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Unformatted text preview: Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 27:283–295, 2004 Copyright Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN: 1057-610X print / 1521-0731 online DOI: 10.1080/10576100490461033 Suicide Bombers: Are Psychological Profiles Possible?
Center for the Study of Suicide Blackwood, New Jersey, USA BIJOU YANG
Drexel University Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA MARK LINDSAY
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Research on the characteristics of suicide bombers is reviewed. Contrary to previous commentary, it is suggested that suicide bombers may share personality traits (such as the “authoritarian personality”) that psychological profiles of suicide bombers might be feasible, and that the suicide bombers may be characterized by the risk factors that increase the probability of suicide. Two assertions are common in essays on suicide bombers. The first is that suicide bombers do not appear to be characterized by the risk factors that predict suicidal behavior (e.g., Israeli, 1997). The second is that psychological profiles of suicide bombers are not possible (Merari, 1990). This essay will argue that both assertions are certainly premature and probably incorrect. Both of these tasks (identifying suicide risk factors and constructing psychological profiles) require extensive biographies of the individuals involved. To take an analogous situation, profilers of serial killers usually have detailed biographies available for analysis, such as that of Dennis Nilsen who murdered 15 people in England before he was captured in 1983 (Masters, 1991). For suicides, a detailed case history or information about the individual’s life is necessary. For example, a recent analysis of a female suicide was based on a 200-page diary that she wrote during the last year of her life (Lester, Received 30 December 2003; accepted 20 February 2004. Address correspondence to David Lester, PhD, Center for the Study of Suicide, RR41, 5 Stonegate Court, Blackwood, NJ 08012-5356, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 283 284 D. Lester et al. 2004), complemented by a brief outline of her life provided by her sister. Such data have not been collected for any suicide bomber as yet. Failing this, it is necessary to conduct a psychological autopsy (Weisman and Kastenbaum, 1968). A psychological autopsy involves reconstructing the life of the suicide from birth on, with a particular focus on recent events, stressors, mood, statements, and behaviors, by means of interviews with all of the significant others, friends, and colleagues in the suicide’s life. This can be guided by a structured interview protocol (Clark and Horton-Deutsch, 1992). Again, a psychological autopsy has not yet been published on any suicide bomber. In order to show that suicide bombers may possess suicide risk factors and that psychological profiles may be possible, this essay will draw on cases that are not suicide bombers, but which resemble them, and on evidence that is incomplete, in order to suggest that the assertions made by others and noted earlier are premature and may be incorrect. First, the available commentary on suicide bombers will be reviewed in order to examine what data and speculation presently exists. Previous Studies Of Suicide Bombers
Murder followed by suicide is not rare (West, 1966), but the motive in Western nations is usually interpersonal between the victim(s) and the murderer. A husband may murder his wife (or ex-wife) before committing suicide, or a mother may murder her children before killing herself. It is rarely politically motivated. Politically motivated killing in which the killer dies is not uncommon historically, as in the Japanese kamikaze pilots in the Second World War. In the Old Testament, Samson killed thousands of Philistines, dying in the act. Today, suicide bombers detonate bombs, killing themselves and bystanders. Very little of the analysis of suicide bombers has focused on the psychodynamics behind the acts.1 Salib (2003) noted that most discussions of the suicidal terrorist mention the charisma of the leader and the social structure of the group, the irrationality of their beliefs (especially in regard to what will happen to them in the afterlife), and the possibility that they have been brainwashed. A focus on situational theories and the role of the leader makes the suicide bomber appear to be a vulnerable person who is easily manipulated. In this case, the question may be asked what in this person’s childhood, adolescence, and socialization experience led him to become so vulnerable. Sociodemographic Characteristics Although Schbley (2000) argued that religious martyrs rarely come from the wealthy social classes, Kushner (1996) noted that the Palestinian bombers do not always come from poverty. Many are from affluent families and are students or graduates from the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University. Nolan (1996) reported on 13 Palestinian suicide bombers in 1994–1996 