Innovations In Clinical Neuroscience

SEP-OCT 2014

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

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[ 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 ] Innovations in CLINICAL NEUROSCIENCE 85 individuals into terror attacks, allowing organizations to send the best qualified to the highest impact terrorist missions. 20 T he pull of cultures of martyrdom. Mohammad Hafez of the University of Missouri, among others, has called attention to the pull of "cultures of martyrdom" as a contributing factor in suicide operations. 21–23 There is no question that some terrorist groups consciously cultivate cultures of martyrdom and promote them in a "top-down" way to draw recruits. Hamas calendars, for example, herald the "Martyr of the Month." Similarly the LTTE and Turkey's Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), both secular groups, celebrate the anniversary of their first suicide bombers every year, while Chechen groups are known to commemorate the first Chechen suicide bomber in a popular song. 24 The extent to which consciously created cultures of martyrdom play a role in suicide operations, however, may be overstated. The pull of social networks and ties. Others have suggested that suicide terrorism is better explained as a "bottom-up," leaderless group or cultural phenomenon. Mark Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former intelligence officer, studied the biographies of more than 400 members of so-called Islamic terrorist groups with ties to Al Qaeda. In particular, he looked at ones who joined extremist Salafi groups. What he found was that many were uprooted, living away from their homelands, often away from family, in countries where they suffered insults and humiliation for being foreign and, for that matter, for being Arab. They joined groups that espoused suicide terrorism largely because their friends joined. Many went off to missions in friendship pairs, sibling pairs, husband and wife pairs, and even parent/child pairs. In one case, 8 of 11 members of a Hamas-associated football club carried out suicide attacks. 25 Building on Sageman's work, Atran put forward the theory that being part of a group that encourages camaraderie and c onforming to the group may be the most important motivator for suicide terror especially in diaspora communities. 26 But again how good are these theories? Cultural and small group theories, while compelling, still do not explain why some of those who join terror groups strap on bombs and kill themselves while others take on other roles (e.g., as organizers, recruiters, or reconnaissance). What differentiates the ones who actually strap on a bomb to kill themselves? This brings us to explanations at the personal and psychological level. Here there is quite a bit of controversy. Personal motivations. Suicide attacks are almost always organized by groups that recruit, train, and provide logistics (e.g., time, place, target, and weapon). At the same time, the suicide terrorist actor belongs to what Ariel Merari and colleagues call a "select group." 27 Whether there is social support, and some societies are more supportive of suicide operations than others, 28 the individual still has to make the irretrievable decision to participate in the act. What distinguishes those who do? Despair, humiliation, injustice. Harvard's Jessica Stern has argued that suicide terrorists are almost always driven by a sense of humiliation and injustice. 8 Hafez places the act in the context of an escalating sense of victimization. Similarly, Atran emphasizes feelings of "injustice" and "humiliation" as driving factors. 2 Loss and revenge. For individual perpetrators of suicide acts, there may be an additional desire for personal revenge after the loss of a loved one. Sageman, in his work on extremist Salafi groups, found that nearly all of those he studied had someone close to them suffer injury or death. 25 Anne Speckhard reports that among the female suicide bombers in Chechnya she studied, most were widows or bereaved siblings. 30 Others have found that s ignificant proportions of suicide attackers suffered other losses at the hands of an enemy. Based on post- mortem results, Rona Fields and her coauthors, for example, found that five of the nine suicide terrorists they examined had been injured as a result of the intifada in Gaza. Eight had been imprisoned and tortured, and in five of the eight, their families had been reportedly beaten and humiliated by soldiers. 31 Material incentives. Material incentives, including cash, free apartments, and the guarantee of a place in heaven, have also been cited as playing a role. 9 ARE THEY MENTALLY ILL? The general consensus among scholars is that suicide terrorists do not have significant psychopathology. 2,5 But how good is the evidence for this claim? Most of the "evidence" is impressionistic. Based on interviews with 250 Palestinian suicide terrorist recruiters, trainers, and would-be suicide bombers and their families, Nasra Hassan of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime simply asserts that suicide bombers seem to be normal: "They all seemed to be normal members of their families. They were polite and serious; and in their communities they were considered to be model youth." 32 Using case studies designed to examine the strategic motivations behind suicide attacks, Robert Pape makes similar claims: "Few suicide attackers are social misfits, criminally insane or professional losers [...] Most are deeply integrated into social networks and emotionally attached to their communities." 5 In a similar vein, Riaz Hassan of Flinders University asserts that "the causes of suicide bombings lie not in individual psychopathology but in broader social conditions." 33 A few scholars simply note that suicide terrorist recruiters "screen

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