THE VARIETIES OF SUICIDAL TERRORISM
"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” (WOPR)
Suicide terrorism, which may also be called a martyrdom operation, among other things, is something of a growth industry. Since 2005 when the phenomena started to peak, over 500 such attacks occur regularly around the world every year (Gambetta 2005). By definition, suicide terrorism is a form of extremely committed or extremely deranged armed violence carried out in asymmetric fashion by someone who is intent on taking their own life or duped into thinking they want to take their own life in order to take the life of another or others. This is a composite definition. Be advised that other definitions can be found, with definitions being controversial in this area. Perhaps the most frequently cited definition comes from Schweitzer (2002:78) which says a suicide attack (attack being the word preferred by those who think terrorism is too charged a word) is "a politically motivated violent attack perpetrated by a self-aware individual (or individuals) who actively and purposely causes his own death through blowing himself up along with his chosen target. The perpetrator's ensured death is a precondition for the success of his mission." The last part of this definition -- the idea that success means death of the perpetrator -- is a central defining feature according to Crenshaw (2002) and Ganor (2002). Success as death or death as success are also defining features of FANATICISM where the perpetrator loves some cause more than life itself and does not fear death. Definitions are controversial for many reasons, not the least of which are theoretical concerns. Criminologists who favor rational choice explanations for terrorism tend to favor the extremely committed, self-aware, or free will component of the definition. Those who favor poverty or despair as the root causes of terrorism tend to favor the idea that most suicide terrorists are poor and oppressed individuals driven by desperation. Some experts claim that being duped, exploited, or manipulated is the real reason behind suicide attacks. Those who favor psychopathological explanations tend to favor the notion that suicide terrorists are mentally ill to some degree. Most likely, no single explanation is sufficient. To get some idea of how deranged and fanatic suicide terrorism is (and/or to what extent the "end" justifies the means), consider the following:
The Fanaticism of Suicide Terrorism
al-Asiri (age 22) was the world's first "underwear bomber" who
in 2009 attempted to assassinate a Saudi minister with one pound of
PETN plastic explosive hidden up his anal canal. Such hiding tactics
work well at getting past most security detection and are a typical
al-Qaeda tactic. In preparing for the mission, al-Asiri asked the
following question from an Islamic scholar-sheik (who shall remain
unnamed because he works for an American university):
"Is it permissible for me to let my jihadist brothers sodomize me so that my small anus can be widened in order to hold more explosive to carry out the good intention of jihad?"
Here is the scholar-sheik's reply: "Jihad comes first, for it is the pinnacle of Islam, and if the pinnacle of Islam can only be achieved through sodomy, then there is no wrong in it. For the overarching rule of Islamic jurisprudence asserts that 'necessity makes permissible the prohibited.' And if obligatory matters can only be achieved by performing the prohibited, then it becomes obligatory to perform the prohibited, and there is no greater duty than jihad. After they sodomize you, you must ask Allah for forgiveness and praise him all the more. And know that Allah will reward the jihadis on the Day of Resurrection, according to their intentions, which is the victory of Islam, and we ask that Allah accept it of you."
To be sure, jihadist suicide terrorism of the rectal bomb variety is not the only kind, but such cases do contain many common characteristics that illustrate the level of extremism involved. The phenomenon goes by a variety of names: e.g., "new" or "next generation" terrorism; escape-less "urban" terrorism; predatory martyrdom (Barlow 2007); "homicide bombing" (Ehrenfeld 2005); "suicide by cop" (Lindsay & Lester 2004); "postmodern" terrorism (Laqueur 1996); or the colloquial favorite, "new school" terrorism. No good profiles or typologies exist, theory is largely absent, and what is most unsettling is the lack of any good understandings of motivation -- what makes them tick? In addition, there are many other unsettled issues, like: the roles of age, sex, social class, education, culture, ideology, intelligence, and mental health; if suicide terrorism has a realistic chance of success or just spawns reprisals; the agency and structure debates; and whether it is even a form of terrorism at all or just a form of mass murder or crime. There is good reason to believe the main motivation is self-glorification, or as Borowitz (2005) puts it, the "Herostratos syndrome," which means preferring a criminal and spectacular death rather than an obscure and lonely destiny, dragging as many innocent people along as possible.
Note that suicide terrorism is NOT just the usual "innocents-as-fair-game" terrorism. It's more than that. It can be played by nation-states as well as individuals or groups. For example, when a rogue government places its missiles or military equipment next to a hospital, schoolhouse, or mosque, that government is playing the game of suicide terrorism. And to a lesser extent, so are terrorist fighters who exploit the self-imposed legal restraints of their adversaries. It is the exact opposite of heroic behavior. It is the ultimate "not-playing-fair" terrorism. The only thing worth understanding about it are its death cult characteristics. To truly understand it, one would have to delve deep into the recesses of the human psyche to unlock the mystery of why some people are attracted to cults and rituals of this nature. To make the telling of that mystery a short story, suicide terrorism can be seen as an alternative religion of some kind which is in essence a protest sect. Religious reframing is obviously the key factor (see Hafez 2006), but there may be other reasons why suicide terrorism is so attractive.
SELF-IMMOLATION: THE TRADITIONAL METHOD
But first, before we consider the growing use of human bombers, let's pause to discuss the old-fashioned, more traditional method of martyrdom accomplished by burning one's self to death; called self-immolation. This method of killing yourself is, of course, not limited to political expression, but according to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, self-immolation is a form of political protest that is intended to attract attention to some cause and become glorified as a martyr. Anthropologically, it is widely practiced in warrior cultures. Religiously, it is most closely associated with Buddhism and Hinduism. Some 1,500 incidents occur every year in India, and 500 more or so around the rest of the world. In India, it occurs primarily among widows, and is a practice the Indian government is trying to quash. The nation of Iran also has a high rate of self-immolation, but no explanations exist for it. Americans are probably most familiar with the following events pictured below: (1) a Buddhist monk burning himself to death in Saigon during 1963 to protest the Vietnam War; and (2) an unemployed Tunisian setting himself on fire in 2010 to start a coup d'etat.
Acts of self-immolation produce an immediate sense of wonder, and to be sure, many spectators recoil in horror and see the protestors as attention-seeking lunatics. Governments, too, are usually at a loss to figure out a good counter-strategy; e.g., the recent wake of self-immolations in the Arab world has prompted the proliferation of signs which read "Don't burn your Body." India and Iran have tried using a public health approach. Many self-immolators are, not surprisingly, psychotic (usually religious delusions, similar to persons who gouge their eyes out), but others show few signs of mental illness. Self-immolators who have been rescued to survive the process often report that they experienced little or no pain. It can be argued that self-immolation is an effective way to accomplish political aims. The one in 1963 Vietnam, for example, started a copycat wave which eventually got the U.S. domestic anti-war movement going (some protestors burning more than their draft cards). In the Arab world, self-immolations are a way of jump-starting social movements; e.g., women in Iran burning themselves to death to protest tyranny; girls in Afghanistan burning themselves to death to protest arranged marriages. Whatever the reason, self-immolation has spread rapidly throughout the world in copycat fashion, in a kind of "Werther effect" (named after the rash of suicides in the von Goethe novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther). Sometimes, the copycat wave is confined to a geographic area, such as a school, and such events are called "suicide clusters." While they should not be considered terrorism (since no one is killed except the participant), they are a very radical form of political protest.
