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  1. #1
    Son of LO The_Giant_Mantis's Avatar
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    Why do people conduct suicide attacks?

    Xerxes post on extremism got me thinking a bit, and I went off on a tangent, so here I am.

    Firstly, this is controversial, so let's keep it civil, please. We're all entitled to our opinions.

    Secondly, before I present my thoughts, I'd like to state I don't really know anything about the cause and origin of Islamic terrorism in the modern world, at least, no more than any Western citizen who reads a few newspapers and has an inquisitive mind would know. I'm not a scholar of islamic history and culture, or a counter terrorism expert.

    For this reason, I'm going to have to draw most of my examples from the stuff I've learned about the kamikaze during my degree. Now, this is pretty controversial in itself, and I could really offend some Japanese people by suggesting a link between the kamikaze (who were a weapon of war used to kill soldiers) and modern terrorists who target civilians in suicide attacks. But that's not the point here, the point is, why is someone willing to blow themselves up to kill?

    Here are some of the opinions I've heard. Of course, they all tie together, but I'll try and express this when it crops up.

    They are brainwashed into doing it/their ideology is focused on doing it.

    I'm not sure about this one. There's no denying someone needs an ideological reason to saccrifice their lives, but perhaps brainwashing is a bit too far. Most Kamikaze pilots, I know, did not display any evidence of brainwashing. A cursory glance at their diaries or the quotes attributed them do not hold up to this. They were often reluctant, and prone to indecision and even panic attacks. One man, for example, shortly after confirming his desire to proceed with his mission, is reported to have broken down, screaming 'Mother! The navy is trying to kill me!' Another wrote in his diary that the reason he was conducting his mission was because he had been 'ordered to.' The religious propaganda surrounding Kamikaze pilots, and their rebirth as kami following death, also doesn't seem to have had any significant motivational effects.

    Of course, we can't automatically apply this to Islamic terrorists. There is a specific ideology within Islam, but it could hardly be called a brainwashing influence, any more so than any other world religion which features violence in its holy texts (basically all.) There has to be another reason why ordinary Muslims, growing up in normal muslim families from all over the world, volunteer to kill themselves, and I don't think the answer is going to be found (at least not totally, I won't deny religion has an effect) in the ideology of Islam itself.

    Since the dawn of human history, there have been people of a thousand different religions and varying levels of zeal prepared to saccrifice themselves for a cause. I don't think islam has any exceptional characteristics which make it prone to produce martyrs of this kind.

    Muslims are oppressed, and have no way of fighting back save through self saccrifice.

    Suicide bombs have been referred to in the past as 'weapons of the weak', presenting the idea that willingness to die for a cause is created by a supreme feeling of powerlessness, desperation, or other such factors.

    I feel there is a relevent factor here, but I don't think it is the main one.

    The act of suicide bombing certain implies desparation, but I don't think that explains everything. It's easy to argue 'Muslims feel oppressed by the West (note I use 'west' as a very broad term, intending to include countries like Israel which have been targetted yet are not truly 'western') and the only way they can express this powerlessness is through the desperate act of martyrdom.' Yet there are oppressed peoples and groups the world over which systematically fail to produce a similar level of willingness to self saccrifice.

    I think it's fair to say that desperation does occasionally overide self preservation. The very first suicide attacks of world war 2 were actually independent actions carried out by pilots for whom death was imminent in any case. This was not even unique to Japan, pilots from all sides did, on occasions, intentionally commit suicide by ramming enemy targets, but, with the exception of a few cases, this was generally as a response to the certainty of imminant death. When a person is desperate, hungry, or poor, the normal barriers of self preservation can begin to corrode, I think. But I don't think it's enough to explain everything.

    Suicide bombings are a supremely effective psychological weapon.

    This is my favourite, and I think it's the one I'll generally side with.

    The military intention of a suicide attack is not merely to kill. From a military standpoint, the Kamikaze was supremely successful compared to 'conventional' air attacks with a similar number of planes. But this wasn't it's purpose, and this wasn't why it was used. The intention was to indicate abseloute defiance and unwillingness to surrender, and it worked. Perhaps a little too effectively, given the horrible consequences of that assumption.

    There are few things more terrifying to humans than death, and few things more important than self preservation. The idea, therefore, that someone would willingly forego self preservation in order to kill us is naturally a terrifying prospect.

