Medium 9781855758223

The Enigma of the Suicide Bomber

Views: 1182
Ratings: (0)

Why does someone resolve to take his own life in order to murder other people? What is the state of mind which allows him to commit such a monstrous act?This book explores the mental state that compels certain individuals to perform murderous, suicidal acts and emphasizes that, whereas a suicidal terrorist attack can be described as a crime against humanity, its protagonists cannot necessarily be classified as criminal or insane. There is no such a thing as a "typical" suicide terrorist - each attacker differs in age, sex, family status, culture, and even religion. Indeed, the common elements in suicide terrorism should perhaps be sought not so much in the individuals concerned as in the dynamics rooted in their group, family history or country. It may be extreme situations experienced by the group situations that are either objectively extreme or perceived as such that give rise to paradoxical behaviour at individual level. Psychoanalysis is well placed to consider this terrain. Freud, after all, soon disabused his reader of the belief that the less palatable aspects of psychic life were the exclusive preserve of some aberrant sub-category of people.

List price: $25.99

Your Price: $20.79

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

13 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

CHAPTER ONE: A strategic aim

ePub

“The war of absolute enmity knows no bracketing. The constant fulfillment of absolute enmity provides its own meaning and justification”

(Schmitt, 2007)

Problems of definition

The word terror is of Latin origin and the concept refers to the sensation of unmitigated fear and anxiety that is unleashed by sudden confrontation with death. One of the presuppositions of terrorism is that individuals will be prepared to sacrifice their autonomy and independence for the sake of escaping from this fear. Arousing panic is indeed a way of securing the enslavement of another person. Submerging the other in death anxiety is the aim of terrorism, a form of violence directed towards the generation of fear. The object of this violence is to bend the victim to the terrorist’s will.

However, a definition that emphasizes the effect of fear on human beings is not an adequate political description of terrorism. Furthermore, present-day terrorism shows a different face from that of the past, owing to the destructive potential of modern weapons, and because the aims and the political instigators of terrorism are not the same. For this reason, it is difficult to give an unambiguous definition of the phenomenon of terrorism, which, as certain authors (e.g., Twemlow & Sacco, 2002) point out, is in fact influenced by the social and political values of the time.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Psychoanalytic contributions

ePub

“There’s no worse cataclysm than humiliation. It’s an evil beyond measure, Doctor. It takes away your taste for life. And until you die, you have only one idea in your head: How can I come to a worthy end after having lived miserable, and blind, and naked?”

(Khadra, 2006)

Although the phenomenon of global terrorism is relatively recent, there has been no lack of psychoanalytic contributions on the subject. Some of them, published in American psychoanalytic journals, were composed more or less instantly after 9/11 by analysts who had in some cases actually been present as events unfolded. It is also worth recalling the solidarity displayed by the New York psychoanalysts who responded to the their city’s drama by voluntarily offering counselling and listening services to the trauma victims.

Among the many papers published in the last few years, I shall mention just a small number that seemed to me most relevant to a consideration of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism.

Ruth Stein’s (2002) paper “Evil as love and as liberation”, published in Psychoanalytic Dialogues barely a year after the attack on the World Trade Center, is to my mind particularly interesting. The author attempts, in my view successfully, to analyse the mental state of a suicide killer inspired by religious fanaticism. She contends that total concentration on the vision of God, achieved by constant prayer and reading of religious texts, can result in a depersonalized trance state, a restriction of consciousness that enables terrorists to function competently in a mood of euphoria. At psychodynamic level, the idealized father–son bond transforms destructiveness into the ecstatic love of God. By virtue of this idealized fusion, terrorists come to believe that their act is nothing other than the fulfilment of the divine will.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Origins and profile

ePub

“A suicide bomber in Palestinian society at one point was like a movie star. You achieved almost instant fame. Posters at your death. Martyr cards made on your behalf”

(Oliver & Steinberg, 2005)

Suicide terrorists have often been portrayed as disturbed individuals, cast out from the society in which they live, unable to behave autonomously and responsibly, and driven to kill for insane reasons and out of hate for Western civilization. Alternatively, suicide martyrs have been regarded as the product of a form of archaic thought—naïve individuals manipulated by unscrupulous political organizations.