and found them to be unmarried men, aged 19–25, from devout Muslim families. They were middle children from large families, high-school educated, and students in Islamic fundamentalist education centers, had lived in refugee camps, and had a father or brother (or close relative) killed in the Intifada. They have a strong Palestinian identity and a sense of hopelessness,2 and they are unable to find work and are too poor to study. Their act improves their own social status and that of their family who may be praised and given money. Kushner (1996) noted that the families Suicide Bombers and Psychological Profiles 285 may receive $1,000 a month, as well as scholarships for the siblings of the suicide bomber. On the other hand, Sprinzak (2000) noted that the suicide bombers belonging to the Black Tigers of Sri Lanka are equally often male and female and come from the toughest combat battalions. The suicide bombers from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey are most often young women, aged 17–27, with no professional skills, from large, poor families who had lost a relative or loved one in the Kurdish struggle against the Turks. The September 11 perpetrators were all Arab or Muslim but somewhat older than Nolan’s sample of Palestinian suicide bombers and better educated. Recently too, older married men have become suicide bombers as well as some unmarried young women. The demographics of the perpetrators seems to change with time and place. For example, in Sri Lanka, female suicide bombers are quite common,3 and Hoffman (2003) has noted in the Middle East the increasing participation of children and the middle-aged as well as the married in suicide bombings, including some who have children. The culture and political context clearly affect the sociodemographic characteristics of suicide bombers. The question of whether the culture and political context affect the psychological characteristics of the suicide bombers remains unanswered. Merari (1990, 2004) collected sociodemographic data on samples of suicide bombers. The mean age of the Lebanese suicide bombers was 21 (range 16–28), the early Palestinian suicide bombers 22 (range 18–38), and from the current Intifada (2000–present) 22 (range 17–53). The Sri Lankan suicide bombers tended to be much younger (as a matter of policy). The majority of the Lebanese sample was single, but Hizballah had trouble continuing to recruit single men because Lebanese Shi’ites prefer to marry young. Of the Lebanese sample, 38 were male and 7 female, but all of the early Palestinian suicide bombers were male. In the current Intifada, secular groups began to use women, as did the Kurdish suicide bombers in Turkey and the Tamil suicide bombers in Sri Lanka. Groups that are religiously Islamic, therefore, seem to avoid recruiting women. The social class of the early Palestinian suicide bombers matched that of the Palestinian general population, but their educational level was above average and they were more often refugees than the general population of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. As for the role of revenge, only 12 of the 34 early Palestinian suicide bombers had a relative or friend killed by the Israelis. Seven had a close family member jailed, 15 had been beaten by Israeli forces, and 18 jailed. The majority (27) had been active or very active in the Intifada. Merari could find no indications of major suicide risk factors in the early Palestinian sample (affective disorder, substance abuse, or prior suicide attempts) based on the superficial information available. In a rare study designed to test hypotheses about suicide bombers, Pedahzur, Perliger, and Weinberg (2003) predicted that suicidal bombing is an altruistic or fatalistic act in Durkheim’s (1897) classification system, types of suicide that are to be found, according to Johnson (1965), in less developed societies. The suicide bomber is overly integrated into his society and overly regulated. They tested this hypothesis using a sample of 819 Palestinian terrorists in the period 1993–2002, 80 of whom committed suicide in the act. They predicted that the suicide terrorists from an altruistic suicide point of view would more often have a religious education (confirmed) and a religious rather than a nationalistic ideology (confirmed) and, from a fatalistic suicide point of view, be younger (not confirmed—they were older), unmarried (confirmed), and from a lower social class (confirmed). Thus, four of the five hypotheses were confirmed.4 286 Psychodynamic Speculations D. Lester et al. Israeli (1997) noted that suicide bombers do not appear to possess any of the risk factors commonly associated with suicide. They are instead the type of individuals who join cults or revolutionary groups—young with few life responsibilities, not particularly successful in life (work or interpersonal relationships), and with low self-esteem. The organization gives them recognition and acceptance, and they transform their frustration and failure into glory and victory. In the West, if they did not join such