    I don't believe in a coherent organization called Al Quaeda, because I think it's a naive concept that there's this huge, well organized secret society spanning the entire world with every member answering, ultimately, to osama bin laden. That belongs in a James Bond movie. I believe, from the evidence presented to me, that al Quaeda is a cellular organization, with each cell acting independently, but occasionally cooperating with others. In fact, I'm not even sure there's an organization called al Quaeda at all.. The term could simply be a badge applied to any terrorist cell sharing a similar ideology to that of Bin Laden, and could not denote any actual links or communication.

    However, I do believe there are people, perhaps not cat stroking supervillains, but people, who feel they are fighting a war (and of course, whose to say they're not?) It's a desperate war, fought by citizens of weak, impoverished nations, against the most powerful and influential nations on earth.

    Hence, ultimately, we have the same situation which created the Kamikaze. We have a war between two parties, one of which cannot win on a conventional level. Thus, suicide bombers can be used to signal a powerful gesture of defiance.

    I don't think suicide bombers ultimately do what they do out of desperation, or even religious fantaticism. I think those are both parts of it, but the ultimate answer, for me, is that they're doing it because someone has told them to. Because it's what's expected of them in the circumstances.

    Sorry for the long post, but I hope you found my thoughts interesting. As I said, I'm not very informed, and I'm not very authoritive. So if you disagree, or think there's something I've not considered, please say so.

    As I said, this is a sensitive issue, so let's keep it civil.

    Also, I have proofread.. but I'm very tired, so sorry about the grammar.

    Last edited by The_Giant_Mantis; December 14th, 2005 at 04:14.

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  3. #2
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    I think that they are forced to due this by the most extreme of Muslims. Think about it. Extreme Muslims could believe that less extreme are more expenable than themselves because who else would provide the true teachings of Islam. However, if it lost a lesser believer, they could simply shrug it off as an acceptable loss. So they bribe, threaten, condition young men, women and children to be target dummys, and living bombs in order to send their message of god. Most muslims are simply caught between these guys and us, being there targets.
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    Mr. Tau onlainari's Avatar
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    Crisis of identity.

    The religion they are taught, which is hardly islam, is taught to them by an identity entrepreneur. The identity entrepreneur gives them an identity. They commit suicide acts because it is part of their identity.

    Imagine not knowing where you belong in the world? Imagine how much better these identity entrepreneurs make it for them.
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    LO Zealot dr_nick22's Avatar
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    I believe it is to do with Blind faith, and religion.

    The Kamikaze pilots did it because they were serving their emperor, who was their god, literally. That's what he made all Japanese think, that he was their god. The American's made him announce to them all that he wasn't their god, which I think was none of their buisness, you don't see aliens invading earth, and making us all denounce our gods, and worship them.

    With the Islamic terrorists, it's because they are promised 40 virgins when they get to paradise or something, because they were martyrs, serving their god.

    Religion makes people do stupid things, but then again, equally as stupid things have been done by those who have no religion.
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  6. #5
    The Pacifist Wargamer Quick's Avatar
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    To be a martyr, to die for the faith, is just about the noblest thing a religious person can do.

    In the case of the Islamic suicide bomber, the individual feels that his or her culture and religion are under siege by outsiders, be it Israelis occupying the Holy Land or American soldiers occupying a formerly sovereign Arab Muslim state.
    Now, one soldier can do very little, and not without a small amount of desperation, the individual feels that he or she can be of most service in rallying the faithful by striking a blow and giving up his or her life.

    The suicide bomber feels just and has no fear of death. The afterlife promised martyrs is a glorious one.

    Now, the question of "how can we stop suicide bombers?" is a tricky one. (And one that current American military policy cannot seem to get the right answer to.) It is virtually impossible to stop a person who is willing to die to accomplish what they want, so therefore, suicide bombers must be stopped before they strap on the C4 harness.
    Again, current American military policy has it wrong in arresting suspected bombers, because that just perpetuates the feelings of ill will toward the occupying Americans.

    To stop the suicide bomber, you must put the notion in his or her head that death is not the only solution. To do so is to put doubt in his or her conviction. If the suicide bombers stop to consider that social change could be brought about in a different manner, such as elections, or cultural revolution, then they are less likely to strike a counter-productive blow.


