Suicide Bombers: The Psychological, Religious and Other Imperatives provides wisdom and insight in an inter-group situation characterized by huge gulfs and misperceptions. The Western media has focused on fundamentalists as the voice of Islam, and helped to shape a warped stereotype of the vast majority of Muslims –who are actually moderate in attitudes. This volume provides a ‘corrective’, by explaining how de-radicalization programs are being spearheaded by Muslims themselves, and also by exploring the best strategies for understanding and dealing with Islamic fundamentalism and suicide terrorism. The chapters reflect the international, interdisciplinary nature of the workshops that served as the launching pad from the project. This volume reflects a positive trend; it is an indication that researchers can lead societies to accurately pinpoint the nature and role of fundamentalists, and that they can differentiate between destructive elements on the one hand and the majority of moderates seeking to achieve constructive, peaceful inter-group relations on the other hand. Although there is considerable diversity among the chapters, a shared theme is the contextual approach to understanding extremism and suicide terrorism. Rather than become seduced by reductionist explanations, to do with assumed intra-personal characteristics of suicide terrorists, the authors focus on the characteristics of groups and contexts.
Director, Conflict Resolution Program, Department of Government
Professor, Department of Psychology
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
A man borrowed some money from Nasrudin. The Mulla thought that he would never get it back, but gave the money nevertheless.
Much to his surprise, the loan was promptly repaid. Nasrudin brooded.
Some time later the same man asked for a further sum, saying: “You know my credit is good, I have repaid you in the past.”
“Not this time you scoundrel!” roared Nasrudin. “You deceived me the last time when I thought that you would not return the money. You won't get away with it a second time.
Well before I attended school to begin my formal education, first at elementary school in Tehran and then at boarding school in London, I was informally trained by my family through Sufi tales, such as the one above.1 One interpretation of this particular tale focuses on how humans sometimes misjudge the actions of others, and proceed to make mistake after mistake through continued misperceptions. Nasrudin began by expecting the borrower not to return his money. When his expectation proved to be incorrect, Nasrudin used this as evidence that the borrower had deceived him, because he had acted against expectations and actually returned the money. The borrower could not be trusted at all: he had proved to be reliable when he was expected to be unreliable.
This very timely edited volume exploring the context and nature of “Suicide Bombers” provides wisdom and insight in an inter-group situation characterized by huge gulfs and misperceptions. The Western media has focused on fundamentalists as the voice of Islam, and helped to shape a warped stereotype of the vast majority of Muslims – who are actually moderate in attitudes.2 This volume provides a ‘corrective’, by explaining how de-radicalization programs are being spearheaded by Muslims themselves, and also by exploring the best strategies for understanding and dealing with Islamic fundamentalism and suicide terrorism. The chapters reflect the international, interdisciplinary nature of the workshops that served as the launching pad for the project. Mary Sharpe must be commended for the superb way in which she has both managed the workshops and edited this volume.
Underlying the varied discussions in this volume is a historically important but implicit theme: the relationship between the West and Islamic societies of the Near and Middle East. Just as many Westerners have tended to perceive Islamic fundamentalists as the face and voice of Islam, many people in Islamic societies have tended to visualize the West as represented by extremist voices and actions, particularly associated with ‘pro-war, pro-torture’ factions in the administration of President George W. Bush and his allies, notably the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. This volume reflects a more positive trend; it is an indication that researchers can lead societies to accurately pinpoint the nature and role of fundamentalists, and differentiate between destructive elements and the majority who are moderates and seek to achieve constructive, peaceful inter-group relations.
At a deeper level, this volume points to a major challenge that confronts Western societies, and particularly the United States, still the sole ‘superpower’ on the global stage. This challenge is the New Global American Dilemma,3 which arises out of the contradiction existing between Western and particularly American support for, on the one hand, select dictatorships in the Near and Middle East and, on the other hand, freedom and democracy throughout the Near and Middle East. The New Global American Dilemma was not created by President George W. Bush, but his ‘pro-freedom’ rhetoric and ‘pro-dictatorship’ policies (e.g. his continued support for the Saudi regime) brought this dilemma into the spotlight.
The first American dilemma was identified by the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987), in his seminal study of race-relations in the United States published under the title of An American Dilemma4 (1944). Myrdal correctly pointed out that even after the official end of slavery in the United States there continued to be a monstrous contradiction between the American rhetoric of equality of opportunity and freedom, on the one hand, and the actual mistreatment of African Americans, who continued to suffer discrimination and segregation. This dilemma was eventually resolved through massive reform movements, which came to a climax in the late 1960s and finally resulted in serious movement toward desegregation in America. Of course, the reform movements have been costly and painful, and marked by many deaths along the way, such as the assassination of Martin Luther King (1929–1968). The resolution of the New Global American Dilemma is more doubtful, and involves injuries and deaths on a larger, catastrophic scale.
