Innovations In Clinical Neuroscience

SEP-OCT 2014

A peer-reviewed, evidence-based journal for clinicians in the field of neuroscience

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Innovations in CLINICAL NEUROSCIENCE [ V O L U M E 1 1 , N U M B E R 9 – 1 0 , S E P T E M B E R – O C T O B E R 2 0 1 4 ] 82 contributing factor? Although suicide terrorist acts have become disturbingly frequent, with more than 3,500 since 2003, 1 we still know very little about the individuals who commit them. As shown in Figure 1, most of the scholarship on suicide terrorism (63%) comes from the political science and international relations fields (Figure 1). By contrast only a small proportion originates in disciplines that focus on the individual, such as psychology (16%) and psychiatry (5%). Within this literature, the conventional wisdom is that suicide terrorists are normal, well-adjusted individuals who turn to suicide terror for political or religious reasons or simply because of social and group processes. But how good is the evidence for these claims and to what extent are arguments for and against suicidality as a contributing factor to suicide terrorism supported theoretically? This article reviews existing scholarship to try to answer these questions. A basic assumption behind the article is that suicide terrorism is a multifaceted problem that needs to be approached from multiple perspectives at multiple levels: the society, the group and the individual who volunteers for the mission in the first place. BACKGROUND Definitions. Suicide terrorism, sometimes labeled "suicide attacks," "suicide missions," "suicide operations," but also "martyrdom operations," has been defined as "the targeted use of self-destructing humans against noncombatant— typically civilian—populations to effect political change. 2 Typically, it is viewed as a "weapon of psychological warfare intended to affect a larger public audience" (i.e., those who are "made to witness it"). 2 The audience may be a government, the group's own domestic supporters, rivals, potential patrons, or a diaspora. In some definitions, the death of the perpetrator is required. For example, Dr. Boaz Ganor, Executive Director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel, defines suicide terrorism as "an operational method in which the very act of the attack is dependent upon the death of the perpetrator." 3 University of Massachusetts professor Mia Bloom also asserts that the perpetrator's death "is the precondition for the success of the attack." 4 Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, however, only requires that "the attacker does not expect to survive the mission" while Ami Pedahzur of Haifa University c larifies that the odds of returning alive are "close to zero." 5,6 For Ariel Merari of Tel Aviv University, what is critical is the "readiness to die in the process of committing a terrorist act." This means that unintended suicides (cases in which the attacker is coerced into detonating a suicide belt, for example, or cases in which the driver of a bomb-laden car is not told ahead of time that he will die in the mission) are not counted as suicide terrorism. However, acts that are intercepted or interrupted or fail are counted if the perpetrator is willing to kill and die in the process. 7 Myths and history. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC (9/11), two myths were routinely promoted: 1) suicide terrorism was a new phenomenon and 2) it was almost always the province of religious fanatics. In fact, suicide terrorism has existed since ancient times. Nor does any society or religion have a monopoly on it. The Zealots, a Jewish sect, practiced suicide terrorism in Rome-occupied Judea as early as the first century. Typically, a Zealot, also called Sicari or "daggerman," would go up to a Roman soldier and stab him in front of other soldiers knowing full well that he would be executed on the spot. The Islamic Order of Assassins also used suicide operations in the region we now know as Syria as far back as the Crusades in the 12th century. 8 More recently, suicide operations have been carried out by a variety of secular groups including the Anarchists in 19th century Russia and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), a leftist Marxist group in Sri Lanka, who became the world leaders in suicide terrorism in the 20th century. 9 Suicide terror has also been sponsored by sovereign states. In the Battle of Okinawa (April 1945), for example, Japan FIGURE 1. Percent distribution of research areas in papers on suicide terrorism, 2000–2013; Data based on Web of Science search for 2000–2013 (n=309 papers)

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