ASSUMPTIONS AND STARTING POINTS
Regardless of how many lives are taken by forms of suicide terrorism, one might reasonably expect this phenomenon to be unsustainable in the long run. It is not the kind of behavior any rational group could maintain in the long-run without some loss of rationality in the form of massive self-deception. It may be further noted that terrorist groups who resort to this tactic often require a particular organizational structure. There is little literature on this topic, but a not uncommon part of the organizational structure required is for one segment of the terrorist group (the "political wing") to engage in precept propagation while another segment of the terrorist group (the "military wing") carries out recruitment and planning of suicide attacks. This is not always the case, however, since military wings tend to be smaller than political wings. Also, as in the case of Turkish Hezbollah (also spelled Hizballah, and typical in this regard), a military wing might be found recruiting in high schools (much as ROTC might do), but a political wing recruits from colleges, madrassas and mosques, and neighborhood or village organizations. Political wing recruitment is usually behind what is sometimes seen as self-recruitment. The idea of joining the military to be self-murdering (military suicidism) runs counter to every known principle of warfare. To paraphrase General George S. Patton, the point is not to die for your cause, but to ensure the other poor slob dies for his.
Who wants to die for their cause? The classic answer to this question is that a "martyr" does. However, there is some controversy over the exact meaning of being a martyr. There are lesser and greater martyrdoms, and according to the classic literature (e.g., Riddle 1931; Weiner 1990; Wood 1993), most martyrs are acting defensively rather than offensively. That is, the classic definition of a martyr is someone who refuses to renounce a belief or cause. They suffer persecution, but not always death. Even in most religious theologies, a martyr never dies because they survive in heaven or someplace (that martyrs go) and look down from above. There is also the need to (re-)construct an historical account of the martyr's life, called a "martyrology" which paints them in some noble, glamorous light. One of the best reads along these lines is the article by Arreguín-Toft (2001) which debates whether martyrdom is an act of strength thru weakness or an act of weakness pretending to be strength. The classic subject matter for this debate is the well-known Japanese kamikaze who are viewed as honorable by some and as cowards by others [see below]:
The Japanese Kamikaze: Heroes or Cowards?
|Similar to the "banzai charge" by soldiers, the last-ditch effort of a kamikaze attack can be seen as ways to avoid the humiliation of defeat or capture. The Japanese in World War II sunk 57 ships using this method, and would have been brought up on war crimes afterwards if not for the Allies' reluctance to dishonor the cultural practice of "martyrology" which is to say honoring all the schools, streets, and buildings the Japanese named after their "martyrs" is some sort of historical revisionism which portrayed them in good light.|
The truth is that many Japanese pilots were forced to become kamikaze. Authorities had to beat them, kidnap their families, and in many cases, forcibly throw them in the plane to get them to engage in this kind of behavior. In fact, one should conclude, in my opinion, that such actions are acts of cowardice, violations of the Geneva Conventions, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. There is nothing glamorous about any military (or terrorist) organization having a "suicide wing," and all attempts at post-event glamorization ought to be opposed. Suicide attacks as a combat tactic are the last-ditch efforts of losers, and a whole lot of unnecessary historical revisionism is needed to make such losers look like winners. The Islamist variety of the tactic in recent years even goes so far as to use disposable people such as women and children. Paying off or rewarding the families of dead suicide bombers is also the most atrocious variety of mercenary suicide (doomed mission) one can imagine. In short, nothing about suicide terrorism involves any heroism, and the phenomenon should be examined in its true light.
There is a lot of propaganda and window-dressing surrounding suicide terrorism. Most of the myths about it are tied to specific contexts. The fact is: suicide terrorism can occur in a number of settings, both indoor and out; it is not confined to the Middle East; it indirectly can serve numerous terrorist purposes; and because of this, some people say it may very well be the kind of terrorism the world is likely to see more of in the future (Bloom 2005). It is sometimes called the most cost-effective kind of terrorism. Bloom (2005) says it reaps multiple benefits on various levels without incurring significant costs. Hoffman (2003) put it this way in his classic Atlantic Monthly article on the subject (below):
Excerpt from Hoffman's Article on Suicide Terrorism
|Such are the weapons of war today; nuts and bolts, screws and ball bearings, any metal shards or odd bits of broken machinery that can be packed together with homemade explosive and then strapped to the body of a terrorist dispatched to any place where people gather. These attacks probably cost no more than $150 to mount, and they need no escape plan - often the most difficult aspect of a terrorist operation. And they are reliably deadly. Suicide attacks on average kill four times as many people as other terrorist attacks. It is not surprising, then that this means of terror has become increasingly popular.|
Sometimes it is said that suicide terrorism is the kind of terrorism which most successfully thwarts counterterrorism. Traditional approaches to countering suicide terrorism, to be sure, have involved either multiple checkpoints in crowd control or other outdoor/indoor "clearing operations." Hunter-killer teams can be effective if small units go building-by-building in a MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) operation, but one runs the risk of backlash such as what occurred in Iraq during 2005 with the Haditha incident. A critical counterinsurgency component is the attention which must be paid to avoiding casualties, along with some cultural sensitivity as troops go door-to-door attempting to find those intent on preparing for an attack. The Israelis avoid this problem of having to go door-to-door by "clearing" structures by bulldozing them to the ground. Any counterterrorism operations along these lines will require extensive knowledge of the terrain as well as knowing the enemy. Target hardening must accompany the requisite "clear and hold" tactic. The terrain will determine positions and movements (such as whether a top down or bottom up assault is called for), as well as where safe footholds (consolidation points) can be gained. The terrain, also to some degree, determines the method of entry or breach. It is not the intention to get overly tactical here, but sometimes, the breach is subdued (rather than the more explosive, dynamic, "flooding" entry). The point is that any good preventive response to suicide terrorism requires avoiding predictable patterns at all costs. Knowing the enemy involves knowing the "human terrain" and being able to distinguish between what one might call those who wish to die (the depressives) and those who still have one last shred of hope (the idealists). This is no small task. While some advance intelligence may be helpful in making these assessments (perhaps a sociology of place, or an anthropology of insurgency), psychosocial insights are often needed in split second terms at the tactical level. What guidelines exist to follow are meager. Idealistic guerrillas normally evade attack, while depressed fighters typically do not. Those who wish to survive fortify their positions and usually have escape routes planned, while those who wish to die don't usually bother with much by way of defense or escape. Someone seeking heroic martyrdom status might tend to have a semi-fortified position, a backup or bobby-trap arranged, and a cover story or media press release prepared. These things, as well as the ecology, or time and place of the act, may very well be the best information indicators for assessment purposes.