The rhetoric of freedom, equality, and democracy emanating from the George W. Bush White House, as well as from 10 Downing Street during the premiership of Tony Blair, had a powerful impact on two groups in the Near and Middle East. First, the vast majority of Muslims, and Muslim intellectuals in particular, immediately recognized the basic contradiction between the ‘democracy and freedom’ rhetoric of the West, and the actual practice of continued support for dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan (under the rule of General Parvis Musharaf), Kuwait, and some other countries in the region. The vast majority of Muslims recognize that it is only American-led support that allows dictatorships in the Near and Middle East to crush secular opposition groups, and prevent women and other minorities from gaining greater freedom and equality. A second group influenced by the ‘democracy and freedom’ rhetoric of President George W. Bush and his allies are Islamic Fundamentalists, who are fearful of any change that gives greater freedom to ordinary people, particularly women. As discussed in a number of chapters in this volume, Islamic fundamentalists have generally adopted an ‘anti-progress’ position.
But why, then, do fundamentalists manage to gain sympathy and on some issues even some support from the majority of Muslims, in both Western and non-Western societies? Given the moderate positions of most Muslims, why would they sympathize with fundamentalists at least on some issues? The New Global American Dilemma is at the heart of this question. Four related facts must be kept in mind. First, the U.S. and its allies continue to support dictatorships in the Near and Middle East. Second, dictatorships in the Near and Middle East refuse to allow the growth of secular, democratic opposition groups. Third, this means that the only avenue open for collective activism in the Near and Middle East is the mosque – no dictator has the power to close mosques, although all dictators attempt to control what happens in mosques. Fourth, fundamentalists use the mosque, and religious traditions broadly, to take up positions as the vanguard of opposition to pro-American dictatorships. This is exactly what happened in Iran in the late 1970s, and in Algeria in the 1980s, and in a number of Islamic countries more recently. The threat of fundamentalist groups is real and imminent in Egypt, Pakistan, and some other major Islamic societies.
How will the New Global American Dilemma be resolved? Will the U.S. and its allies drop the rhetoric of freedom and democracy, and unquestioningly continue the practice of supporting dictatorships? Or, will the U.S. and its allies recognize that by actively supporting democracy both in rhetoric and action, the West will gain the backing of the vast majority of Muslims in the fight against fundamentalism and their extremist tactics, including suicide terrorism? This volume makes an important contribution in the context of the broader struggle ahead, to resolve the New Global American Dilemma in favor of freedom and democracy.
Although there is considerable diversity among the chapters, a shared theme is the contextual approach to understanding extremism and suicide terrorism. Rather than become seduced by reductionist explanations, to do with assumed intra-personal characteristics of suicide terrorists, the authors focus on the characteristics of groups and contexts. Moreover, these chapters represent serious efforts to locate the current ‘troubles’ within cultural and historical context, a highly valuable and valiant effort that I believe has had considerable success.
 P. 102, Shah, I. (1993). The pleasantries of the incredible Mulls Nasrudin. New York: Penguin.
 See Esposito, J. L., & Mogahed, D. (2008). Who speaks for Islam? What a billion Muslims really think. Washington, D.C.: Gallup Press.
 The idea of the ‘New Global American Dilemma’ was first introduced in Moghaddam, F. M. (2008). How globalization spurs terrorism. Westport, CT.: Praeger Security International.
 Myrdal, G. (1944). An American dilemma: The Negro problem and modern democracy. (2 vols). New York: Harper and Bothers.
Much of the psychological debate on European home-grown Islamic terrorism leaves out the wider societal context from which the phenomenon arises. In this essay we examine the social psychological research relevant to understanding Islamic terrorism, beginning with an explanation of the wider societal forces impinging upon individuals in post-material societies. We then discuss the social psychological processes – congruent with this wider societal context – that increase the possibility of terrorism. In line with the evidence that terrorists who self-radicalise or are recruited come from ordinary social strata , these processes are very much part of universal human social and psychological functioning. We also consider how young Muslims draw upon available religious resources to actively construct their identities and choose courses of action. Both the structuralist approach (in which social processes are seen to impinge upon individuals) and the phenomenological approach (in which individuals are seen to construct their own identities and world views) are utilised. Research from both traditions intersects when thinking complexity is considered, and both approaches feed into our recommendations for identifying the social niches vulnerable to violent radicalisation.
