Can We Make Sense of Suicide Missions?
On the evidence presented in this book, suicide missions (SMs) show such a diversity of traits as to make the search for an overarching explanation of their occurrence and patterns seem futile. The wealth of facts and arguments may even leave the reader wondering whether SMs should be treated as a single phenomenon rather than several.
There is no simple way to understand SMs without first identifying the different aspects of the whole phenomenon. In order to do this we need to shift our attention from the fine details of the individual cases, and adopt a comparative view of the evidence. To start with, I will review the variety and uniformity of features found in the missions and among their organizers. This exercise reveals that SMs display many uniformities in their conditions and features, but also that the types of SMs and their purposes vary significantly; and whereas the motivation of some is clearly rational in an instrumental sense, that of others is obscure. Next, I will review what we know about the perpetrators, arguing that the persons who die in SMs and the conditions that promote their self-sacrifice are fairly uniform, and although they are rare they are not historically or psychologically abnormal. This raises the further question of how different suicide attackers really are from other people who sacrifice their lives for a cause. To answer it, I will explore the similarities and differences between modern SMs on the one hand and both heroism and some cases of proto-SMs on the other. I will then describe how, despite the diversity of their purposes, the modern progeny of SMs shares the same roots, which emerged during an extraordinarily violent period in Lebanon. Finally, despite the rapid spread of SMs across the world since 1981, I discuss some of the limits to their further spread, showing among other things that religious beliefs can both encourage and discourage SMs.