The intent or motivation of a suicide terrorist is a matter of speculation. Suicide is generally engaged in without the benefit of much cause or conscience, or if such things matter, they're overly blinded by anger, hate, rage, or jealously. Suicidal behavior runs contrary to the idea of terrorism itself. Terrorists traditionally play by some rules, practice guerrilla tactics, conduct surgical strikes, or at least have a plan. The traditional higher callings among terrorists have been specialties like assassination or bomb-making, not things like blowing yourself up to kill others. Even the IRA never engaged in suicide terrorism. Sure, there were IRA members willing to commit suicide in hunger strikes, and members did not lack the willingness to commit suicide, but they did lack the motivation for suicide attacks where they try to kill others. What suicide terrorism represents is the "lower calling" of terrorism. It is a subterfuge for regaining popular support and media exposure. In many ways, the phenomenon represents a rebellious era of terrorism, where any target is fair game, collateral damage is welcome, every terrorist is automatically a martyr, and motive or intent are overshadowed by whatever history or handlers make of the event. There may be no political cause at the perpetrator level. There may be no plan at the group level. These "new" terrorists may be simply engaging in terrorism for the "hell" of it. These kinds of terrorists have some mixed vision of self-destruction and other-destruction; i.e., they don't know if their motivation is to die or kill. Following Pedazhur (2005) and Bloom (2005), some speculations about the main motivations for suicide terrorism can be listed below:
to signal that the group is completely dedicated
to prevent defection from the group
to signal the status quo is loathsome, brutal, and horrendous
to enable the recruitment of others and to inspire others
to claim the moral high ground for being the ultimate victim
to manipulate audience reaction for maximum publicity
to mobilize and maintain support, often financial
to outdo or outbid competitor terrorist groups
In addition and somewhat in contrast to the above, Pape's (2005) thesis is that suicide terrorism is all about killing for lofty, rational, logical goals such as a kind of self-made homeland defense on the part of the terrorists. Professor Robert Pape's ideas are so popular that his "Dying to Win" arguments merit a whole Wikipedia entry. He is best known for the idea that terrorists aren't mentally ill, and are in fact, highly educated and caring individuals in the vein of Durkheimian altruistic suicide, the Durkheimian point of view also being shared by Strenski (2003), although more along the lines of ritualism than altruism. Pape (2005) bases his thesis upon an analysis of 462 attacks since 1980. He finds that the world leader in suicide terrorism has been the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. This is the group that invented the suicide vest, and the Palestinians got the idea of a suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers. Pape (2005) claims that most suicide terrorists are walk-in volunteers. Very few are criminals. Few are actually longtime members of a terrorist group. For most suicide terrorists, their first experience with violence is their very own suicide-terrorist attack. He also claims that they are not driven by religion (although religious differences are a factor) as much as by politics; i.e., suicide terrorists want to compel some perceived "occupying force" to withdraw from a territory the terrorists perceive as their "homeland." He states that about 95% of the cases in his database fit this pattern, and as a recommendation, he suggests that foreign powers secure their interests in other lands through a policy of "offshore balancing" which means stationing naval forces offshore and otherwise following an isolationist policy. Whether or not that is a viable foreign policy option is beyond the scope of this lecture, or perhaps maybe beyond the time it would take to exhaust all the possible disagreements with it. There is a lot to disagree about with Pape's thesis. One problem which jumps out right away is that suicide terrorism occurs domestically as well as internationally, and Pape seems to focus too much on the international arena, and he also seems desperate to jump on the anti-colonialism bandwagon which treats terrorists as freedom fighters.
There is a dangerous myth that all suicide terrorists are poor, oppressed individuals driven by desperation (Miniter 2005). Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, most Muslim fanatics behind this kind of behavior are well-off financially, have led gilded lives, and are well EDUCATED. Osama bin Laden did summer school at Oxford; his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had a medical degree (so did former Hamas biggie Abdel Rantissi); seven upper-middle-class jihadist doctors were implicated in the 2007 London/Glasgow bombings; Khalid Shaikh Mohammed studied mechanical engineering at North Carolina State; al-Qaeda scientist Affia Siddiqui studied microbiology at MIT and Brandeis; Mohammed Atta studied urban planning at Hamburg University; Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted of killing Daniel Pearl was a London School of Economics graduate; the 2009 Fort Hood terrorist that killed 14 people on an Army post was a psychiatrist; and Drand Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day 2009 plane bomber with "suicide underpants" came from a wealthy family, studied at the University College of London, and lived in a two million dollar flat. Three observations can be made regarding this pattern. One, Western educational systems need to be a bit more careful about why some of their Moslem students are studying certain subjects. Two, terrorist groups seem to be moving in the direction of using more highly educated people for suicide missions, presumably because such people are more highly trained and less likely to make mistakes. Three, terrorists from such privileged backgrounds have more means and resources to carry their attacks abroad. Suicide terrorism is therefore not a local problem but one with global reach.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE ACT
The geographic location, or place, of the spectacle is of some importance. There are reasons why transport hubs, capitol buildings, mini-malls, and shopping centers are the new playgrounds for terrorists. One is the fact there are more human targets and more human shields. Two is the fact that such large, public places almost always require the presence of a handler. A "handler" is a supervisor who lingers around nearby to set off the explosion in case the perpetrator chickens out. Handlers are present is most, but not all, cases of suicide terrorism. Urban areas also make it easier for the handlers and assorted cast to escape and hide. There are an abundance of targets. Cities are a target-rich environment. The anonymity of city life lends itself to false identification, ease of movement, as well as weapons availability. Authorities have a hard time maneuvering in urban areas. Terrorists know that the real reason why the military stays out of cities is not because of some agreement to respect police turf, but because you can't maneuver tanks and military equipment easily there. They know that most city services are woefully under-prepared for terrorist attack. They know that most democratic governments have something like a Posse Comitatus Act which prohibits the military from being used as a domestic police force. They know whether the local citizenry is alert or not, whether the locals practice situational awareness, and whether a bystander is likely to intervene or not. Exploiting an unsafe populace which values its privacy and personal liberty is a factor that suicide terrorists give great consideration over. When selecting a target, terrorists usually seek out the one that is: (a) most high up in vital importance; (b) softest in terms of being unprotected; and (c) most significant or symbolic to their cause. What's new about suicide terrorism is that often the "softest" target is selected first. This is for symbolic reasons, to highlight the alleged desperation of the act.
Some of the new rules that terrorists play by include the following. (1) Indiscriminate, arbitrary, and unpredictable killing of noncombatants. The idea that there are no innocent bystanders is not new to the theory of terrorism. What's new is the desire to make the killing look like a desperate act. (2) Lone wolves or beserkers. These are individuals who constitute a terrorist cell unto themselves. Terrorists have moved beyond the principle of leaderless resistance (not knowing who's in charge) to organizational franchise models which allow room for "covert" or "sleeper" cells. These individuals go off unpredictably and at times and places of their own choosing. (3) Faith in victory. Suicide terrorism is said to never give up, never surrender or quit, and never compromises on anything. This is quite different from religious-oriented terrorism which actually wants to lose and achieve martyrdom and the gifts of heaven, for example. Its hard to imagine why any government would be foolish enough to grant concessions to suicide terrorists. (4) Cherished symbols as targets. What gives a target symbolic value is whether a target group regards a target affectionately. Suicide terrorists never attack anything citizens regard as a monstrosity or a nuisance. They attack things which work efficiently and orderly. (5) Internecine conflict. Not only do the new terrorists seek mutually assured destruction, they often want the conflict to spill over across as many borders as possible. This gives them the appearance of being transnational, postmodern, or having global reach. (6) Technology. Classic terrorism had strong ties to anarchism and the shunning of technology. The new terrorism embraces technology, and manifests a desire to be as advanced and exotic as possible. They are not technocrats, but they tend to have a proclivity toward modern gadgets. (7) Weapons of mass destruction. Suicide terrorists admire chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and want to get their hands on them. Laqueur (1999) makes an interesting point that as the intelligence level of a terrorist goes down, the desire to obtain weapons of mass destruction goes up. We will consider the intelligence level of a suicide terrorist in the paragraphs below.
