A few months ago we travelled into the mind of a terrorist as we explored the psychoanalytical theories that seek to explain why young people get involved in these activities. You can read all about this here.
Unfortunately, as you may suspect, young people are frequently selected to carry out acts of terror, sometimes unwittingly.
One such example is the twelve year-old who was instructed to carry a large bomb to a checkpoint near Nablus, West Bank. He was to be one of the youngest suicide bombers recorded, and he didn’t even realise. The bomb failed to detonate as the cell phone rig was faulty. During questioning, the youngster professed that he thought he was carrying car parts to hand off to a woman on the other side.
Ignorance may have been the case here, but it isn’t always so. The motivations behind those who carry out suicide attacks aren’t singular nor straight-forward. In fact, they are quite a mystery and no one explanation has been agreed upon by psychologists.
Read on to discover the four key sociological factors that are thought to be driving forces behind suicide attackers choosing this murderous route. This article will focus on Palestine as a point of reference however, it is important to emphasise this terror isn’t the only form.
Peer pressure: social factors
In some Palestinian communities, sacrificing yourself for the sake of God and nation and achieving martyrdom is considered the highest possible achievement. In fact, carrying out suicide attacks on West Bank settlers and the Gaza Strip is actively facilitated and encouraged by schools, Mosque leaders and in the media.
According to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, martyrdom increases one’s “social status after death, as well as that of his or her family.” Martyrs are glorified and their names and faces often decorate walls and posters throughout some Palestinian communities. The father of a suicide bomber who killed twenty one Israeli teenagers at a Tel-Aviv night club said, “I am very happy and proud of what my son did and, frankly, am a bit jealous… I wish I had done it myself”.
As you have probably surmised, some families even encourage their children to engage in martyrdom. As in the example above, parents of suicide bombers sometimes feel a sense of pride for the retaliatory act their children have carried out. It is often believed that the act is a religious duty that is for the benefit of all Palestinians.
Of course, it is important to remember that these pressures are not endemic to all Palestinians, many of whom are appalled and shocked by these acts of violence.
For King and country: political factors
Unsurprisingly, the on-going political tension between Israel and Palestine regarding Israel’s occupation of West Bank and the Gaza strip is one of the factors cited as motivating suicide terrorists.
Perhaps they perceive themselves as a soldier on a special mission. They believe that when they carry out these terror attacks on Israel, they are relaying a crucial political message and actively defending their country and way of life.
Aside from personal motivations, these attacks are carefully designed to have some sort of strategic impact for the group. Specifically, media coverage of the political message being relayed is considered vital to advance the cause and coerce the government (or the body in charge) to consider a change in policy. Individuals motivated to carry out these suicide attacks likely consider the long term benefits their sacrifice will bring — despite the fact that, statistically, more aggressive tactics tend to be less successful in affecting change.
Pray to God: religious factors
In theory, the teachings of Islam strictly forbid both suicide and the harming of innocent people. Nevertheless, extremists view suicide attacks against Israel as sacred and as self-sacrifice for the greater good.
The extent to which this twisted view is extended is reflected in this quote from a suicide attacker: “every day on which the sun rises and no Jew is killed, nor any martyr has died, will be a day for which we will be punished by Allah”. As you may have heard reported in the media, suicide attackers believe they are on a mission from God.
I need a dollar dollar: financial factors
The financial motivation behind acts of terror is widely debated. According to some, the majority of suicide bombers come from a privileged background and have been well educated. In light of this, financial benefits would be negligible. Others argue that suicide bombers (and by extension their families) are from lower, less well off classes.
If we were to consider the latter perspective then the money donated to these families, as well as other incentives like free medical care and education, can certainly be perceived as a significant motivating factor to young people hoping to secure their family’s financial future.
Your turn: Can you think of any other motivations people become suicide attackers? Do you believe these sorts of attacks can ever be justified? Contribute to the discussion below.