suicide bombers


The Obama Administration sponsored a three-day conference on violent extremism that wrapped up on Thursday. At the summit, community leaders from Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Boston highlighted partnerships in their cities that are aimed at protecting young people from extremist ideologies.

In his concluding remarks, President Obama said, “We know from experience that the best way to protect people, especially young people, from falling into the grip of violent extremists is the support of their family, friends, teachers and faith leaders.

“Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL exploit the anger that festers when people feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today’s youth something better.

“Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.”

Well, maybe. But I can’t help but think that the president is missing something.

A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution or death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, and/or refusing to advocate a belief or cause. Most martyrs are considered holy or are respected by their followers, becoming a symbol of leadership and heroism.

Martyrs play significant roles in the Abrahamic religions, as well as in Hinduism, the Bahá’í faith, and Sikhism. Similarly, there have been secular martyrs such as Socrates (who accepted death by hemlock rather than giving up his ideals of enlightenment), as well as in politics and in Chinese culture.

Suicide bombers are now behaving as the Japanese did toward the end of World War II when, in desperation, they sent pilots crashing into US ships. These kamikaze attacks were both effective and terrifying, but they were also a clear sign that Japan had gone nuts. The Japanese plan for defeating the Allies was mad, born of a resolution never to surrender and a powerful self-denial of their true position.

kamikaze pilotThe kamikaze attacks were an important element in the dehumanizing of Japanese people. They permitted the use of the atomic bomb. After all, went the thinking of the time, the enemy was irrational and barbaric. It would never surrender. It would fight to the last citizen. Better to incinerate them all and protect our own soldiers. Children growing up in the US were taught that the Asian peoples held life cheaply—not only the lives of others, but also those of their own.

In a similar manner, suicide bombings have transformed the image of radical Islamists. Now, in the view of many, they are so different, so primitive, so cruel and indifferent to human life, that they will celebrate the suicide of a loved one and the simultaneous murder of innocent people.

A couple films from Japan that have come out in recent years shows that the Western reaction to the kamikaze was simplistic and wrong. These films focus on the few kamikaze pilots who survived the war because they were lucky victims of mechanical failure or bad weather, ditched their planes at sea, and lived to tell the tale.

The fact that they did survive meant that they have been able to correct the central myth of the kamikaze—that these young pilots all went to their deaths willingly, enthused by the Samurai spirit.

In the words of Kenichiro Oonuki, one such survivor, when he and his fellow fighter pilots were first asked to volunteer for this “special attack mission” they thought the whole idea “ridiculous.” But, given the night to think about their decision, the men reconsidered. They feared that if they did not volunteer, their families would be ostracized and their parents told that their son was “a coward, not honorable, shameful.” And then, as fighter pilots, they would be sent to the most dangerous part of the front line where they would still die—but dishonored.

As a result, “everyone put down the answer which was opposite from what we were feeling. Probably it’s unthinkable in the current days of peace. Nobody wanted to, but everybody said, ‘Yes, [I volunteer] with all my heart.’ That was the surrounding atmosphere. We could not resist.”

Something akin to peer pressure overcomes one’s basic instinct to survive. Plus, the Japanese kamikaze were put into a corner from which they could not escape.

Much has been made of the promise that the Islamic martyr will enjoy the services of more than 70 virgins and 70 wives in paradise: “They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish.”

foot of suicide bomberImams go into the mosques and make fiery statements about fighting for God’s mission and purpose, but they also know their audiences. In the range of 18-40 years, there are more men in each age group than women, and they’re horny and vulnerable to cheap promises. Says Mustapha Tlili, founder and director of the New York University Center for Dialogues: Islamic World-US-The West. “They are told that if they die, they will go to paradise,” he says.

“This is their reward, rather than money. If you paid in hard currency, you would have to have gold. If you pay in paradise currency, you don’t have to have anything. It’s cheap currency but it works.”

