What motivates suicide bombing

Recent research by Riaz Hassan is Australian Professorial Fellow and Emeritus Professor at Flinders University, Adelaide, points to the alleviation of injustice and social suffering to reduce the incidence of suicide bombings :

The Suicide Terrorism Database in Flinders University in Australia, the most comprehensive in the world, holds information on suicide bombings in Iraq, Palestine-Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which together accounted for 90 per cent of all suicide attacks between 1981 and 2006. Analysis of the information contained therein yields some interesting clues: it is politics more than religious fanaticism that has led terrorists to blow themselves up.

The evidence from the database largely discredits the common wisdom that the personality of suicide bombers and their religion are the principal cause. It shows that though religion can play a vital role in recruiting and motivating potential future suicide bombers, the driving force is not religion but a cocktail of motivations including politics, humiliation, revenge, retaliation and altruism. The configuration of these motivations is related to the specific circumstances of the political conflict behind the rise of suicide attacks in different countries.

….

Revenge is also a response to the continuous suffering of an aggrieved community. At the heart of the whole process are perceptions of personal harm, unfairness and injustice, and the anger, indignation, and hatred associated with such perceptions.

Men attach more value to vengeance than women; and young people are more prepared to act in a vengeful manner than older individuals. It is not surprising, then, to find that most suicide bombers are both young and male.

The meaning and nature of suicide in a suicide bombing are strikingly different from ordinary suicide. Suicide bombing falls into the category of altruistic suicidal actions that involve valuing one’s life as less worthy than that of the group’s honour, religion, or some other collective interest. Religiously and nationalistically coded attitudes towards acceptance of death, stemming from long periods of collective suffering, humiliation and powerlessness enable political organisations to offer suicide bombings as an outlet for their people’s feelings of desperation, deprivation, hostility and injustice.

The causes of suicide bombings lie not in individual psychopathology but in broader social conditions. Understanding and knowledge of these conditions is vital for developing appropriate public policies and responses to protect the public.

Suicide bombings are carried out by motivated individuals associated with community based organisations. Strategies aimed a finding ways to induce communities to abandon such support would curtail support for terrorist organisations. Strategies for eliminating or at least addressing collective grievances in concrete and effective ways would have a significant, and, in many cases, immediate impact on alleviating the conditions that nurture the subcultures of suicide bombings. Support for suicide bombing attacks is unlikely to diminish without tangible progress in achieving at least some of the fundamental goals that suicide bombers and those sponsoring and supporting them share.

Comments are closed.