Suicide Bombing: The Cultural Foundations of Morocco's New Version of Martyrdom

By Maarouf, Mohammed | Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Suicide Bombing: The Cultural Foundations of Morocco's New Version of Martyrdom


Maarouf, Mohammed, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture


Introduction

The general line of scientific inquiry on the social phenomenon of suicide bombing--reconstructed in this study from the ethnographic perspective of local social actors in Morocco as an instance of martyrdom--fluctuates between two main perspectives: the psychological approach and the sociological approach. The psychological approach generally brands the martyr as a pathological subject. He is described as an agitated mind further brainwashed by fundamentalist indoctrination. Ariel Merari (1990), an authority on the psychology of suicide bombers, maintains that these people want to die for personal reasons and share many characteristics with ordinary suicide perpetrators. Both Merari and Robert S. Robins and Jerrold M. Post (1997) argue that the profile of suicide attackers shows that they are usually uneducated, reclusive, and unmarried youth. Robins and Post add that these people suffer from psychological problems such as paranoia and depression. Raphael Israeli (1997) compares these suicide attackers to members of cults or revolutionary camps, who do not have much insight into their actions. They want to turn personal failure into social recognition. Emad Salib (2003), Joan Lachkar (2002), and John Rosenberger (2003) claim that suicide attackers are paranoid, immature, and idealistic. Vamik D. Volkan (2002) adds that their social identities are blurred by psychological trauma and experiences of humiliation. Mark Juergensmeyer (2001) suggests that suicide bombing is a form of symbolic sexual drama performed by young men who have been socially deprived of exploring their sexuality; Lachkar (2002) and Lloyd deMause (2002) argue that childrearing in Islamic societies is to blame. It seems that the potential impact of culture as well as socioeconomic and political factors are largely ignored by these psychological approaches. To pathologize the suicide attacker offhand is to dismiss an entire cultural worldview that recurrently attracts homegrown recruits from the social bed in which they socialize.

In the sociological camp, there is Robert A. Pape (2006), who draws on the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, although his database does not include failed or undocumented suicide missions. He suggests that there is a consistent body of strategic and logical factors that underpin suicide bombing. According to him, suicide bombing is adopted as a strategic phenomenon by guerrilla groups who are failing to achieve their objectives politically. Targets are selected as part of well-organized and well-timed terrorist campaigns which have specific nationalist goals (like forcing military forces to withdraw from a specific country or region) rather than religious aims; for example, al-Qaeda leaders view the United States' military presence in the Gulf as a form of "veiled colonialism" and bet terrorist bargains on it. There is also Marc Sageman (2008b), who argues that a potent mix of factors leads to violent radicalization for political means. He lists four factors which are neither sequential nor stages in a process of socialization: a sense of moral outrage, a specific interpretation of the world, resonance with personal experiences, and mobilization through networks. Moral outrage, he proposes, is a reaction to perceived major moral violations, like killings, rapes, or local police actions. Before 2003, moral outrage was mainly caused by the killings of Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya, the second Palestinian intifada, and Kashmir. The attacks of 11 September occurred before the invasion of Iraq, but this invasion has since served as a focal point of moral outrage for Muslims worldwide. There seems to be an element of truth in this latter argument raised by Sageman, since during my interviews and conversations with young Moroccans, I observed, as Sageman did in his interviews with Muslims, that the topic of Iraq monopolized their comments on the theme of conflict between Islam and the West.

The sociological approach also foregrounds some main altruistic themes raised by Muslim fighters like Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the London bombers of 7 July 2005. …

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