Saturday, July 16, 2005

Where Do Suicide Bombers Come From?


But seriously, I am very much a skeptic as to Leavitt's prospects in discovering some pattern to the lives of suicide bombers. I found out where suicide bombing as a tactic originated during my absence, while researching a comment for Battlepanda's site. And it made me realize just how odd a tactic it is. There are very few cultures that could come up with the idea of throwing away your life just to spitefully take as many of the enemy with you as possible. It is as if you are dying on principle and not for any material reason. In fact, there is only one culture that I know of that is this weirdly obsessed with suicide: the Japanese.

In 1972, three Marxist Japanese nationals attacked the Lod airport in Israel as a show of Communist solidarity with the PLO. The PLO was surprised by the idea that these Japanese terrorists were willing to attack without any plan for escape. When one of the three committed suicide on the tarmac by pressing a grenade against his body, the meme of suicide warrior passed from the tribes native to the island of Nippon to the tribes of the Middle East, ironically facilitated by the anti-tribalism of their victims.

Suicide bombing is a fad. There is no deep explanation for it. There is no rhyme or reason to it. Its development as a tactic is completely serendipitous. There will be no pattern for Leavitt to uncover, besides the usual sexual frustrations that cause men to commit serial murder, or shoot up schools, or become religious extremists. School shootings is another example, but on a much smaller scale. There was a rash of shootings in school, generally not by the quarterback of the football team, during the late nineties. Just as it would be futile to attempt to discern who was a potential school shooter, it is futile to attempt to discern who is a suicide bomber.

The motivations for suicide bombing are probably very similar to the motivations of serial killers. Sexual frustration builds for years into a quasi-moralistic outrage that demands an outlet. Take this chilling quote from the blog of Shasta Groene's killer via TalkLeft:

To be more specific, I am scared, alone, and confused, and my reaction is to strike out toward the perceived source of my misery, society. My intent is to harm society as much as I can, then die.
I am certain that a suicide bomber expresses the same sentiment for pretty much the same reasons. There's no econometric formula for serial killer, school shooter, or suicide bomber, but there may be one for ostracized loser. Suicide bombing is just one of the many forms that frustration can take (that just happens to be a popular fad in some cultures currently). However, usually that frustration becomes a powerful creative force by inspiring religious devotion, focusing a person with a sense of purpose, or stimulating artistic creativity.


Blogger random_poster said...

While the Japanese are especially obsessed with suicide I doubt they are the only ones. On a PBS program (secrets of the dead I think), there was an episode about the day of the Zulu. Some Zulu warriors would take a hallucinogenic drug which would make them more aggressive, and fearless. Their role was to charge and break enemy lines. They were not expected to survive. Suicide has also existed in America cultures Asian cultures. It has been considered honorable to die fighting around the world, though not by your own hand. Even in Hollywood, the good guys are sometimes forced to take the bad guys with them, though it usually isn't the original plan.

I think currently suicide bombing is used simply because it is a lot easier to blow someone up if you don't have to worry about your own survival. Member are cheap and expendable. Furthermore it shows that you are willing to die for your cause and thus garners more sympathy for the cause.

The thing which really doesn't make sense is the targeting of civilians. Terrorist attacks have for the most part empowered governments against their own people. In Spain, the attacks hurt the government only because they were going against popular opinion to be in Iraq in the first place, and tried to pin the blame on ETA. In Iraq terrorism has also shown to be effective because the authority, as with in Spain has little legitimacy already.

1:03 PM  
Blogger TheJew said...

Like I said, it is suicide without any material justification, it is an honor suicide rather then a battle sacrifice. The honor suicide, that is an act of intentional self destruction being condoned and encouraged by society, is a bizarre and possibly unique feature of Japanese culture that has been slightly modified for use by Arab extremists due to a nearly impossibly serendipitous event.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Battlepanda said...

I would be cautious about reading too much into it. I would say that what prompt suicides of all kinds is a feeling of powerlessness or frustration. When I was in Taiwan over the summer, a woman killed herself after being gypped out of part of her pay. She ensured that the payslip was in her pocket so that the company she worked for gets maximum bad publicity. Of course, it seems absolutely irrational to give up your life to inflict a revenge that you're not even around to enjoy. But it's an irrationality that's certainly not limited to the Japanese.

As for the targeting of civilians, I think it is more likely to come from people who think in terms of collectives rather than individuals -- Your group has caused my group pain, therefore I will cause your group pain. It does not make any sense on an individual level because most of the victims are innocent/not the ones in power.


8:24 AM  

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