THE END OF IDEOLOGY
Most of what Daniel Bell (1960) predicted in his book, The End of Ideology, came true. We are living in un-heroic times of free-floating aggression, angst, and self-delusion. Less than one half of one percent of the population would commit to something, yet all of us want something to commit to. IDEOLOGY serves just that purpose, and is defined as a form of social or political philosophy in which practical elements are as prominent as theoretical ones. It is a system of ideas that aspires both to explain the world and to change it (Encyclopedia Brittanica). Few leaders provide good ideology anymore. Homegrown, grassroots ideology is common. Every generation since X has sought complacency instead of ideology. Gone is our desire to do any hard thinking about global economy, culture clashes, mass immigration, xenophobia, how to end human suffering, how to guard against totalitarianism, etc. Today, everyone seeks easy answers and the intellectually lazy way out. Everyone is a populist who champions the plight of the average, ordinary person. Societies avoid tipping points by finding comfort spots in the form of anti-intellectual climates. Much of the war on terrorism can be seen as a war on ideology, as a cleaning-up or mopping-up operation for the remaining "pockets" of old school, revolutionary ideas as well as a battle against homegrown, grassroots ideology. Many terrorists can be seen as people who don't like to think too much. They have given up on a lot of things. They want something easy to believe in. Suicide terrorism has characteristics just like that. It represents the postmodern end of ideology. To examine this thesis further, let's delve into an older, similar ideology -- communism.
Communism (whether leftist, radical, Marxist, socialist, or revolutionary), for all its claim to be a workingman's ideology, has alway been the domain of disaffected intellectuals who consider themselves a vanguard elite. The notion of a vanguard elite is a Bolshevik concept which comes from orthodox Marxism and sees fighters as a "vanguard of the proletariat" (on behalf of the working class). Orthodox Marxism failed primarily because it could not sustain a vanguard commitment from any true intellectuals. Few selfless ideologies can. To be sure, communism's failure may have been due to the many unorthodox varieties of Marxism, especially the kind which tried to make things simpler for the workingman to follow. For example, the Trotskyites (followers of Leon Trotsky) tried this simplification approach, with Trotsky (1921) believing a more diverse social class base was needed for a permanent, global Socialist revolution. Trotskyism is much like Castroism, which is much like Maoism, which are all warped versions of Marxist ideology that oversimplify things in a race to the bottom, so to speak. Che Guevara, a Castroite, even toyed with the idea of "consciousness raising" but eventually rejected it in favor of the simplier Maoist idea that happiness is a warm gun. Simplification of ideology leads to a reduction in size and strength of any vanguard or educated elite. Are suicide terrorists any kind of vanguard? What level of education do they have? What social interests do they represent? These are all questions a Marxist framework would look at.
One would think that suicide terrorists represent altruistic, true-cause revolutionaries (the martyrdom myth), but it is more likely they represent the fading of a once-true ideology. They represent a search for "easy answers." However, for purposes of argument, let's examine what might be the appeal, psychologically and sociologically, for someone to step up to the plate and volunteer for a "vanguard" suicide mission. It could be a decision to act on behalf of the average Joe. It could be a decision to seek fame and glory. Well, that's not altruistic in any way, shape or form. Far more likely is the fact that suicide terrorists are just sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was an American who fully expressed this sentiment -- Abbie Hoffman -- who declared in 1968 that any ideological movement was all about "Revolution for the Hell of It." It would be hard to characterize Hoffman's ideas concisely, but Rankin (1998) does a good job at it, saying Hoffman represented the contradictions and satire of his day, but more importantly, was an egomaniac who got caught up in the lies he would make up about all the bad things government allegedly did. So, if Hoffman's ideology is any guide, suicide terrorism is all about theatrics, selfishness, getting wrecked (on drugs in Hoffman's case), lying, irony, satire, shamelessness, and nihilistic bravado. Nothing noble is any of this except maybe downward mobility, or the somewhat crazy Zen idea that such individuals encapsulate their times like a reflection of all around them (the universe in a dewdrop myth).
A mistake most scholars make (like Pape 2005) is in conceiving of suicide terrorism as a kind of foco insurgency which capitalizes upon the sympathies of the populace, when in actuality, it is a kind of vanguardism, of the Leninist variety. As Lenin wrote regarding primitivism in his booklet, What Is To Be Done, revolutionary leaders need to find a way to exploit the poor, foolish masses as cannon fodder for two reasons: one, it is better to use amateurs than professionals because it avoids the potential for creating demogogues (another reason why martyrdom is a myth since martyrs and demogogues are the same thing); and two, it serves an uplifting function, and these are Lenin's own words -- [senseless deaths] help raise amateurs to the level of revolutionaries. This is certainly not an enlightened Marxism. It just seems like the typical way Marxists regard their lumpenproletariat as a throwaway segment of society.
All human life has value. To throw it away is neither uplifting nor a part of upward mobility. However, some kind of human desire to "throw it all away" seems to exist, even in mild forms such as static or downward mobility. The virtues of downward mobility and its role in a faded, postmodern society have always been glamorized by existential philosophers, of which Jean-Paul Sartre and Herbert Marcuse are the best examples. Marcuse is perhaps the most popular in this regard, especially Marcuse's (1964) book One-Dimensional Man.
|HERBERT MARCUSE: German-American existential/phenomenological philosopher, Father of the New Left, Leader of the radical intelligensia, and Celebrator of the Hippies who argued that well-off, middle-class college students should throw off their "manacles" of unearned privilege and fight in common cause with the poor and downtrodden to destroy the welfare/warfare state. Liberation from affluence is the only thing worth liberating. Mass media, oppressive culture, advertising, management, and most contemporary modes of thought are the enemies and appropriate targets for liberators.|
Thus, two possibilities or hypotheses present themselves. Suicide terrorists may come from upper- and middle-class backgrounds (as Reuter 2006 suggests, as well as Berrebi 2007) who throw off their "manacles" of unearned privilege (as Marcuse calls it) to get down with the people to show some vanguard action. If this is the case, then suicide terrorists are very similar to the "hippie" remnants of old school, revolutionary action during the 1960s and 1970s. On the other hand, if suicide terrorists are consciousness-raised poor people (or desparately poor people eager to latch onto any ideology), then Lenin was right, and some new kind of uplift desire to attach oneself to the world's (existential) condition is emerging today. There's little to worry about if the first hypothesis is true, but we'd better figure out that "new ideology" fast if the second hypothesis is true. The first possibility is just nihilistic abandon; the second possibility represents a new, grassroots threat. What follows is an examination of this "new ideology" (if it is emerging) and how "warped" and distorted it is, cognitively and socially, at the present time. It is not the intention here to help counsel or straighten out these "mixed-up" suicide terrorists, but instead to come up with better ideas for counterterrorism to deal with the phenomenon.