Columnist David Brooks has said: “Suicide bombing is the crack cocaine of warfare. It doesn’t just inflict death and terror on its victims; it intoxicates the people who sponsor it. It unleashes the deepest and most addictive human passions—the thirst for vengeance, the desire for religious purity, the longing for earthly glory and eternal salvation.”

Add this to the raging hormones and loneliness that many young people feel, and you have a volatile admixture that the imams who encourage violence cynically take advantage of.

For decades, experts from the most powerful governments and prestigious universities around the world have told us that suicide bombers are psychologically normal men and women driven by a single-minded purpose: self-sacrifice. As it turns out, this claim originated with the terrorist leaders themselves, who insisted that they would never recruit mentally unstable people to carry out suicide attacks.

As these strikes have become both increasingly common and increasingly deadly, no one has challenged this conventional wisdom. Yet in his book The Myth of Martyrdom, Adam Lankford argues that these so-called experts have it all wrong. The truth is that most suicide terrorists are like any other suicidal person—longing to escape from unbearable pain, be it depression, anxiety, marital strife, or professional failure. Their “martyrdom” is essentially a cover for an underlying death wish.

Drawing on an array of primary sources, including suicide notes, love letters, diary entries, and martyrdom videos, Lankford reveals the important parallels that exist between suicide bombers, airplane hijackers, cult members, and rampage shooters. The result is an astonishing account of rage and shame that will transform the way we think of terrorism forever. We can’t hope to stop these deadly attacks, Lankford argues, until we understand what’s really behind them.

So maybe the president’s right… at least partially. Suicide bombing and hopelessness go hand-in-hand.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Tripod performing “Suicide Bomber”


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2 Responses to “suicide bombers”

  1. 1 Ronnie Savill
    February 21, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Dan

    How are you keeping? Well I trust. Any word on how Alex is getting on that you can share.

    I always love reading your thought provoking posts. I’ve been in bed this past few days with like a stomach flu. I got up yesterday to turn on my TV and watch a bit of the news.

    The top item was 3 British Muslim girls who have ran of to join ISIS in Syria. There is a big hue and cry to get them back including a big (and expensive) police manhunt.

    It might be a good sign on a personal note that I’m getting better. But the story made me so cross.

    The three girls are aged between 15 & 17. They come from pretty well of families. I noticed only one of them seemed to be wearing the hijab. They go to good schools. They had PCs and Internet access and pocket money and bank accounts and were able to plan and execute their plans to run away.

    What made me so cross is the three girls were born in the UK. They have had access to everything that the UK has to offer. Freedom. Education. Health care. Equality for woman. And so much more. They threw it all away to travel to Syria where absolutely none of the things they have taken for granted their whole lives exist and will be closed to them as they are woman.

    What made me most cross is the reaction of various groups. And the amount of effort being put into getting them back to the UK again.

    I regard them as traitors they have willingly turned their backs on everything the UK has to offer them. The UK gave them the very freedom they needed to run away. In Syria none of that freedom will exist. I hope they get a rude awakening.

    Sounds harsh but I just ran out of my ability to have sympathy when i heard that story. I don’t think they should be allowed into the UK even if they wanted or were able to come back.

    I just can’t understand the level of hatred that would make them or anyone so totally turn against the land of their birth as to to totally turn against it in such a drastic way. Isis radical Islam is an enemy to the UK the USA as much if not more than they are to their more immediate neighbours.

    Those three girls totally abused the freedoms the UK gives them to basically turn against it.

    So I for one won’t have any sympathy if they are brought back. I’ve purposely not said brought home as the UK is not their home.

    That’s my rant over. It’s sort of a reply to your article. Those three girls are full of hatred and even self loathing for the land that they were born in.

    Hey I’m also patriotic. I can see how fortunate I am to be British. My government paid for all of my university costs I was there seven years. I have a disability and my government pays my medical costs entirely. I can say without any fear when I think my government is crap. There aren’t that many people anywhere who can say those things. It needs to be recognised.

    It’s also why I got so cross over those three ‘bad wee blades’. As my my mom would put it.

    Keep on sending the great articles Dan.


    Sent from my iPhone


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