an organization (or cult), they might well become drug users and abusers. Kushner (1996) suggested that the Palestinian suicide bombers may be experiencing feelings of hopelessness and anger. He noted that they range in age from 12 to 17, usually have a relative or close friend killed, wounded, or jailed by the Israelis, and often have personal frustrations such as shame for not joining in battles during the Intifada. Salib (2003) also suggested that the suicide bombers are experiencing anger and hopelessness, but he also hypothesized that they may be suffering from shared delusions, a psychiatric disorder that may be called folie à plusiers. Thereby, the terrorists are conveniently labelled as “crazy.” Rosenberger (2003) concurs with this appraisal, seeing the suicide bombers as having paranoid delusions in order to keep despair at bay. On the other hand, Gordon (2002) felt that most suicide bombers were not psychiatrically disturbed. None of these commentators, of course, gave any suicide bombers a psychiatric interview, a prerequisite for a meaningful psychiatric diagnosis. Volkan (2002) suggested that potential suicide bombers have disturbed personal identities and are seeking some external agent to internalize so as to stabilize their internal world. The youths must have experienced events that humiliated them and interfered with healthy and adaptive identifications (which in healthy families would be with their successful parents). Volkan hypothesized that recruiters for the groups that train suicide bombers are skilled at identifying the youths who fit this profile and who will succumb to the group influences. Although the Saudi Arabian suicide terrorists responsible for the September 11 attack were older, better-educated, and from wealthier families, Volkan suspected that they too had experienced psychological trauma that had impacted deleteriously on their personal identities. Rosenberger (2003) suggested the motive of vengeance (destruction of the enemy rather than conquering it) and the restoration of self-esteem. He saw the suicide bombers as idealistic and immature (making them susceptible to a charismatic leader). He reported the case of a middle-aged man who had lost his job and, thereby, the means to support his family, resulting in a depression, all of which motivated him to seek the role of a suicide bomber. Gordon (2002) noted the possible attainment of a sense of power, self-actualization, and recognition within the community. He noted that others have suggested identification with a symbol of power or with the defeated, a desire for revenge, and symbolic sexual acting-out. The latter suggestion from Juergensmeyer (2001) was based on the limited sexual outlets for the men as a result of their unemployment and low status, the explosive nature of the act of bombing, and the promise of many virgins in the afterlife for the suicide bomber.5 Lachkar (2002) has suggested that suicide bombers have a borderline personality disorder, a personality type that she feels is characteristic of many Arabs in the Middle East (as compared to the narcissistic personality of many Israelis). Borderline personality types are dominated by shame, and they use defense mechanisms that involve blaming others. They have defective bonding and dependency needs, they are envious, and they are prone to retaliate. “They are impulsive, have poor reality testing, and impaired judgments. . . . Borderlines suffer from profound fears of abandonment and annihilation, Suicide Bombers and Psychological Profiles 287 as well as persecutory anxieties” (p. 352). Borderlines tend to distort and misperceive reality. Lachkar saw the genesis of this personality type in the Islamic child-rearing practices that frustrate the child’s dependency needs and view personal desires as signs of weakness and failure. As a result, they revert easily to feelings of omnipotence as a defense against intolerable feelings of helplessness. DeMause (2002) has supported this analysis by documenting the violence, cruelty, and sexual exploitation of children in Islamic societies. The fathers, who are supposed to be in charge of their sons’ child-rearing, are usually absent, and the child-rearing is left to the oppressed mothers who inflict their own pain onto their sons. Lachkar argued that boys raised in such a society can easily form an intense identification with a charismatic leader who appeals to the society’s mythological fantasies and allows them to act out their anger and aggression. The possibility that many of the suicide bombers are shy and introverted boys who want to be idols and heroes is consistent with this hypothesis. Hage (2003) noted that surveys in the Gaza Strip indicate that over 70 percent of the adolescents reported that they wanted to be martyrs, but he noted that the presence of a disposition is not the same as actually sacrificing oneself. For example, in the field of suicidology, many more people report suicidal ideation (past or current) than go on to attempt or complete suicide. Are Psychological Profiles of Suicide Bombers Possible?
