Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers

Article excerpt

The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers. By Adam Lankford. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 272 pp. $27.

In The Myth of Martyrdom, Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, argues that academic experts have it all wrong when arguing what motivates suicide terrorists. Based on his analysis, he shows that suicide terrorists are usually just like other suicidal people - yearning to escape from unbearable depression, anxiety, marital strife, or professional failure. Socalled "martyrdom operations" are really just a cover for an underlying death wish similar to that of cult members, rampage shooters, and others who do not proclaim political grievances.

Lankford's ideas fly in the face of the consensus in the political science community, which claims that people turn to suicide terrorism because it is a rational tactic for achieving their political demands. According to this position, suicide terrorists are the ultimate altruists, deliberately sacrificing themselves to attain some political platform, be it the establishment of an Islamist government or the removal of foreign troops from a war-zone. Certainly, this tactic requires the perpetrators to die, but they gladly accept these personal costs to obtain their groups' political aims.

Relying upon an eclectic array of primary sources such as suicide notes, love letters, diary entries, and martyrdom videos, Lankford presents compelling empirical evidence to counter that widely-held view. …

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