Numerous studies of the terrorist personality have been published, but their conclusions are extremely divergent. They can be divided into two broad categories, pathologizing and non-patholo-gizing.

Pathologizing versions

The psychological profile of the suicide terrorist that emerges from the earlier contribution of Merari (1990) and from Post’s 1990 paper is of a socially isolated individual, young and unmarried, and probably suffering from a mental abnormality. Merari, in particular, suggests that the cultural environment and religious context are irrelevant to the choice of suicide terrorism, and that the motivation in this case is no different from that of someone who takes his own life for personal reasons. The same author (Merari, 2002) later modified his position, even claiming that the phenomenon could be understood only if investigated on the level of the social organizations that fuelled it. Individual problems alone were no longer seen as an adequate explanation.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Martyrdom and the sadomasochistic

ePub

“We will succeed whether we live or die. Death will definitely come one day… . It does not matter whether we die today or tomorrow. The goal is martyrdom”

(Mullah Muhammad Omar, Taliban leader in
Afghanistan, quoted in New York Times, 18 October 2001)

Christian martyrdom

In the Arab world, the term “martyr” was originally reserved for non-combatants or civilians who fell victim to the enemy (Argo, 2006). In this sense, the Muslim connotation of a martyr can be seen as resembling its Christian counterpart, because the element of aggression is lacking in both cases. The Muslim community considered a martyr to be anyone who innocently sacrificed himself for the benefit of those who had fallen before him or might fall in the future. However, to what extent is the sacrifice of a suicide terrorist really similar to that of a Christian martyr?

In the Christian tradition, martyrdom is a profession of faith that may extend even unto death. The word “martyr” (from the Greek for a witness) denotes someone who bears witness to his faith even if it entails the loss of his life. Christians persecuted by the Roman emperors could save themselves from death by abjuring their faith.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Murder-suicide

ePub

“Thou … who hast dared to plunge the sword in thine own children, … and hast destroyed me childless”

(Euripides, Medea, 2008)

Murder–suicide in the family

Murder–suicide is a not infrequent phenomenon that has been the subject of many criminological studies. It occurs when the murderer commits suicide after killing his victim, and presupposes a link between the two protagonists; for this reason, it is most frequent in couples or families. There are, however, cases in which the murderer takes the lives of people outside the family context—for example, workmates or school-mates—or turns his aggression on unwitting passers-by.

A masterly description of murder–suicide is given in Carrère’s book The Adversary (2000) and the film based on it. The novel is inspired by the true story of Jean-Claude Romand, who has succeeded in lying to his parents and friends for eighteen years, making them believe that he is a brilliant physician. He marries and continues the deception with his wife. Pretending to work for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Jean-Claude spends his days driving around aimlessly or visiting motels, to pass the time before rejoining his wife and children in the evenings. Eventually the game is up and he is about to be unmasked, so he takes the only action possible for his sick ego—eliminating everyone who might suffer or condemn him for being an impostor. Jean-Claude resolves to kill his wife and children and then to commit suicide, thus transforming the prolonged farce into tragedy.

 

CHAPTER SIX: The network and filicide

ePub

“Suicide–mass murder is more than terrorism: it is horror-ism. It is a maximum malevolence”

(Martin Amis, quoted in Observer, London, 10 September 2006)

The gerontocracy

Some forty years ago, Arnaldo Rascovsky, one of the pioneers of the Latin American psychoanalytic movement, wrote a stimulating book entitled Filicide (1973). In his analysis of the phenomenon of war, the author maintains that one of its aims is to cause the new generations to fight among themselves. In his view, war is the cyclic expression of an initiation rite that demands the sacrifice of the upcoming generation. The decision to go to war is never taken by the generations that take part in it, but instead by the senile minds that hold power. Death in war is imbued with a powerful moral connotation, accompanied by preservation of the innocence of the gerontocracy responsible for it. The young people concerned are honoured if they identify with their fathers’ commands and kill others of their own age, but if they attempt to desert, they are deemed to be criminals. The elders who send their offspring to their deaths hide behind a symbolic abstraction called the fatherland, which demands the voluntary sacrifice of the young people’s lives. The fathers conceal their own destructiveness and compel their sons to engage in self-idealization with the aim of denying the true nature of their filicide.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The female suicide bomber

ePub

ISMENE: Yea, O king, such reason as nature may have given abides not with the unfortunate, but goes astray