THE SUICIDE TERRORIST MINDSET
Now, within Frazier's hierarchy, you'll recall, is an organizational level called the active cadre. This is the traditional vanguard of a terrorist group. They have been bred to believe that violence is an absolute necessary and they are the righteous champions of whatever poor and downtrodden groups they are fighting for. They are not born, but bred terrorists. Cooper's (1977) doctrine of necessity is applicable. It says that a person becomes a terrorist not because they enjoy violence, but because they are forced toward it. They come to believe that continuance of the status quo is worse than any consequence of the act of terrorism. They may come from backgrounds where they were raised to detest violence, but their utter hatred of the status quo helps them overcome any feelings of guilt about killing innocent people. This ideology drives their mindset. There is an internalization of other people's problems and the desire to be heroic. In their minds, it would be immoral not to be violent.
But, what about people who don't want to be heroic, don't want to internalize others' problems, and everything about their life seems to suggest they were "born" for terrorism. Is there an ideology for this? If there is, it would have to something like the ideology of a different consciousness. Enter the first factor of the "warped mindset" -- the absolute lack of any sense of regret or remorse. The idea that there should be no scruples of conscience when it comes to terrorism is derived from the 1848/1849 German activist Karl Heinzen. The communist party, especially Engels, tried to shut him up, but Heinzen proclaimed the first unrepentant terrorist philosophy of this kind. Heinzen's beliefs are known as the doctrine of unjustified means.
|KARL HEINZEN: Nineteenth-century German radical freethinker who resurrected Gracchus Babeuf's (1792) philosophy that "All means are legitimate in the fight against tyrants." In his essay Der Mord (Murder) he proclaimed that all means were valid to hasten the advent of democracy. As a radical democrat, Heinzen wrote: "If you have to blow up half a continent and cause a bloodbath to destroy the party of barbarism, you should have no scruples of conscience. Anyone who would not joyously sacrifice his life for the satisfaction of exterminating a million barbarians is not a true republican."|
Note the phraseology used by Heinzen, such as "blowing up half a continent" and "exterminating." Suicide terrorists share this vision, and frequently want little by way of practical or political gain. It is the fantasy they are fighting for, not the cause. In the words of one Hizbollah leader, "We are not fighting so that the enemy recognizes us and offers us something. We are fighting to wipe out the enemy." New terrorism appears to be motivated by little more than a desire to bomb the hell out of things; kill as many people as possible. White (2002) has called this "apocalyptic thinking." One would imagine that the dreams and fantasies of such terrorists are filled with apocalyptic visions.
However, an ideology requires commitment to something, and suicide rituals according to anthropologists (Douglas 2002) have always been about purification. One would imagine that suicide terrorists feel there is something "dirty" or "impure" about themselves which needs purification. The notion that terrorism is a kind of spiritual quest, sojourn, or state of consciousness can be attributed to Ken Wilber, who is probably best known for his 2001 book, A Brief History of Everything, and his extensive website. Wilber's theory of terrorism is called AQAL (All-Quadrants, All-Levels) theory, and although it's a little complicated, it bears some similarity to a Maslow-type theory of human development. The Four Quadrants are similar to my own (O'Connor 1994) neo-functionalist approach in that Wilber uses them as representing segments of society that must all be attended to equally in order to prevent pathological personalities or societies from developing. The Quadrants consist of:
The upper right quadrant - atoms, molecules, cells, organs, neural systems and brains
The upper left quadrant - intent, consciousness, maturity, mind, sensation, perception, impulse, and taste
The lower right quadrant - groups, families, tribes, villages, and nations
The lower left quadrant - culture, worldview, perspective, values, and morals
The Levels are more extensive, color-coded, and reference a worldview or state of consciousness, and their essential characteristic is that each one thinks of itself as the only way to see things. The full color-coded scheme is presented below, almost as if there was some way to index or measure the levels of distorted perception along the road to self-purification.
Beige: Archaic-Instinctual. The level of basic survival
Purple: Magical-Animistic. The level of gangs, corporate tribes, athletic teams, etc.
Red: Power Gods. The level of self; powerful, impulsive, egocentric, heroic, e.g. the “terrible twos,” rebellious youth, frontier mentalities, soldiers of fortune, wild rock stars
Blue: Conformist Rule. The level of life as having meaning, direction, and purpose, with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other. Rigid social hierarchies; paternalistic; one right way and only one right way to think about everything. Law and order, impulsivity controlled through guilt; fundamentalist belief; obedience to rule of Order; e.g. Puritan America, Confucian China, Islamic fundamentalism
Orange: Scientific Achievement. The level that escapes from ‘herd mentality’ and seeks truth and meaning in achievement, materialistic gains, and the laws of science rule
Green: Sensitive Self. The level of community, human bonding, ecological sensitivity, networking, and a human spirit freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness
Yellow: Integrative. The level of life as a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms, subject to flexibility and spontaneity, with differences and pluralities integrated into interdependent, natural flows
Turquoise: Holistic. The level of Universal holistic system, uniting feeling with knowledge; multiple levels interwoven into one conscious system
Coral: An indefinable level that may well be the realm of saints and mystics
Wilber's AQAL theory of terrorism states that far too little social resources have been directed toward the Left Quadrants, and far too much Blue, first-tier, thinking is encouraged. Wilber talks about some societies which have looked for natural hierarchies in the Right Quadrants, particularly the Upper Right, where the only hierarchies are atomic. In relation to suicide terrorism, the implication is that a perpetrator's fantasy or warped mindset involves the Upper Right -- an elemental, atomic-level fantasy about blowing up the bits of self. However, Wilber's personal belief is probably closer to a view of terrorism as Orange Thinking -- an act of desperation, out of fear and loathing. He says that most problems in the world today are driven by self-doubt, fear, and the absence of genuine opportunities for respect, dignity, and self-development. It is agreed here that self-development problems lead to social problems, and vice-versa. The mindset thesis holds that not only are suicide terrorists suffering from broken self-development, but that any society or culture breeding them is suffering from a similar problem. There is nothing mystical or saintly about it other than perhaps the fantasy of having one's atoms dispersed, which is logical only in the sense that one perceives society all around them falling apart. When hierarchies break down between various levels of life, suicide terrorism becomes attractive, and this is as much the fault of macro-micro linkages as it is the fault of linguistic misinterpretations (the intersubjectivity myth). "Intersubjectivity" for those who aren't familiar with this consciousness studies term means the way people come together through communication of signals, or more specifically, the coming together of people who mutually condition each others' subjective processes via mutual admiration or apprehension. It is what is meant by a "subjective" experience. What I call the intersubjectivity myth is the belief that there can be no such thing as a isolated mind. I think people are perfectly capable of going crazy by themselves, but it helps to believe in a crazy world on multiple levels.
THE CRIMINAL COVER-UP
An important question to ask is to what extent terrorism, or terrorist ideology, is a cover-up for criminality, or psychopathology? Along these lines, it might be pointed out that suicide terrorists are more egoistic than altruistic. Criminals are notorious egomaniacs. Many experts have pointed out the similarities between terrorists and criminals. For example, the U.S. Army War College (2005) has a document entitled "Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency" which basically says that all forms of insurgent terrorism eventually mutate into criminal street gangs. We normally think of insurgents as military actors or nonstate actors, but in complex situations, it's hard to separate those with political motivations from those with criminal motivations. It may also be the case that the more political terrorists pay criminals to do their dirty work. This mutation pattern or "mutability thesis" that the Army points out is nothing new. Sociologists like Zurcher (1979) have been studying it for years. However, the reader ought to be aware of an opposite thesis, what Hobsbawm (1965) called the "primitive rebellion thesis" or banditry pattern, which suggest that all criminals eventually become terrorists. Thus, a two-way street exists: terrorists can become criminals and criminals can become terrorists. Which pattern is correct is a matter for science to sort out, and which one is better than the other calls for a strong dose of value judgment.
