Evil as Love and as Liberation
The Mind of a Suicidal Religious Terrorist
The letter to the hijackers that was found in Mohammed Atta's luggage in the car that was left at Logan Airport before the World Trade Center attack is a striking document.1 A highly revelatory testimony, it may provide us with some understanding of how the mind of a suicide killer works. As psychoanalysis, indeed society, faces the emergence of new kinds of mass-destructive attacks on human beings, we must seek whatever additional knowledge we can about the states of mind that are conducive to such attacks. In particular, I believe, we should try to comprehend the mentality behind intensely religious self-sacrifice. We need to learn more about the psychodynamic issues involved in a decision that caused (and may go on causing) horrible suffering and grief to masses of people. We need to inquire what are the themes linked with and explanatory of this kind of evil.
In their anthology of studies by religious theorists and political scientists who authenticated and translated the letter from the Arabic, Hans Kippenberg and Tilman Seidenstricker describe the letter as a collection of rituals. The purpose of the letter and the mandated rituals, in their view, was to transform a young Muslim into a warrior, instilling spiritual motives that create inner peace, fearlessness, obeisance, and lack of feeling during the killing.2 But the letter is more than a document tracing the initiation and transformation of a man into a warrior. Had it only been a means of contacting and fortifying the minds of terrorists about to commit an act of mass destruction, we would expect such a document to be filled with a raging rhetoric of hate, a cry to destruction and annihilation. Instead, we hear a voice that reassures, calms, calls for restraint