early life experiences and explains, from a psychoanalytical perspective, how those created a mind filled with perverse rage at America, as well as why his way of thinking makes bin Laden in many cases a hero to Arab and Muslim youths. Many other writings totally demonize bin Laden, and therein strangely play into putting this troubled man onto a pedestal, says Olsson, who spent 25 years on a social psychological and psychoanalytical study of destructive cults and cult leaders. There are many journalistic, political, military, and intelligence books about bin Laden and his terror cult group. But this one offers a purely psychological and psychobiographical perspective on bin Laden and his mushrooming influence. Bin Laden's destructive Pied Piper appeal, leading youths to murder others and even themselves in suicide missions, stems from the peculiar and profoundly important synchrony of shared trauma and pain between bin Laden and Arab/Muslim youth, says Olsson. And we in the West neglect this topic, at our own peril.

Among the insights Olsson provides as he traces the psychological threads of narcissistic wounds and unresolved grief from Osama's childhood are the death of his father when Osama was 10, separation from his mother even earlier, the humiliation of Osama as the son of a slave in his father's household, and his lifelong search for a surrogate older brother and father figures among radical Islamist teachers and mentors. Olsson also spotlights the idea that Osama experienced dark epiphanies as a young adult which further magnified and focused his unresolved disappointments and narcissistic rage. This psychobiography of one of the world's most notorious terrorists, written by an Assistant Professor at Dartmouth Medical School, shows how understanding the psychohistory and mindset of bin Laden could help prevent the development and actions of home-grown American and Western terrorists and their cells.

Series Description

Praeger Security International

As the world gets "smaller" through technology and globalization, the security risks we face grow and multiply.

International security in the 21st century is not a topic that can be adequately addressed in nightly news soundbites or online articles intended to be relevant for 24 hours or less. Comprehending these complex issues requires insight from foreign policy specialists, diplomats, military officials, peace scholars, historians, and security experts—participants and observers on all sides of each conflict. This series provides the tools for understanding security issues in our uncertain, unstable world.

Written by subject experts and well-known researchers, the books in the Praeger Security International series give readers access to carefully considered and highly informed viewpoints on the critical security issues that threaten to destabilize our world. With titles authored by diplomats, first responders, economists, journalists, civil servants, military leaders and combatants, legal experts, psychologists, and other knowledgeable specialists, these books offer in-depth reflections, thorough analysis, and international perspectives that are unavailable in mass media. These titles represent an invaluable resource for students and researchers as well as anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the complex issues that affect our lives and future.


  • Provides reliable, comprehensive information on all matters relating to security that is ideal for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals
  • Offers insightful commentaries written by a diverse group of scholars and experts who provide interdisciplinary treatments of newsworthy events and important historical occurrences


"Olsson believes that delving into the mind of former US agent Osama and into the minds of anyone who supports his opposition to US hegemony, will help defeat terrorism. He also believes that Muslims and Arabs cheered the September 11th attacks. His insights include Osama's dark epiphany as prototype of Islamist leaders' pathological narcissism, and Osama and company's apocalyptic scenarios and rebellious group martyrdom in terror cults."—Scitech Book News


"Both scholar and psychoanalyst, with this in-depth study Dr. Olsson paints a picture, not only of what drives Osama Bin Laden, but also of what makes young people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, susceptible to his preaching. Dr. Olsson presents an approach to understanding terrorism that adds to our ability to fight this threat to our civilization."—Althea J. Horner, Ph.D., Scientific Associate, The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, Associate Editor, Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry.

"It would be true enough to say that Peter Olsson has written a clinically astute and thoroughly researched book on Osama bin Laden and his zealous followers, but that would not go far enough. The Cult of Osama is in fact a gripping murder mystery on a global scale. Dr. Olsson's achievement is not only to demonstrate how Osama's life history set the stage for the unprecedented acts of terrorism on September 11, 2001, but also to demonstrate with equal authority the psychological fit between leader and followers, and further explore the process by which susceptible people are recruited and transformed into cult members. This is a work that synthesizes many fields of thought, and does so seamlessly, with a minimum of jargon."—Howard F. Stein, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

"This exploration of Osama and his followers is an absorbing and fascinating read. The author demonstrates how the application of psychoanalytic thinking to large group phenomena and to the dark recesses of Osama's mind illuminates a matter of great urgency at a time when understanding has become essential for the world to live in harmony. I highly recommend it."—Glen O. Gabbard, M.D., Brown Foundation Chair of Psychoanalysis and Professor of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine

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