Postmodern terrorists who have given up on revolution and pursue blind rage instead are somewhat similar to organized criminal groups where it's "business as usual." Narco-terrorism is one such variety, and many terrorist groups raise money through criminal activity, and to be sure, a few terrorists started out as street thugs or had a proclivity for such things. The so-called "true criminal" shares some features of mental illness. Mental disorders abound in the criminal population -- antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, sociopathy, etc. Terrorists suffer from delusions of grandeur and a strong paranoid streak (Laqueur 1999). Terrorists are "crazy like a fox." Neither criminals nor terrorists are super-geniuses, and it is usually the case that both are suffering from anxieties, depressions, psychoses, neuroses, and personality disorders. A routine may provide them with a blanket of security, but some personalized ideology is probably better.
The literature on the forensic psychology of terrorism is mixed (Taylor 1991; Reich 1998; Robins, R. & J. Post 1997; Taylor & Horgan 2000), and there is no one, neat answer to the question of whether terrorists are mentally ill. Some experts argue that the psychological mechanism which allows terrorists to do what they do is a process of moral disengagement. Others say it's a coping strategy for stress. Some would argue that terrorist motives are driven by such things as boredom and the need for a sense of adventure. A few claim it's the case of a massive inferiority complex, brought on by a sense of humiliation (Lindner 2001). Few argue that terrorism is pure psychopathy. It's apparent that some suicide terrorists are well-read, educated, intelligent, thoughtful, reflective, rational people with common sense. They also just happen to be people you can't reason with, who fervently hold fanatical or extremist beliefs deep in their heart and soul. They have what Voltaire called an incurable disease of the spirit, a fixation, if you will, with seeing no harm, no foul play, no bad intent, and no negative impact in what they do. Most importantly, they are loners. They possess a dehumanized, emotionless attitude toward others, regarding most people as "the walking dead" (see The Revolutionary Catechism for a terrorist guide to interpersonal relations).
The motivations for becoming a terrorism are diverse, and for suicide terrorism, perhaps even more diverse. It depends not just upon applied political psychology (Robins & Post 1997) but the socio-historical context of time and place (Crenshaw 2001). There are regions of the world where long-standing grievances are part of the local culture and work their way into mindsets. There are places where fatalistic and anomic sociogenic trends are found. There are times when the apocalyptic vision of mass destruction is more appealing. There are places of higher learning which steer intellectual thought in the direction of justifying terrorism. One thing is clear -- to become a suicide terrorist, you must be able to justify mass murder.
The profiling of terrorists is no easy task, and profiling new, modern terrorists is baffling. CIA profiling tends to be more clinical and psychodynamic than FBI profiling. Criminal profiling uses a combination of psychology, observation, deduction and forensics. Terrorist profiling uses a combination of political psychology, sociology, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry. The closest thing to a composite of a "perfect" terrorist is a person with extreme hatred in their soul and an extreme sense of self-righteousness. They feel they have been left with no choice in a world which moves in the diametrically opposite direction of their convictions. They see their enemies in the world as evil -- and evil must be destroyed, root and branch. In drawing up profiles, it's important not to make too much of national origin. That would be pretty much the same as racial profiling. It is helpful to consider social class background. Some suicide terrorists tend to come from the elite, educated, upper social classes, while others come from the poverty-stricken classes. Revolutionary terrorists are usually drawn from two extremes: the most upper and most lower classes. Nationalist and separatist movements usually draw from the lower classes. Religious terrorists tend to come from all social classes. In the Muslim world, terrorists tend to come from the ranks of the lower class, the exception being wealthy and highly educated Islamists with global reach (wealth and education being the factors that give them global reach). With domestic terrorism in the United States, suicide terrorists come from all social classes. There's no good way to summarize the literature. Social psychological models are helpful, as in Jeffrey Ian Ross' (1999) attempt to tie together structural factors about socio-cultural conditions with psychological facilitating traits. Here's a paraphrasing of those facilitating factors:
a strong ego, need for excitement, and a feeling of being lost
disorders along the paranoid-narcissistic spectrum
drive to belong, join, or be part of a group
an intellectually enriching learning environment or opportunities to learn new things
a tendency to make cost-benefit calculations that exaggerate benefits and minimize costs
THE READINESS TO KILL AND DIE
Much terrorist behavior is less than rational, and suicide is not the act of a rational person. Many experts (Ganor 2000; Schweitzer 2000) have commented on the tendency for modern terrorists to use suicide attacks. In fact, the Islamic Jihad (there are several Islamic Jihads started in the 1980s, all stemming from inside the Muslim Brotherhood movement started in the 1920s) have specialized in the use of suicide bombers, which involve a person wearing explosives or detonating a vehicle packed with explosives. Other groups have also embraced suicide terrorism. The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka proudly wore cyanide necklaces as a sign of commitment to their cause, with adherents saying things like "We are married to our cyanide; it makes us clear-headed and purposeful." IRA terrorists have starved themselves to death; Russian revolutionaries have blown themselves up; and fascist movements have a distinct tendency toward a mystique of death. The Japanese kamikaze tradition best exemplifies this warrior mentality or mystique, which is characterized as a honor to be permitted to die. The Islamic tradition adds an element of "deluxe martyrdom" (Laqueur 1999), in which surviving family members are well taken care of. Gambetta (2005) recounts an instance when FARC, the Columbian rebel group, once hatched a plan to fly a plane into that country's presidential palace but could find no willing pilot, even after dangling an offer of $2 million for the pilot's family.
The Islamic tradition also adds other elements. First, they come to believe they are going to die living under present conditions, or will die if captured. Deluxe martyrdom is a radically new phenomenon. For Muslims, suicide is not a mortal sin, as it is in Catholicism. The Koran does not permit suicide in principle, but religious leaders say it is allowed under special circumstances. The Koran does preach that it is a religious duty to fight and die for Allah and Islam. Martyrdom in the name of Allah carries the following benefits:
eternal life in paradise
permission to see the face of Allah
the loving kindness of 72 virgins
the promise of heaven for 70 relatives
family financial rewards of thousands of dollars
family increase in social status
The perpetrator of a suicide attack is not considered to have committed suicide. Rather, they are perceived as a "shahid" or martyr fulfilling a religious command. They are not permitted to volunteer for suicide missions, but are instead selected by religious teachers, and undergo a series of training or indoctrination sessions. Part of this indoctrination may involve attempts at being buried alive to overcome the fear of death. Candidates come from a cross-section of society. Children are commonly used, and occasional use seems to be made of young females between the ages of 16 and 28. The role of women in suicide terrorism is a matter of speculation, as is the degree to which suicide attacks trigger more "copycat" suicide attacks. Perpetrators are trained to use a "belt bomb" containing 15-30 pounds of explosives. Besides being a cheap and easy method of terrorism, it's the most accurate guidance system available in the world today. They can pretend to be a pregnant woman, and pause at precise moments when a crowd congregates around a target. The method attracts media coverage, and no escape plan is usually needed except for any handlers, supervisors, or back-up personnel in the area.