(Sophocles, Antigone (trans. R. C. Jebb)

Conferment of sainthood

Hiba’s family was baffled when she insisted on covering herself from head to toe in an all-enveloping robe that left only her eyes exposed (Ghazali, 2003). The nineteen-year-old was studying English literature at Al Quds Open University in Tubas, in the West Bank. She never spoke to her male fellow-students and she avoided the cafeteria where the young people socialized. Not even her cousin, a young man studying at the same university, had ever seen her face uncovered or been able to talk to her. When they met, they never even shook hands. He saw her face for the first time in a poster released by Islamic Jihad after her death.

Hiba blew herself up in a shopping mall at Afula, in northern Israel, killing three Israelis and seriously wounding forty-eght. One of the victims was the female security guard who had tried to stop her entering the building.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Trauma

ePub

“… memory as the thing one forgets with”

(London, 1915)

Self-annihilation

This chapter examines the relationship between trauma and the process of dehumanization. When an individual has been exposed for too long to situations of intense emotional suffering, he may, as an extreme defence against pain, conceive a wish for self-annihilation. After all, to preserve the capacity to appreciate life, sufficiently good and stable experiences are necessary. Conversely, repeated traumatic experiences in an individual or his community disable precisely the functions that serve the continuity of existence, thus reinforcing the urge to self-destruction.

A large number of affective bonds and identity-related processes link the individual to the group. Our identity is formed and consolidated on the basis of belonging to and identifying with higher-level entities. We always need to belong to a symbolic container. From the very beginning of life, a powerful force binds us to human objects with an attachment that remains indissoluble throughout our lives. While this bond is initially forged with our caregiver—as a rule, our mother—it progressively extends to our family and social group, our religious or political community, or our country. These objects have the function of protecting us from disorientation and the sense of solitude, and for this reason a high value is placed on them. When these containers are broken, there emerges not only pain and mourning but also catastrophic anxieties resembling those experienced in the state of helplessness and defencelessness that prevails at the beginning of life.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Dehumanization

ePub

“Praise be to God, Who created the world for His glory, Who commanded men to be just, and Who allowed the oppressed to pay back their oppressors in the same coin”

(Osama bin-Laden, in a message to al-Jazeera, March 2006)

Aggression and destructiveness

For an understanding of the specific nature of the phenomenon of terrorism, a distinction must be made between aggression, which features in every human conflict, and destructiveness. In the psychoanalytic literature from Freud on, it is not always easy to distinguish these two concepts, which sometimes appear to overlap. While aggression can be placed in the service of life when life is threatened, destructiveness is an anti-relational process that takes place in silence, is planned, and thrives in the absence of emotions. The destructive act is preceded and characterized by a subterranean process that obliterates feelings. Destructiveness is a force directed against the roots of life and the bonds that make for the survival and development of the human community. Whereas aggression is an explicit expression of rage and suffering, destructiveness presupposes the attainment of a special mental state in which feelings and emotions have been abolished. Suicide terrorism is a destructive act because it strikes at the very foundation of the bonds between human beings. It is only after destroying every human feeling that a person can die in the process of killing fellow human beings—for if emotions such as pity for the victims and for the dying self resurface in the course of a suicide attack, the destructive action is blocked. However, this occurs only in very exceptional cases.

