The Psychology of Terrorism: Clinical Aspects and Responses - Vol. 2

By Chris E. Stout | Go to book overview

9

The Palestinian Suicide Bomber

Rona M. Fields, Salman Elbedour, and Fadel Abu Hein

The phenomenon of the suicide bomber has, in recent years, become an epidemic nightmare. How can an adversary effectively threaten someone who is trying to die for a cause? “Martyr warfare” is the opposite of soldiers’ commitment to comrades and mission success. Suicide bombers are committed to their own deaths in missions intended to take with them as many as possible of their “enemy.” The penalty of “death” for “political suicide” becomes an oxymoron when death is the objective of the subject.

Sacrificing oneself for a cause is not a new ideology. The ancient Celts went on hunger strikes outside the door of the person who had insulted them and thus shamed their adversary, usually before dying in the attempt. In the eighth decade of the last century, young Irishmen died on hunger strikes in British jails, as had their antecedents in 1916. This was their political martyrdom, contradicting their clergy’s religious directives. In the Middle East, in Israel/Palestine, a more aggressive version of political suicide has become so commonplace as to obscure its relatively recent emergence in the bloody history of that place. But the Palestinians were anticipated by Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah and the Tamil Tigers several thousand miles away in Sri Lanka.

Is there a common mindset for individuals who commit political suicide and choose to kill themselves for one cause or another? The question has an etiology that originates in the social-political-cultural matrix, and the phenomenon evolves incorporated into the individual psyche through the institutions of society. The framework through which we are answering this question is driven from studies of the sociological context and from the psychodynamic profile of individuals who

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