The ‘new’ terrorism differs from the ‘old’ in important ways, but they are ultimately similar. The best counter to terrorism in the long-term is likely to be the growth of civil society, which is best pursued by non-military means.
So far there have been no instances of suicide bombing on French soil. Does this mean that for some obscure reason France has been spared? Is it a sanctuary protected by some covert governmental leniency towards terrorist organizations? Or is this due to French refusal to participate in military operations in Iraq? A short review of the past and the present situation demonstrates that France has been and still remains a major target which has to be protected from the kind of attack suffered in both Spain and the United Kingdom. The current situation must be attributed to an accurate assessment of the adversary, persistent effort by the security forces (police, gendarmerie, DGSE) and, so far, a jolly good piece of luck.
In recent years an increasing number of women have volunteered for suicide missions. Generally they do so because they are of low status and see little future for themselves. The organizations that exploit them prefer to claim they are serving their religion or nations, or even women's liberation.
In recent years multiple acts of terrorism have occurred in Russia, mainly in connection with military actions in the Chechen Republic (North Caucasus). In some cases suicide bombers have been responsible. In the aftermath of these traumatic events, (which have included explosions in metro stations, the capture of hospitals, a theatre complex in 2002, and the capture of a school in Beslan in 2004) witnesses have emerged who can comment indirectly on the psychological and other characteristics of the suicide bombers. Interestingly, most of these witnesses have been young women recruited by older “mentors”. Many of these young women have undergone some profound psychological crisis in the past, a crisis which has led to episodes of frustration and depression. Also, within a terrorism context, these young women have been called “widows”, even though only one of them was in fact a close relative of a victim.
The failure of pure psychological profiling to capture the identities of suicide bombers should prompt moves towards a more interdisciplinary approach, which would avail itself of insights from disciplines such as sociology, philosophy and the history of ideas, as well as from psychology. This chapter aims in that direction by exploring ‘traditional’ versus ‘Western liberal’ conceptions of the self, with special emphasis on their possible pathologies. It then aims to integrate those pathologies with insights from Durkheimian suicidology. It is hypothesised that suicide bombers in the West are typically callow, malleable young men targeted by terror merchants, and that their suicide missions are, first and foremost, acts of deluded self-enhancement, which need to be understood against the backdrop of the Western liberal conception of the self. Finally, some implications for moral education are suggested.
Over the last two hundred years Saudi Arabia has experienced long periods of domination by Islamic extremists. This has led to the current intellectual climate which produced most of the 9/11 suicide bombers. The Saudi government must introduce a range of reforms to reverse this worrying trend.
Various Islamic groups see recent events as presaging an ‘apocalypse’ that will see the destruction of the West. Some of these groups believe they can ‘hotwire’ this, i.e. bring it about through the use of WMD in anti-Western attacks. However, their ability to do so is doubtful.
Suicide bombers have become ever more common in recent years due to a combination of trauma felt by occupied/oppressed populations and the well-organized propaganda of Islamist groups using modern media such as the Internet. Without understanding the causes of their hatred and disaffectedness there is little hope of countering them.
The epidemic of suicide bombings in Iraq under the US occupation is largely funded, organized and carried out by foreign governments and Jihadist groups. Some Iraqis have aided this cause but most see the suicide-bombers as anti-Iraqi due to their indiscriminate killing of civilians alongside US troops. The response to these attacks has been inadequate, both on the part of the US military and the Iraqi police.
Muslim societies tend to be traditional-collectivist in mindset, unlike the west which fosters a more individualist outlook. Islamic suicide-bombers feel they, as part of their own societies, have been humiliated by the west, and the only way to regain their personal honour is through martyrdom fighting the oppressor. In order to understand the motivations of potential suicide bombers, and to have any hope of dissuading them, westerners must learn to think and communicate in ‘collectivist’ terms, as suitable for Islamic societies, rather than the ‘individual’ modes of western discourse.
This paper attempts to outline how the projected image of the female suicide bomber is directly linked to the prenatal mother. We are all aware how violence is viciously cruel. Terror is different from fear. It is nonverbal and left over from early childhood where it has not been put into words and then acted out nonverbally. This contribution explores the role which the mother plays in the early life of a child. I refer mainly to the works of Melanie Klein who shed light on how we relate to the world nonverbally through the use of objects. She took up where her mentor, Sigmund Freud, had left off by taking the emphasis away from the father to the importance of the bonding relationship between the infant and the “good breast.” Nowadays neuroscience teaches that the mother-infant relationship is crucial for the development of a healthy well-adjusted child who can grow to trust his own perceptions of the world surrounding him. What does this say about terrorists?
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