 

CHAPTER TEN: Dissociating emotions

ePub

“Eight years ago, I helped to make a television series that tried to explain why so many Muslims had come to hate the West. Last night, I remembered some of those Muslims in that film, their families burnt by American-made bombs and weapons. They talked about how no one would help them but God. Theology versus technology, the suicide bomber against the nuclear power. Now we have learnt what this means”

(Fisk, 2005, p. 1031)

Escape from pain

Many terrorists-to-be have grown up in a daily climate of abuse and violence and developed depressive reactions. Some have lost their jobs and had to survive by living on their wits amid a succession of humiliations. A high proportion of the traumatized population will never become terrorists, let alone suicide bombers, but a small group will be attracted by this solution.

Speckhard (2006) uses the concept of dissociation to explain the mental state of the suicide bomber. Her starting point is the definition of the phenomenon of dissociation given in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which defines dissociation as a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment. In suicide terrorists, an emotional barrier, or dissociation, prevents perception of the anxiety that would otherwise be aroused by the decision to take their own lives and to kill. In some cases this split is so severe that the event of death is encapsulated, so that it is isolated from the normal activities of daily life. The author mentions the case of an aspiring suicide who had planned to die in an attack after taking his final university examinations. This example shows that the reality of death can be split off from the rest of life. Dissociation is stated to be a defence deployed by persons whose survival is under constant threat and who can no longer tolerate any further suffering. Some traumatized young people ultimately deaden their emotions completely; they feel so emotionally stupefied that they describe themselves as “already dead”. It is precisely these subjects who are ideal candidates for suicide missions.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Unique identity and omnipotence

ePub

“What kind of bird are you if you can’t fly ?” twittered the little bird. “And what kind of bird are you,” retorted the duck, “when you can’t even swim?”

(Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf)

Difference

Racism of all kinds, whether or not it extends to genocide, as in the case of Nazism or, more recently, in Rwanda, is fuelled by insistent propaganda that denigrates those who are different, who do not belong to the dominant group. In this way, even persons who could not individually lay claim to elevated status in society feel superior, seeing themselves as the bearers of absolute values. In accordance with this presumed supremacy, political propaganda endorses the right to destroy those who are “different”. To legitimize their oppression and to justify the massacre of the victims, the aggressors often construct a myth of past victimization.

As Sen (2006, p. xiv) points out, in the age of globalization the phenomenon of unique identity is particularly worrying because it underlies many of the conflicts and atrocities in the world:

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: A cannibal God

ePub

“It seems to me that the gods exist only in the human brain, and that they thrive or decay in the self-same universe that invented them”

(José Saramago, from an article in El País, 18 September 2001, translated)

The God of enmity

What can the religious solution offer a person in the throes of a profound traumatic crisis? To someone who feels disorientated, anxious, and deprived of a country of his own, joining a religious community holds out the prospect of reconstituting his identity. While a fundamentalist religious community performs this protective function, at the same time it demands total adherence to its creed. Many of those who will eventually become human bombs begin to attend the mosque regularly, give up their routine activities, and distance themselves from their social and family group. Their outward appearance also changes: men grow beards, while women wear the traditional black robe and veil. These individuals speak enthusiastically about jihad, the duties of the believer, purity, and the possibility of going to Paradise; and they encourage their family and friends to make the same choice. Many converts separate from spouses and friends who do not share their convictions.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Terrorism: reversible or irreversible?

ePub

“Wherever morality is based on theology, wherever the right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, infamous things can be justified and established”

(Feuerbach, 1989)

Two types of terrorism

While suicide terrorism is generally thought of as homogeneous in nature, I shall attempt in this chapter to distinguish some particular features of this phenomenon on the basis of which two broad categories with different political aims and personal motivations can be identified.

Nationalist terrorism

The first form of organization to be considered is that of localized, nationalist terrorism, whose origins lie in the traumatic circumstances of an oppressed community. In this context, a political group is established which, in addition to traditional methods of struggle, eventually decides to use the weapon of suicide terrorism, in the knowledge that the psychological conditions exist for certain individuals to present themselves spontaneously for such missions. A possible example is that of Palestinian suicide terrorism, which some young people have seen as the offering of blood necessary for the foundation of their nation.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Chapters

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000020983
Isbn
9781780498461
File size
1.24 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata