Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Suicide Bombers Deconstructed

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Suicide Bombers Deconstructed

Article excerpt

What makes the suicide bomber tick? As mental health professionals, it is incumbent upon us to understand and consider the possibilities.

The existence of suicide bombers dates back at least to World War II, when some Japanese soldiers tied bombs around their waists and jumped into the chimneys of war ships-causing entire vessels filled with people to blow. Several years later, Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister of India, and Sri Lanka's President Ranasinghe Premadasa were struck down by suicide bombers. And today, the devastation wrought by the Sept. 11 suicide bombers has been seared into the world's collective consciousness.

Why would anyone submit to this type of death? Perhaps some sort of illness could distort the thought processes in such a way to allow a perpetrator to become involved in terrorism.

The thinking in law enforcement and intelligence is that people selected for this purpose are emotionally immature or hypermature, which makes them vulnerable for "brainwashing." Fragility in the thought processes of people targeted to carry out these acts plays an important role in brainwashing and makes it easier for such ideas to take hold after they are implanted.

This is achieved in various ways, most notably by selecting an individual who has endured loss of life in terms of violent deaths of near and dear ones; harbors an extreme sense of revenge, coupled with helplessness; has rigid thoughts and tunnel vision--charged with religious beliefs and understanding; and has inherent aggression.

Such selected individuals are then subjected to a series of teachings with the aim of promoting focused hatred. Some are offered incentives to commit crimes, according to news reports.

When terror originates from a religious group, the mechanism at work is somewhat different. In those cases, potential perpetrators believe that their religion is not appropriately followed and in their understanding, if they were to kill several people--perhaps even innocent ones--they would be led to heaven straight away and would achieve highest grades in the eyes of their deity. They consider such death as akin to martyrdom. Such would-be terrorists are brainwashed from an early age, well before their mental faculties are developed enough to distinguish right from wrong. …

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