Istishad: The Islamist Word for "Suicide Bomber"
|Islamists and Jihadists become quite angry when the media and the West refer to those who blow themselves up as engaging in suicide bombing. A typical angry reaction would go as follows: "This is not suicide. Suicide is weak, selfish, and mentally disturbed. This is 'istishad' which consists of martyrdom or self-sacrifice in the service of Allah. A martyrdom operation is the highest level of jihad. Nor is the action murder. A murderer is someone with a psychological problem. It's not murder because we're not bloodthirsty people. We don't like to kill. We don't do it because we like to kill civilians, but that is a fact of life because the jihad must go on."|
THE INFORMAL PROCESS OF RECRUITMENT
Despite evidence of formal indoctrination, postmodern terrorism inherently relies upon informal means of recruitment. Certainly, some groups (Hezbollah is one) have formal indoctrination and allegiance ceremonies, but the vast majority of terrorist organizations rely upon schools, religious institutions, families, and word-of-mouth to get new members to join. Once the terrorist group has succeeded in getting one family member to join (and die), it is a simple matter to get the remaining members of that family to believe it is a "given" for the surviving members of that family to join or at least support the cause. Another tactic is for the terrorist recruiter to set up someone as responsible for a criminal offense because the terrorists know that a prison experience will radicalize a person. Different recruiters from different terrorist groups may even blackmail a person, such attempts being to threaten reporting of a person as a "collaborator with the enemy" to another group if they don't join the group the recruiter wants them to.
In the recruitment process, it's important to remove any sense of the recruit's self-identity. There is no room for individuality in a terrorist organization. Success or failure (pride or shame) regarding the terrorist organization becomes an individual matter, and terrorist groups often compete with other terrorist groups over who has the most dramatic operations. Hence, a competitive element is a factor when multiple terrorist groups operate in the same environment. It's also important for recruits to renounce any sense of hesitation, guilt, or remorse they may have. There's no room for moral considerations within a terrorist organization. This objective is normally accomplished by Right-brain demonizing of the enemy; e.g. "anything which helps defeat the enemy" or "the more dead, the better." Nothing is illegitimate (although the Koran speaks of not poisoning the well) in the cause of defeating an enemy. No distinctions are made between the enemy's soldiers, civilians, women, or children. Given the degree to which brainwashing occurs during this part of the process, it's probably more accurate to refer to it as hypnosis than indoctrination.
After recruitment, there is a need to provide a mechanism for granting social status to the new recruit. They must receive respect from their acquaintances and be a source of awe and inspiration to the young. This is usually accomplished by making videos. By intent, the whole process of recruitment is designed to make it look like it is a natural step to join a terrorist organization, much like the armed forces of a country would make it look like it's a natural step to serve your nation. Let's examine the validity of this claim that Islamic suicide terrorism is a matter of public service.
THE AMATEURIZATION OF TERRORISM
Amateurs are often used in suicide terrorism. When teenagers get involved, they can hardly be considered professionals. It's not that all teenagers are immature; it's just that they rarely have the resources - financial or otherwise - to carry out much more than suicide, homemade, script-kiddie attacks. More than a lowering of the average age is a cause of amateurization, which as a term, is also synonymous with splinter groups that break off from a better-equipped main group. The growing trend toward more secretive and shadowy forms of organization contributes toward amateurization. Postmodernism enables amateurization. In such murky networks, there is less training, command, control, and leadership. Combined with no ideology or cause to believe in, amateur terrorism may turn out to be the real threat in the future.
Amateur terrorists can be defined as part-timers who work with homemade equipment, are only indirectly or remotely controlled by a leadership entity, operate in idiosyncratic fashion, and are just as likely to hurt themselves in the process of attempting to harm or shock others. Arquilla & Ronfeldt (2001) conceptualize this new era of terrorism as "netwar," a non-hierarchical organizational form that is designed for all sorts of tactics -- terror, crime, militancy, or vandalism. Under this conceptualization, jihad may very well take the form of cyber-jihad, and the "swarm" tactic this entails means allowing amateurs to do what they will. Rebel groups without a cause (clue) will simply take the path of least resistance - and may use technology as a force multiplier - to have an impact. Let's examine one such group, often looked at as the world's first post-communist, postmodern insurgency - the Zapatistas.
|CASE STUDY: the Zapatistas, or Zapatista National Liberation Front (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional - EZLN), were Leftist rebels who championed the cause of Indians native to Mexico's Chiapas province. In 1994, the Zapatistas began killing Mexican soldiers and policemen. By 2001, the Zapatistas emerged as an above-ground "Robin Hood" group for the civil rights of oppressed people everywhere. Following 2001, they have funded and supported a network of cyber-hackers who take out as much Internet connectivity as possible in certain areas where anti-World Trade Organization protesters are staging demonstrations.|
The Zapatistas started out without any computer technology, but they soon realized that transnational organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had computers and websites, so they started a propaganda campaign on the Internet by tailoring their terrorist attacks to what was newsworthy for the NGOs. Their Internet proficiencies progressed to the point of web hacks and cyber-crime. In the late 1990s, they were the world's first information guerrilla movement. When the Zapatistas launch a web attack, their "network" of supporters, sympathizers, and loosely-affiliated movements all launch web attacks too. The effect of this, as it is for suicide terrorism, is amateurish, and often more overwhelming than traditional terrorism.
LONE WOLF TERRORISM AND MASSACRE PREVENTION
A "lone wolf" terrorist does things alone or outside of any command structure, regardless of ideology. It is a particularly difficult form of terrorism to collect intelligence on. They are much like spree killers, thrill killers, those who "snap" in the workplace, school shooters, and/or those who run amok or "go postal." Kelleher (1996) is probably at the forefront of massacre prevention in this regard, and lone wolf terrorism would qualify in his book as a Type IV (for political reasons) or Type V (indiscriminate) offender. These types usually defy the general patterns recognizable in most workplace crime, and some incidents appear to be without reasonable explanation.
However, others who have examined workplace snappers (O'Connor 1997) find that, categorization efforts aside, a significant facilitating factor is the target audience, where some sort of denial, ignorance, or dismissal takes place among the populace who downplay the significance of warning signs. Another significant factor is the level of delusional disorder within the perpetrator. The diagnosis which most closely fits is the diagnosis of dependent personality disorder, which means that such terrorists are suffering from some kind of codependency complex. They usually let their finances deteriorate, they usually "telegraph" their pain and suffering in some way, and they engage in a series of unusual or bizarre behaviors beforehand. The Postal Service has experimented with various predictive instruments, but so far, none have achieved much scientific validity and reliability. A sample checklist is found below, and nothing short of social vigilance will suffice for preventive purposes.