In most discussions as to whether a psychological profile can be proposed for suicide bombers, the prevailing opinion is that there is no psychological profile (Merari, 2004) and that psychological profiles would have little use, especially in preventing suicide bombings. In contrast, after Word War II when social scientists endeavored to understand the motivations and personalities of those who participated in the German atrocities against the Jews, Gypsies, and other groups in Europe, it was felt that understanding the psychodynamics of the perpetrators would be of great utility. Stern (2003) argued that developing a single psychological profile for suicide bombers was impossible (p. 51), yet she noted earlier that recruiters look for troubled youths (p. 48), and she reported a checklist of traits that recruiters look for (p. 50), including mental immaturity, pressure to work yet no job, no social safety net, without a girl friend, no means for him to enjoy life, and an absence of meaning in life. Stern also noted (p. 39) a leader of Hamas said that those who use knives have nervous personalities and get violent as a direct reaction to an incident, those who use guns are well trained, and those who use a bomb need to have just a moment of courage. These statements comprise the beginnings of a psychological profile (or profiles) of the suicide bombers. Later in her book, Stern (2003) talks to Mir Aimal Kansi, a lone-wolf assassin who shot several CIA employees in 1993 outside the CIA headquarters in the United States, but who did not commit suicide. Although Stern is not skilled in psychological autopsies, she notes, in passing, that Kansi was the only child of his father’s second wife. The father had seven children with his first wife. Kansi was a brooding and introspective boy, a loner. He had a seizure disorder as a child. His mother died in 1982 and his father in 1989. The few simple facts of Kansi’s life raise many questions that need to be explored and open up the possibility of many psychodynamic forces in his choice of becoming an assassin. 288 D. Lester et al. In order to construct psychological profiles, extensive biographies of the subjects are needed, with details of birth, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. As was mentioned in the introduction, this type of data for suicide bombers has not been collected. Despite this, there are indications that psychological profiling and typologies of terrorists and suicide bombers might be possible. For example, there is a detailed biography of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City at 9:02 a.m. on 19 April 1955, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500, which enables scholars to categorize him (Michel and Herbeck, 2001). Although McVeigh did not die with the bomb, he had been prepared to detonate the bomb in a way that would have killed him. As he drove into Oklahoma City with the bomb, he decided that, if cars restricted his access to his chosen parking space, he would simply drive the truck into the building and die in the blast. As for his trial and sentence, . . . McVeigh would welcome death; it would be his crowning achievement. The government, he reflected, would be doing him a favor, ending a long march that had turned hollow in the final years. His execution would be a relief. . . . “I knew I wanted this before it happened. I knew my objective was a state-assisted suicide . . .” (Michel and Herbeck, 2001, p. 358) The details provided in the biography of McVeigh makes it clear that he is the type of man labeled by Steiner (1974) as a “Woman Hater.” This man does not like women. He is usually a bachelor, probably in the military, and takes his energy out in activities such as hunting and sports in which women have no place. He thinks of women as the weaker sex and incompetent and is proud of the fact that he has no need for them. For sex, he uses prostitutes or pick-ups in bars.6 Steiner noted that such men do not get far in society and, as a result, they end up bitter and unhappy about their circumstances. Their bitterness against women eventually spreads to include all people and even children. Steiner noted that such men probably learned as children “Don’t be close” and “Don’t trust.” What would be of interest would be to explore how many terrorists fit into this category and what other categories are common among such terrorists. McVeigh, of course, does not necessarily resemble any of the suicide bombers in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, or Chechnya. He is mentioned only to illustrate that a typology of the personalities of suicide bombers may be feasible. It is probable that, were detailed biographies available for a sample of suicide bombers, it would be possible to categorize them into personality types. They may not all fit into one or two types, but the frequency of different types would be of interest, and the comparison of distribution of types between the suicide bombers from different nations would be of interest. The impact of the culture and the sociopolitical context on the typologies and the profiles could be explored. Why Suicide Bombers?
