Suppose Suicide Bombers Are Motivated By Suicide, Not Religion?

r_suicide_bomber1What makes a person willing to give their life in the name of holy war? A Boston Globe piece offers a novel theory on the inspirations of suicide bombers: rather than being the most rabid of true-believer fanatics, many may be individuals who are severely depressed and eager to kill themselves, and see “martyrdom” as not technically being suicide:

Williams is among a small cadre of scholars from across the world pushing the rather contentious idea that some suicide bombers may in fact be suicidal. At the forefront is the University of Alabama’s Adam Lankford, who recently published an analysis of suicide terrorism in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. Lankford cites Israeli scholars who interviewed would-be Palestinian suicide bombers. These scholars found that 40 percent of the terrorists showed suicidal tendencies; 13 percent had made previous suicide attempts, unrelated to terrorism. Lankford finds Palestinian and Chechen terrorists who are financially insolvent, recently divorced, or in debilitating health in the months prior to their attacks. A 9/11 hijacker, in his final note to his wife, describing how ashamed he is to have never lived up to her expectations. Terrorist recruiters admitting they look for the “sad guys” for martyrdom.

For Lankford and like-minded thinkers, changing the perception of the suicide bomber changes the focus of any mission that roots out terrorism. If the suicide bomber can be viewed as something more than a brainwashed, religiously fervent automaton, anticipating a paradise of virgins in the clouds, then that suicide bomber can be seen as a nuanced person, encouraging a greater curiosity about the terrorist, Lankford thinks. The more the terrorist is understood, the less damage the terrorist can cause.

Islam forbids suicide. Of the world’s three Abrahamic faiths, “The Koran has the only scriptural prohibition against it,” said Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago who specializes in the causes of suicide terrorism. The phrase suicide bomber itself is a Western conception, and a pretty foul one at that: an egregious misnomer in the eyes of Muslims, especially from the Middle East. For the Koran distinguishes between suicide and, as the book says, “the type of man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of Allah.” The latter is a courageous Fedayeen — a martyr. Suicide is a problem, but martyrdom is not.

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16 Responses to Suppose Suicide Bombers Are Motivated By Suicide, Not Religion?

  1. VoxMagi December 16, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Thats a plausible notion. Soul crushing poverty, sexual repression, little hope for the future and only a life of cramped living with family and periodic extremes of hunger while living in fear of sudden warfare breaking out nearby…

    …going out in a blaze of glory, getting money for your family and being remembered as a hero looks a lot better when life is complete crap.

    It takes enormous effort to overcome these cycles of poverty, rage and violence…which is so often why people just give up and fall back on the classic way of dealing with it (bomb the shit out of everything until even the rubble gets too small to bounce.)

  2. VoxMagi December 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Thats a plausible notion. Soul crushing poverty, sexual repression, little hope for the future and only a life of cramped living with family and periodic extremes of hunger while living in fear of sudden warfare breaking out nearby…

    …going out in a blaze of glory, getting money for your family and being remembered as a hero looks a lot better when life is complete crap.

    It takes enormous effort to overcome these cycles of poverty, rage and violence…which is so often why people just give up and fall back on the classic way of dealing with it (bomb the shit out of everything until even the rubble gets too small to bounce.)

    • Hadrian999 December 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

      no sex, no booze, no bacon…..yeah i can totally see it

      • VoxMagi December 17, 2010 at 6:15 am #

        Shit…just the loss of the bacon would be enough to tip me over the edge.

        I still hypothesize that the root of all violence in the middle east is the absence of pork products and the shortage of pork related bliss. No one over there has had a decent breakfast in almost 6 thousand years…no wonder they grab the ammo before even leaving the house.

  3. Hadrian999 December 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    no sex, no booze, no bacon…..yeah i can totally see it

  4. Haystack December 17, 2010 at 1:24 am #

    I think this is definitely a major motive. Conditions like the occupation of Gaza naturally breed hopeless, suicidal people. “Martyrdom” is a way to die that would supposedly be meaningful, or at least spite those who have made it harder for you.

    From what I have read elsewhere, once terrorist organizations get someone like this, they tend to rush him/her through the process, and apply threats or intimidation if the person has second thoughts.

  5. Haystack December 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm #

    I think this is definitely a major motive. Conditions like the occupation of Gaza naturally breed hopeless, suicidal people. “Martyrdom” is a way to die that would supposedly be meaningful, or at least spite those who have made it harder for you.

    From what I have read elsewhere, once terrorist organizations get someone like this, they tend to rush him/her through the process, and apply threats or intimidation if the person has second thoughts.

  6. VoxMagi December 17, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Shit…just the loss of the bacon would be enough to tip me over the edge.

    I still hypothesize that the root of all violence in the middle east is the absence of pork products and the shortage of pork related bliss. No one over there has had a decent breakfast in almost 6 thousand years…no wonder they grab the ammo before even leaving the house.

  7. 5by5 December 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    Well if you’re living in a humorless dirt camel shithole, religion does provide a handy excuse for suicidal impulses.

  8. 5by5 December 17, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Well if you’re living in a humorless dirt camel shithole, religion does provide a handy excuse for suicidal impulses.

  9. Ironaddict06 December 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    The problem that Mr. Lankford and like minded thinkers is they are viewing this situation with American or Western philosophy. So does Mr. Lankford want to give there potential terrorist on Zoloft, Celexa, Cipramil, Lexapro, Cipralex, Seroplex, Lexamil, Prozac, Sarafem, Symbyax, Luvox, or Paxil? This could solve all of the Middle East problems? I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies would love this solution.

  10. Ironaddict06 December 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    The problem that Mr. Lankford and like minded thinkers is they are viewing this situation with American or Western philosophy. So does Mr. Lankford want to give there potential terrorist on Zoloft, Celexa, Cipramil, Lexapro, Cipralex, Seroplex, Lexamil, Prozac, Sarafem, Symbyax, Luvox, or Paxil? This could solve all of the Middle East problems? I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies would love this solution.

  11. Nickmoran March 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    “if I blow myself up and become a martyr,i’ll finally be loved” (by stefan molyneux) seems to very much place blame on sexual abuse.He states that palestinians as all other islamic cultures routinely(his word) abuse their youth.Very very provocative.

  12. Nickmoran March 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    “if I blow myself up and become a martyr,i’ll finally be loved” (by stefan molyneux) seems to very much place blame on sexual abuse.He states that palestinians as all other islamic cultures routinely(his word) abuse their youth.Very very provocative.

  13. Andrew March 9, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    I’m pretty sure that piece is by Lloyd deMause: http://disinfo.com/2010/12/if-i-blow-myself-up-and-become-a-martyr-ill-finally-be-loved-podcast/

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