Suicide Bombers Can Be Stopped

Article excerpt

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

It's relatively easy to understand why someone kills another human being. Human beings have done it forever--in war and in peace. It is far more difficult to fathom why someone would kill himself--or herself. Russians today are asking just this question, as they have witnessed a rash of suicide bombings--by women. In the last four months, seven Chechen suicide bombers, all but one of them women, have detonated explosives that have taken 165 lives, including their own. What has made this conflict one that moves people not merely to kill but to die?

Scholars who have studied the phenomenon tend to look at the personal profiles of suicide bombers for some sign of a pattern. Generally, they are Muslim (with the exception of the Sri Lankan rebels), young, single, and have some religious education. They are usually not newcomers to their political cause, or to terror tactics. All this is interesting, but why do some choose this path and not others? After all, there are tens of millions of young, single Muslims and only a few hundred suicide bombers, who are found in a few specific places. In searching for better answers, I have been struck by two phenomena--the rise of suicide bombings in Russia, and their decline in Turkey.

In the early 1990s, there were no Chechen suicide bombers, despite a growing, violent movement against Russian rule. The Chechens have been trying to declare independence from Russia for 150 years, but the Chechen resistance was always nationalist and nonreligious. Samil Beno, Chechnya's foreign minister in the early 1990s, explained that he and the then president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, feared the rise of religious and terrorist groups. They wanted a Chechen nation. The Islamic groups wanted an Islamic state, comprising other areas and run in a medieval manner. Reporters who covered the Chechen war in the early 1990s mostly agree that there were very few "international Islamists"--Saudis, Afghans, Yemenis--present. They grew in numbers, explains Anatol Lieven, who covered the conflict for The Times of London, as a direct result of the "brutal, botched and unnecessary" Russian military intervention of 1994-96.

Over the past 10 years, Russia's military has had a scorched-earth strategy toward Chechnya. The targets are not simply Chechen rebels but, through indiscriminate warfare, ordinary Chechens. The Army has destroyed Chechnya as both an economic and a political entity. And over time, the Chechen rebellion has become more desperate, more extreme and more Islamist. …