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    Shrug, k... Certs's Avatar
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    a lot of this was just plain TLDR.

    anyways, all i know is if i plan on dying, i plan on taking out as many other people on my '****' list as possible. it's just good PR.

    but then again, everyone else can go again and place the blame solely on religion if they want and not the person's own choices. who am i to argue... although then again, who are they to say anything...

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  8. #7
    The Pacifist Wargamer Quick's Avatar
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    'Temp, I apologize, but I have seen you post 'TLDR' a couple of times and I have not been able to find out what it means?

    What is TLDR?


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  9. #8
    Senior Member Joker's Avatar
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    I think I would have to say that the 'homicide' bombers are mainly manipulated into their actions by charismatic leaders that have the ability to push all the right buttons on some very unfortunate people.

    I may be persuaded into re-evaluating that position if anyone here can show me proof of one single individual follower of Islam that misinterpreted the Quran to read that all infidels must die, and that was unaffiliated with any terror group and came to their own conclusion that it would lead to a better afterlife and it was the will of Allah that they strap a bomb to themselves and commit 'homicide' by blowing up other people with it. I haven't seen one single 'suicide note'; or reference to the existence of said note; proclaiming such a decision.

    The only bombers I see are members of a larger organization whose leaders somehow never make the decision to become 'homicide' bombers themselves. The leadership always manages to make themselves seem more important than their cause.

    Kamikaze's are a different matter entirely. They were a military weapon of last resort. I can respect Japan's decision to utilize them. They were not a terror weapon.

    The Islamic terror bombers have many more avenues of expression left to them politically, religiously and culturally. Terrorists terrorize people because they can, not because they have to.

    As for the comment about America overstepping it's bounds by revealing the Emporer of Japan to be mortal, tough ****. If Japan hadn't attacked us it may never have happened that way. We can discuss the socio-political reasons why Japan went to war with the U.S. in another thread of your making if you'd like?

    Meanwhile, show me your proof that an alien invader would not have done the same thing! :tongue:
    Last edited by Joker; December 14th, 2005 at 18:19.

  10. #9
    Son of LO The_Giant_Mantis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dr_nick22
    The Kamikaze pilots did it because they were serving their emperor, who was their god, literally. That's what he made all Japanese think, that he was their god.
    That's not 100 percent true, though probably at least 75 percent true. A lot of Japanese people, including some of the kamikaze pilots, didn't believe in the literal truth of the Emperor's divine ancestry, but they generally did not voice their opinions publically.

    Ultimately, the more I read into the kamikaze, the more I start to think that they were motivated more by peer pressure, and the feeling of social expectation, than by actual religious devotion.

    Perhaps the same can be said of suicide bombers? I really like Onlainari's idea of cultural displacement, and the act of martyrdom giving people an identity they couldn't find in life. Ultimately, perhaps it's just about the desire to be something more, to be a 'hero' (in its most subjective sense) and to be admired for your actions by others.

    But i also think Joker was on an interesting track. Charismatic leadership probably has a lot to do with it.

    I don't know about religion. Martyrdom, even in war, has been a virtue in much of Christian history, after all, yet even fantatically Christian societies do not produce suicide bombers. It's a piece of the puzzle, I think, but I'm willing to bet there's more to it than that.

    For those interested in the Kamikaze stuff, you might like to read some extracts from the training manual, which I've managed to find in internet form here. It's actually quite moving, I think. The style alternates between the macho and the comforting.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0...778587,00.html

    There was a supposed Al Quaeda training manual translated into English recently. Would be interesting if anyone could find a reliable source to compare with the above. In particular, what sort of methods do organizations use to persuade people to kill themselves for the cause?

    I'm not going to get into 'was the US right to change the Emperor's role.' Interestingly though, despite Hirohito's rennunciation of divinity, the Japanese royal family still conducts many rituals celebrating the direct link between the Emperor and his spiritual ancestor, the sun deity Ametarasu. So they still claim direct descent from a goddess, albeit indirectly.

    I'm more concerned about the warcrimes tribunal at the end of the war. Very strange goings on in the course of that trial.
    Last edited by The_Giant_Mantis; December 14th, 2005 at 19:32.

  11. #10
    Shrug, k... Certs's Avatar
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    np quick, i'd explain but it's a little side-joke of mine; but i did tell some of the other mIRC people a bit ago if that's any comfort.
    it's always good for a laugh because what it stands for is so true in the topics i post it in.

    ...A blog that's mostly about Infinity, but sometimes other stuff too.

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