What Makes People Become Suicide Bombers?
Most criminals do not expect to die when they commit a crime. If they did there wouldn’t be so many of them. If you are motivated by greed or hunger you want to live after your act in order to enjoy what you got from it. This also applies to most people who commit crimes for personal reasons like perceived insults to one’s honor, or infidelity. Usually the hatred the situation has engendered isn’t enough to warrant suicide. At least you want to live long enough to dance on the other fellow’s grave.
I don’t accept the thesis that suicide bombers are motivated mainly by religion. If a true believer actually believes there is a paradise and he can enter it by blowing himself up, provided he takes out a few infidels too, then that can be an encouraging factor. But I seriously doubt whether there are that many Muslims whose depth of commitment to Islam is enough by itself to bring them to pressing that lethal button. After all, it isn’t the religion itself that urges violence on its followers, it is leaders with radical political and social agendas who use some of the symbolism of Islam to gin up the frenzy their followers need to go ahead and blow themselves up.
So what does supply the intense hatred someone needs to become a suicide bomber? Perhaps I can illustrate it by summarizing a story from the old novel “Flesh of the Wild Ox”. In it, my late father recorded authentic Riffian histories from the period after WWI, when a feisty bunch of tribals in northern Morocco were battling the Spanish aand French armies. Our hero was engaged to be married. His betrothed was at the Thursday market in a nearby town when a Spanish plane bombed it and she was killed. He did not mourn or otherwise carry on, he strapped a few grenades to his belt, sneaked past the Spanish perimeter at night, and blew up a couple of the planes where they were parked. They caught and killed him eventually, of course, as he knew they would, but he went down fighting.
For over two generations the Palestinians have been humiliated and in many cases hunted down and killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers operating within Israeli law or on the edge of it. There are plenty of instances where individual Palestinians have had at least as much reason to feel as intense a hatred as my Riffian example. So it should come as no surprise that the art and practice of suicide bombings effloresced in that troubled land. You reap what you sow and all that.
Now we too are inflicting that kind of mindless, impersonal, random bereavement and suffering on a settled population just trying to get by in unsettled times. I refer, of course, to our highly sanitized concept of “collateral damage” when our mighty war machine, especially our drones, zap a house or a village that might contain leaders of forces arrayed against us. All too often there are innocent bystanders who get killed. Sure, we try to avoid or at least minimize collateral damage, but where do we stand morally if there are even a few innocent victims? If we were a pharmaceutical company whose new drug had killed hundreds of patients, how far would we get by saying “we’re really sorry, but we had to do it to get at the virus…”
I think collateral damage is morally reprehensible but understand the compulsions our military faces in combat situations. The answer is not to grit your teeth and go ahead with the zapping, but to get out from under situations where you face the dilemma in the first place. What price victory, anyhow? If you are defending your own turf and your own people fine, zap away, but if you are fighting a war of choice far from home and the people you are zapping are from a distant culture, there is no moral defense.
There is also no practical defense for our present use of drones in Afghanistan. We kill off the leaders but more spring up in their place. From a Darwinian point of view we are simply providing an environment in which their leadership will improve at forced draft speed. Meanwhile we motivate thousands of others to become suicide bombers.
This is insanity.