Suicide bombing involves, of course, killing others while killing oneself. It is possible to kill others without committing suicide. Guerrillas may die in their attacks on their enemy, but they do not actively seek death. Snipers too endeavor to kill their enemies from a safe and secure position, and they hope to escape. There is some evidence that occasional attacks such as these do occur in those regions where suicide bombers occur. For example, Orbach (2004) mentions an attack in May 2001 in which two 14-year-old Israelis from the Tekoa settlement in the occupied territories were found brutally beaten Suicide Bombers and Psychological Profiles 289 to death. The killers had left. Why then do some become suicide bombers rather than guerrillas? It is also possible to protest by self-immolation, an act that has a long history. The Vietnam War in the 1960s was a time when many Buddhist monks in Vietnam burned themselves to death to protest the policies of the South Vietnam government, and when several Americans also self-immolated in order to protest the involvement of America in the fighting in Vietnam. Park (2004) has described recent protests of this nature in Vietnam and South Korea and analyzed the motives left by the protesters in their suicide notes and diaries. Why then do some become suicide bombers rather than selfimmolators? These questions are critical, yet no psychological research has been conducted on these issues. The way to answer these questions is to collect detailed biographies or conduct psychological autopsies on each of these types of individuals (guerrillas, protest self-immolators, and suicide bombers). Are Suicide Bombers Typical Suicides?7
It is common to assert that the suicide bombers are not typical suicides. Merari (2004), for example, says that none of the typical risk factors for suicide characterize the suicide bombers, risk factors such as an affective disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, childhood loss, or recent stress. Yet, no psychological autopsy study has been conducted on any suicide bombers, and those who report on particular individuals have been unable, or unwilling, to compile an extensive psychological history of them in the way that Michel and Herbeck (2001) have done for Timothy McVeigh. Hassan (2001) asserts that none of the suicide bombers in the Middle East have a “typical” suicide profile, which Hassan says is uneducated, desperately poor, simpleminded, or depressed! This profile would come as a great surprise to suicidologists, let alone Ernest Hemmingway, Judas Iscariot, Yukio Mishima, Cleopatra, or Adolf Hitler, all of whom committed suicide. Hassan’s suicide profile is not one that is applicable to any of the industrialized nations for which suicide profiles are published and available. Unfortunately, suicide has rarely been studied in the Middle East. Indeed, the Islamic nations in that region of the world do not consistently report mortality statistics to the World Health Organization (www.who.int), and Middle Eastern scholars rarely publish articles on samples of completed suicides. However, even Hassan unwittingly gives away clues to the suicidal motivation of the suicide bombers. Hassan noted that the word “suicide” was not allowed to be spoken when talking to the potential suicide bombers. (They preferred the term “sacred explosions.”) Spiegel and Neuringer (1963), in their study of suicide notes, noted that suicides typically avoided mentioning the word suicide or suicide synonyms prior to their act. Occasionally, a journalist account of a suicide bomber has explored the psychologically relevant details of that individual’s life. For example, Bennet (2002) reported some details of the life of Arien Ahmed, a 20-year-old Palestinian female student who was sent to an Israeli town wearing an explosive backpack. She turned back from her mission and was captured by the Israelis. Her father died when she was only six, a common occurrence in the histories of suicides (Lester, 1989; Lester and Beck, 1976). Her mother remarried but left her with other family members, so that she lost both her father and mother. Her relatives noticed that she hid behind a happy façade, and they suspected that she was unhappy. She fell in love with a leader of a violent Palestinian group in 290 D. Lester et al. Bethlehem, Jaad Salem, but he died on March 8 in a confrontation with Israeli forces. Arien said, “So I lost all my future.” Soon after his death, Israeli forces occupied Bethlehem, and Arien thought about avenging Salem’s death and joining him in paradise. Before Arien volunteered for a suicide mission, she quarrelled with her aunt. Arien went through no indoctrination or training. Five days after volunteering, the Palestinian group sent her on her suicide mission. Arien Ahmed had several risk factors for suicide: early loss, recent loss of the man she loved, a loss made worse by being sensitized to this later loss by the earlier loss of her father. She had even more recent stress (a quarrel with her aunt). She was hopeless about the future without the man she loved, and she was angry at the Israelis. This brief biography suggests that many suicide bombers may indeed have the risk factors for conventional suicide and that previous commentators have not sought out the required information. Of course, Arien Ahmed may not be a typical suicide bomber. After all, she did not go through with her mission. Furthermore, Orbach (2004) has suggested that a typical suicidal profile may be more common in female than in male suicide bombers, although he had no evidence to support this suggestion. But it can be seen that, if a psychological suicidologist was to guide an investigation into the lives of suicide bombers, many risk factors might be identified that would help answer the question, “Why did this person and not that person volunteer to become a suicide bomber?” One final way in which suicide bombers resemble ordinary suicides is that both groups of individuals appear to be susceptible to social contagion (Stein, 2003). Could Suicide Bombers Have Authoritarian Personality Traits?
