the psychology of suicide terrorism

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If you are awaiting a finding of "clear and present danger," then I can only say that the danger has never been more clear and its presence has never been more imminent. It requires a change in outlook, a change in tactics, a change in missions — by the government, by the people, by every businessman or labor leader, and by every newspaper. - John F. Kennedy, 1961

The Psychology of Terrorism:

The Psychology of Terrorism Terrorism is psychology applied The Psychology of Terrorism is the essence of terrorism

The Psychology of Suicide Terrorism:

The Psychology of Suicide Terrorism What I hope to discuss with you today: The characteristics of Suicide Terrorists The role of organizations in Suicide Terrorism Motivations of Suicide Terrorists The role of Dehumanization in Terrorism Why Islam? Is the United States at risk?

What is Terrorism?:

What is Terrorism? Political Science lists 109 definitions of Terrorism ( Kruglanski , 2009) Most definitions focus on making distinctions between military and paramilitary organizations Arie Kruglanski’s Definition of Terrorism: Terrorism is a purposeful human political activity... directed toward the creation of a general climate of fear and... designed to influence in ways desired by the protagonist, other human beings , and through them, some course of events

Suicide Terrorism: Another layer of complexity:

Suicide Terrorism: Another layer of complexity Suicide : the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally (Merriam-Webster) What was the true intention of a successful Suicide Bomber? Suicide Terrorism : An act of terrorism in which the perpetrators death is intended by him or herself

The Evolution of Suicide Terrorism:

The Evolution of Suicide Terrorism 1 st Century – Sicarii Zealots ≈ 1190 – Hasan al- Sabbah’s Hashashin ≈ 1876 – Russian Revolution ≈1944 – Japanese Kamikazes December 1981 – Iraqi Embassy, Beirut

The Evolution of Suicide Terrorism:

The Evolution of Suicide Terrorism

Characteristics of Suicide Bombers:

Characteristics of Suicide Bombers Root Causes Fundamental Attribution Error The tendency to overestimate the extent to which people's behavior is due to internal, dispositional factors, and to underestimate the role of situational factors Contributing Factors A focus on common demographics and motivations

Gender of Suicide Bombers:

Gender of Suicide Bombers

Age of Suicide Bombers:

Age of Suicide Bombers Ages of Suicide Bombers Age / Crime Curve The average age of Suicide Bombers and Violent Criminals is similar

Religious Affiliation of Suicide Bombers:

Religious Affiliation of Suicide Bombers Since 1980, 91% of Suicide Bombers with known affiliations have been from Muslim Societies

Other Contributing Factors:

Other Contributing Factors Marital Status 90% of Palestinian and Lebonese Suicide Bombers are single, widowed, or divorced E conomic Status Unreported Education Militants may be well educated and unemployed ( Asal , 2008)

Merari’s Controlled Study:

Merari’s Controlled Study Experimental Group Fifteen failed Palestinian suicide bombers Control Group Twelve non-suicidal terrorists arrested for assault or murder Not without confounds ...

Merari’s Controlled Study:

Merari’s Controlled Study Four Key Results: All would-be suicide bombers were under the direction of an organization Self-reported motivations were quite broad Most would-be suicide bombers reported feeling socially marginal and downgraded Public atmosphere was a key factor in one’s willingness to become a suicide bomber.

Organizational Aspects of Suicide Terrorism:

Organizational Aspects of Suicide Terrorism Suicide terrorism is an effective tool 1983: American and French military forces to abandon Lebanon 1985: Israeli forces leave Lebanon 1994/1995: Israeli forces quit the Gaza Strip and West Bank 1990: Sri Lankan Government Creates Independent Tamil state 1990s: Turkey grants autonomy to Kurds


Recruitment Suicide Bombers are recruited from Universities, mosques, jails, and refugee camps ( Victoroff , 2009) Existing contacts Volunteers are avoided Selection Criteria include: Religious Devotion Clean criminal/mental record Trust

Training and Indoctrination:

Training and Indoctrination Operational Training Three Phase Social Contract ( Moghadam , 2009) Discussion of Humiliation throughout history and glorification of Martyrdom Severe Psychological Pressure (Variable) Suicide Bomber’s Last Testament

The Two-Phase Model:

The Two-Phase Model

Slide 22:

*Adapted from Merari (2010)

Religious Motivations:

Religious Motivations Suicide bombers may be seen as Glorified Martyrs Radical Muslim scholars glorify the act by promising 72 virgins in paradise, God’s forgiveness for sins, and elevated religious/social status

Nationalistic Motivations:

Nationalistic Motivations Motivations that are in support of one’s society as a whole: Expulsion of an occupying force Defense of a homeland A need to further a political goal for one’s nation Elevated social status Importance of public support

Personal Motivations:

Personal Motivations A desire to die ( Suicidality ) Martyrdom as an escape from negative outcomes of traditional suicide Revenge Lost family member Humiliation at Israeli checkpoints Humiliation-Revenge Theory

Humiliation and Dehumanization:

Humiliation and Dehumanization Humiliation - to reduce to a lower position in one's own eyes or others' eyes (Merriam-Webster) Perceived humiliation at Israeli checkpoints is in essence Dehumanization


Dehumanization Haslam’s (2006) three characteristics of Dehumanization: Involves an extremely negative evaluation of others Often viewed as an important precondition or consequence of violence A motivated phenomenon serving intergroup function – especially social dominance

Case Study: Operation Defensive Shield:

Case Study: Operation Defensive Shield March 29 th , 2002 Israeli forces reoccupy the West Bank Palestinians perceive dehumanization A mother and three children in a Palestinian ambulance are found with explosives

Case Study: Operation Defensive Shield:

Case Study: Operation Defensive Shield

Case Study: Japanese Kamikazes:

Case Study: Japanese Kamikazes Seppuku, a form of ritual suicide, is no longer practiced in Japan Samurai who preferred to die with honor over being captured and tortured “The introduction of Kamikaze tactics in the Pacific War… was considerably less of a shock for Japanese than for Westerners” ( Axell , 2002 p. 4)

Case Study: Japanese Kamikazes:

Case Study: Japanese Kamikazes Kamikaze’s honored daily at Yasukuni Shrine Including 5,843 Kamikaze pilots

Why Islam?:

Why Islam? What characteristics of Islam contribute to the creation of Suicide Terrorists? If Islam does not condone Suicide and/or Terrorism, then what is really going on?

A Quick History Lesson:

A Quick History Lesson Islam began in 610 C.E. in Mecca Muhammad’s message of peace, equality, and charity threatened power of governing tribes After extreme humiliation , Muhammad and his people fled to Medina By the time of his death (632), Muslims controlled the entire peninsula

A Quick History Lesson:

A Quick History Lesson Muhammad’s death and bloodshed over Caliphate 680 – Massacre of Muhammad’s family by ruling Caliph Women and children marched across desert and humiliated Shiites commemorate martyrdom annually during Ashura festival Ottoman Empire falls at the end of WWI Caliphate ends

The Concept of Jihad:

The Concept of Jihad Jihad literally translates to struggle Greater Jihad – Internal struggle Lesser Jihad – aggressive and defensive protection of Islamic lands Shaheed – anyone who has given their life for the cause of God A Shaheed is guaranteed paradise

Ummah and History in Indoctrination:

Ummah and History in Indoctrination Ummah is literally translated to ‘people’ Community of Muslims Imagined Community Humiliation of a part is humiliation of the whole History marked with Humiliation Connection with revered early Muslims

Quran 5:32:

Quran 5:32 Killing one human being is like killing all of humanity Saving one human being is like saving all of humanity

Suicide Terrorism in America:

Suicide Terrorism in America September 11 th , 2001 Causes The tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq - Osama Bin Laden , 2002

American Muslims After 9/11:

American Muslims After 9/11 First Nine Weeks 700 violent incidents 800 cases of employment discrimination USA PATRIOT Act Powerful law enforcement tool Source of Muslim anger and humiliation Extreme distrust of law enforcement

Case Study: Operation Green Grail:

Case Study: Operation Green Grail August 5 th , 2004 – Masjid As-Salam is raided by the FBI following a sting operation Mosharref Hossain and Yassin M. Aref arrested Muslim community feels humiliation , shame, and an extreme distrust for law enforcement

What contributing factors are missing?:

What contributing factors are missing? Public Support American Muslims do not support violence The Terrorist Organization Do not thrive in American Mosques May use the Internet for recruitment

The Role of the Media:

The Role of the Media


Conclusions There is no Suicide Terrorist ‘mold’ Fundamental attribution error Suicide Terrorism campaigns require an organization to direct recruits Motivations of Suicide Terrorists are diverse, but somewhat predictable Religious Nationalistic Personal (Humiliation-Revenge)


Conclusions Dehumanization is the driving force of Suicide Terrorism Martyrdom may be a way of regaining social standing Islam has a number of characteristics that can be misconstrued to promote Suicide Terrorism Alienation of Muslim Americans may increase the risk of Suicide Terrorism in the US


Recommendations Increase education and call for unanimous condemnation of terrorism by Muslim leaders Special Agent Timothy Coll , FBI Remember that Muslim Americans are peaceful and a large part of our community Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, Imam “…The hearts and minds of the communities which generate suicide bombers are the main battlefield against suicide attacks …” Ariel Merari (2010)

Special Thanks:

Special Thanks Ronald S. Friedman College of Arts and Sciences, University at Albany Graeme Newman School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany Third World Impact Varun Malik , Nishta Modi , and many more!

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