1. Persistent blaming or unwarranted criticism of others
2. Unexplained, persistent mood changes
3. Evidence of depression or social withdrawal
4. Unprovoked outbursts of anger or aggression
5. Significant changes in normal habits
6. Evidence of substance or alcohol abuse
7. Refusal to follow work directives
8. Bizarre or outlandish behavior in social get-togethers
9. Argumentative, threatening, or combative behavior
10. Persistent discussions that revolve around the subjects of weapons or destruction
HUMILIATION AS A CAUSE OF MODERN TERRORISM
The humiliation paradigm is presented here as the last word on the subject. The humiliation paradigm is most associated with the work of Straub (1990) on bystander intervention, Lindner (2001) on gendercide, and in that branch of religious studies/psychology exemplified by Jones (2008). Evelin Lindner is a psychological counselor with extensive private practice experience in the Middle East. She has developed a paradigm that draws heavily upon the psychological notion of empathy, and the viewpoint that all human beings yearn for recognition and respect, and that the withdrawal or denial of recognition and respect, experienced as humiliation, is the strongest force that creates rifts between people and breaks down relationships. Humiliation is defined as a personal feeling where respect and recognition are lacking, and it is not due to ethnic, religious, or cultural differences (which create rifts by themselves or are used as fronts for the deeper humiliation rift). Nor is humiliation the same as feeling like a victim (which generally results in either depression or lashing out in rage). Instead, humiliation is the feeling of being helpless, pinned down, held down, or kept passive (and unable to control world events). Criminologically, humiliation is quite different from deprivation, the standard concept in criminology to explain these kinds of things.
Lindner's (2001) research involved years of trying to understand things like why some Palestinian mothers would want to have more babies so their children could grow up to become suicide bombers, or why successful businessmen (like Osami bin Laden) would abandon wealth and promising careers to become terrorists. The answer, it seems, is a sense of felt humiliation and helplessness about being unable to contribute effectively to the "global village" or one's notion of global responsibilities. Two points can be made about this explanation -- one, that suicide terrorists are deeply sincere and selfless about their motives for terrorism-- and two, that the world's movement toward globalization or a "global village" has negative side effects that create terrorism (even humanitarian aid can be humiliating).
Jones' (2008) research on Aum Shinrikyo and fundamentalist Christian groups shows that humiliation is so strong a factor that it can make ordinary people turn "evil." The feeling of humiliation or shame along with a tendency to see the world in black and white and to demonize or dehumanize other people makes for the ideal, psychological candidate for recruitment into a cult of martyrdom. These factors presumably operate independently of any organizational characteristics which one would think are mostly responsible for recruitment.
Apparently, the postmodern terrorist cannot sit passively by and watch world events run their course without some personal commitment. Terrorism is then, like an eating disorder or alcoholism, where the person tries to "drown" their sorrow or humiliation, and further, will "manufacture" a series of humiliations (when there is none in their lives) by over-empathizing (sincerely and deeply) with the problem of others' suffering. Likewise, there will be those who are perceived (or misperceived) as the "humiliators" in all this, and above all, those most likely to be perceived as the humiliators are those who point out the inequalities and deprivations in the world (human rights violations) that were once taken for granted or just accepted. Perhaps this paradigm has some validity. It may very well be that some people turn to terrorism precisely because they feel deeply humiliated by the arrogant, self-congratulating style in which the leading nations of the world are constantly pressuring for greater human rights. It remains to be seen, however, if empirical research validates the hypothesis that empathy for suffering is a cause of terrorism. It may very well be that this line of explanation simply involves some twisted sense of heroism or bystander intervention gone horribly wrong.
Women suicide terrorists have been studied extensively by Bloom (2005) who finds that their actions in the terrorist underworld are viewed as a source of female empowerment, and that use of women in traditional Muslim societies is highly valued. For example, terrorists use women to throw off any profiles that authorities might be using, and to capitalize upon Muslim repugnance for anyone meticulously searching a pregnant woman (the traditional role for Muslim women to be pregnant as early and often as possible). Prior to 2005 (with the exception of the first female bombers appearing in Lebanon during 1985), women bombers generally only came from secular groups (e.g., Kurdish rebels in Turkey or the non-Muslim Liberation Tigers in Sri Lanka). That trend continues with the increase in liberal groups over the last few years, such as the Palestinian women who have stepped up their "Army of roses" attacks (Victor 2003). Likewise, Bloom's (2005) analysis of Chechnya's "black widows" indicates that there is a certain amount of competitive ferver among women suicide terrorists. The terrorist group, al-Qaeda, held back on using women, at least for awhile, but then, in late 2005, at least three waves of female al-Qaeda suicide bombings began. The first one dressed like a man, and the second one was joined by her apparent husband. In Jordan, authorities captured the third one who's belt bomb didn't go off, and she told an interesting story about having married her radical husband less than a week before and the marriage was never consummated. Authorities are particularly concerned about this kind of threat where couples pose as "married couples" but have only been joined together for no other purpose than a suicide mission. It can be safely said that the world should expect to see more of female suicide terrorism, but saying this may very well be saying more about how easily women are lured, fooled, and duped in patriarchal societies.
THE COMING AGE OF ROBOT TERRORISM
It is most likely the case that technology -- not demographics, gender, race, religion, or poverty -- will be the main driver of suicide terrorism in years to come. At least on the face of it, the logic is overwhelming. One of the main reasons suicide terrorism is so attractive is because it's a relatively autonomous and risk-free enterprise. There is certain knowledge that death is immanent (nothing left to lose), and the main operational problem is getting human delivery systems to deliver themselves to their proper targets on time. Considering the rationality behind it, suicide terrorism is the most risk-free form of terrorism (nothing to lose but life itself). It can be made even more risk-free if the human capacities for hesitation and error were removed. In fact, it can probably be made totally risk-free through automation and human surrogates (suicide belts on household pets, for example). However, the most logical extension of the rationality would involve use of machines. Enter the robots (see below).
Robots as Suicide Terrorists
|No one knows why terrorists haven't started using them. Perhaps they are waiting for when technology improves and they can program the things in artificial intelligence mode to think like suicide terrorists. The military already uses robots on the battlefield, on the ground and in the air, but generally a human hand is always needed to push a button or pull the trigger. If a terrorist group were to capture one of these military robots and reverse-engineer it to become an autonomous, automated killing machine, this would raise some serious concerns. Would such devices replace suicide bombers as the weapon-of-choice? Should machines have the capability to make decisions about human termination? If terrorists gain the ability to program their robots to precisely target innocent civilians, can we counter by programming our robots to precisely target the proper terrorist combatants?|
Air University Bibliography on Suicide Terrorism
Criminal versus Terrorist Profiling
Excerpts from Martha Crenshaw's Terrorism in Context
Herbert Marcuse Internet Archive
Infantry Tactics in Military Operations in Urban Terrain
MSNBC Special on Women of al-Qaeda
Profiling a Terrorist
Profiling Islamic Suicide Terrorists (pdf)
Profiling Osama bin Laden
Soft Power and the Psychology of Suicide Bombing
The 1848 German Revolutionaries
The ICT Institute at Herzliya
The In-group Value of Suicide Terrorism (ppt)
The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism
The "New" Terrorism: Does It Exist?
The Revolutionary Catechism
The Roots of Suicide Terrorism (pdf)
Who Are the Palestinian Suicide Bombers
Wikipedia Entry for Martyrdom in Islam
Wikipedia Entry for Suicide Terrorism
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Last updated: July 14, 2012
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright restrictions apply, see Megalinks in Criminal Justice
O'Connor, T. (2012). "Varieties of Suicidal Terrorism," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/3400/3400lect05.htm.