After the Second World War, American social scientists wanted to understand how so many Germans could have supported the policies of the Nazi regime. The policies included the genocide of the mentally retarded, the psychiatrically disturbed, and ethnic groups, including Jews and Gypsies; forced sterilization of those deemed inferior; and forced mating of those deemed genetically superior. Furthermore, these policies were carried out with great brutality. The majority of Germans supported these policies, and large numbers participated in them. Adorno and his colleagues (1950) read what had been written about those who participated in these atrocities, and they developed the concept of the authoritarian personality. Because Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the human mind was the only theory then available, Adorno and his colleagues based their conception of the authoritarian personality on psychoanalytic ideas, but their work does not need psychoanalytic theory to validate it. Adorno et al. saw the authoritarian personality as comprised of several components. 1. Conventionalism. Conventionalism means rigid adherence to conventional middleclass values. Fascism usually develops in middle-class groups, especially those without a well-developed set of values. Such people respond more willingly to social pressures. This is illustrated by the difference between Americans who truly believe in the ideal of freedom of speech and those who claim to follow American ideals but who, when Americans criticize their own country, say “Love it or leave it.” 2. Authoritiarian Submission. Authoritarian submission means a submissive, uncritical attitude toward the idealized moral authorities or the in-group. Such people Suicide Bombers and Psychological Profiles 291 3. 4. 5. 6. claim that they were only following orders if they are accused of committing atrocities. Again, they follow blindly these authorities because they have no set of internalized values of their own. Authoritarian Aggression. The “leader,” whether it be parents, an employer, or a political or religious ruler, often frustrates the individual. What do authoritarian personalities do with their suppressed and repressed anger at the authorities? In general, authoritarian personalities displace their anger onto an out-group, and this out-group is often chosen for them by the leaders. “I don’t hate my father; I don’t hate Hitler; I hate Jews, homosexuals, etc.” Power and Toughness. Authoritarian personalities tend to stress an exaggerated concern with strength and toughness. “Might makes right” is a common attitude. Anti-Intraception. Authoritarian personalities are uncomfortable with feelings and with analyses of the psychodynamics of the mind. They rely on facts. “Keep your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds.” Projection. Finally, because they have to suppress and repress so many of their own desires, they project these desires onto others, especially members of the out-group. Thus, those whom the authoritarian personalities despise are accused of all kinds of aggressive and sexual behaviors. In the extreme, this makes authoritarian personalities paranoid. Most of the early investigators of the authoritarian personality believed that it was a sign of psychiatric disturbance. However, research has found no association whatsoever between scores on a measure of the authoritarian personality and measures of psychiatric disturbance (Masling, 1954; Lester & Al-Tarrah, 2002). The Middle Eastern terrorists and suicide bombers are typically raised in very strict fundamentalist Islamic sects whose teachings they accept. They do not come to their belief systems by a rational appraisal of alternative ideologies as adults. They accept the ideology in which they are raised. They show conventionalism. The society in which they live provides them with moral authorities, the religious and political leaders (who are often the same people), and they find more leaders at their schools and universities (where the teaching is imbued with Islamic studies). The society and the times also provide them with out-groups against whom to aggress. First there were the Soviets who had invaded Afghanistan, followed by the Americans who crushed Saddam Hussein in Kuwait and Iraq and stationed troops in Saudi Arabia. And there are always the Jews, a traditional out-group for many nations. Lewis (2002) has noted that Middle Eastern nations have often sought to blame others for this state of affairs—the Mongols in the thirteenth century, then the Turks, the Western imperialists, the British and French, the Americans, and the Jews. Some blame Islamic society itself—the religion, religious extremists, the oppression of women, socialism, and nationalism. Lewis saw the problem as a basic lack of freedom: freedom of the mind from constraint and indoctrination, freedom of women from male oppression, and freedom of the economy from corrupt and inept management. It is not simply that Islamic Arabs hate Jewish Israelis. As Nirenstein (2000) has pointed out, the media in Muslim nations, supported of course by the governments in those nations, demonizes Israel and calls openly for its annihilation. Nirenstein gives examples from the newspapers that rival the National Enquirer in America. News sources in Egypt and Jordan have warned that Israel distributed drug-laced chewing gum and candy to kill Arab children. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Palestine was said to have been spread by Israel. Yassir Arafat, speaking at a world economic forum 292 D. Lester et al. in Switzerland, claimed that Israel was using depleted uranium and nerve gas against Palestinians, and this claim was aired on Palestinian television. Nirenstein (2000) gave many other examples. Egyptian newspapers reported that Jews use Gentile blood for making matzah for Passover. The reality of the Holocaust is denied, as it was, for example, by the Ayatollah Khamenei from Iran at a pan-Islamic conference. Israelis are frequently described as more racist than the Nazis. The result is that Arabs are subjected to this “relentless vilification,” as Nirenstein describes it, without easy access to contrary information. A recent hit song in the Middle East was titled, “I hate Israel.” Much of this is consistent with the components of the authoritarian personality such as authoritarian aggression and projection. Television glorifies those who die in the struggle against Israel, including those who are suicide bombers, and the leaders of the countries in the region reinforce this hatred by urging the destruction of Israel. Growing up in such a culture nourishes a hatred that is impossible to eradicate, especially given that there is such a poor system of education in the countries. Many of the children remain illiterate and uneducated, and the others receive a religiously oriented and biased education. For example, the state-sponsored textbooks in Saudi Arabia teach that those in the West are “infidels” and the “enemy” (see Powell, 2001). Levinson and Huffman (1955) explored the kinds of child-rearing experiences that might facilitate the development of the authoritarian personality in the children. The factors they listed included harsh and threatening discipline, expectations that the children would be submissive and suppress unacceptable impulses, presenting rules and ideas as a set of clichés to be memorized, relationships in the home based on prescribed roles, and an emphasis on duties and obligations more than affection. They developed a Traditional Family Ideology Scale to capture this child-rearing experience, and it has been found that the Turkish families receive higher scores on this scale than American families and their children obtain higher scores on a measure for authoritarian personality than do American students (Kagitcibasi, 1970). Thus, Islamic child-rearing practices facilitate the development of the authoritarian personality. Discussion
In this essay, it has been noted that, if detailed biographies of terrorists and suicide bombers were to be collected, evidence might well be found of a high frequency of risk factors for suicide, and it was shown with one case that had data available the existence of such risk factors. It has also been suggested that particular terrorists and suicide bombers might fit into standard “typologies,” and this was illustrated with the case of Timothy McVeigh. This article suggests that the authoritarian personality might provide a good fit for the personality and psychodynamics of terrorists and suicide bombers. Stern (2003) spent a great of time and effort interviewing terrorists and their leaders, often at personal danger to herself.8 She felt that listening to their views would provide some understanding of the psychodynamics of the terrorists. This approach provides little understanding of the terrorist. If terrorists, including suicide bombers, are authoritarian personalities, then the specific nature of their beliefs is irrelevant. The views of authoritarian leaders are often views which, if held by a single individual, would be considered irrational and sometimes a product of psychosis, but when held by a large number of individuals are seen as a religious or political movement. Furthermore, interviews with the members of an authoritarian group, including those that send the suicide Suicide Bombers and Psychological Profiles 293 bombers, merely elicit the indoctrinated belief system of the members of the group. A much more interesting question is, “What in the child-rearing experiences of those individuals led them to become so dependent on the often bizarre beliefs and views of charismatic leaders and to hold these beliefs without questioning them?” Only, in time, when detailed biographies of suicide bombers, which provide sufficient information, become available, can scholars hope to gain some understanding of the psychodynamics involved and find typologies into which suicide bombers can be classified. It is important that the collection of biographical information in these cases is guided by those who are skilled in psychological autopsies, such as suicidologists. The conflicts in the Middle East (and in Sri Lanka and Chechnya) make it unlikely that such studies will be conducted soon. Such studies would best be conducted by members of those societies, trained as psychologists or psychiatrists, with the additional training required to compile psychobiographies and conduct psychological autopsies. Such individuals are not common in those societies and, if they were, they have more important tasks to perform for their communities (such as counseling those who experience trauma). However, the absence of such studies should not lead us to possibly erroneous assertions such as those claiming that the suicide bombers are not suicidal or that there are no psychological profiles applicable to them. Notes
1. Much of the commentary discusses the morality of the acts (e.g., Wolin, 2003), the irrationality and criminality of the acts (e.g., Rosenberger, 2003) and whether suicide bombers can be viewed as heroes and martyrs (Israeli, 1997). 2. Some commentators dispute the presence of personal despair (e.g., Ganor, 2000). 3. Hage (2003) saw the planning and carrying out of a suicide bombing as grounded in a masculine culture, but he was writing from the narrow perspective of Palestinian acts and did not take into account variations in the acts by culture and nationality. 4. The suicide and non-suicide terrorists did not differ in sex. 5. They are also promised eternal life in paradise for themselves and many relatives, and permission to see the face of Allah. 6. McVeigh was intrigued when Terry Nichols married a “mail-order wife” from the Philippines, and he thought of doing the same himself. He liked the idea of a wife who was available just for sex and for child-care. 7. Of course, suicide is proscribed by the Koran, but the Islamic commanders of the suicide bombers do not consider the acts to be suicide, but rather martyrdom or self-sacrifice in the service of Allah. This attitude may be necessary to persuade individuals to become suicide bombers, but the behavior is clearly suicidal. 8. Stern interviewed a wide variety of terrorists, including, for example, anti-abortion activists. References
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