May 16, 2005

Suicide bombing misses the point

In the wake of yet another tragic suicide bombing in Iraq this Wednesday, it is more than appropriate to question the nature of the psychology behind this particular form of terrorism. Regarding the study of suicide bombing, there seem to be essentially two camps. On one side of the debate are those who view suicide bombers as inherently deranged or disturbed. The theorists from the psychopath camp, so to speak, understand suicide bombing as a means to restore a shattered sense of self. Watching these theorists explain their highly sophisticated philosophical argument to the family members of those killed in a suicide bombing attack would be an awkward sight. The theories of the majority of the thinkers, in direct opposition to the psychopath camp, are no less overly intellectualized. Political scientists from this camp perceive an underlying rationale or logic to suicide bombing. The conversation between this camp and the family members of suicide bombing victims would be equally tense.

Both the existential and the rational arguments of suicide bombing are far too extreme and overarching. It is likely that many suicide bombers, possibly including the assailant in the recent Iraqi attack, question the purpose of their lives. Likewise, historically, there is probably an equal number of suicide bombers that have viewed their deaths as some sort of means to some sort of end. These coincidences are beside the point, however. To categorize as unnatural and heinous a phenomenon as suicide bombing is simply ridiculous. This is the mistake of both of the schools of thought, which seek to comprehend the motivations of suicide bombers. There is most likely an ongoing debate currently within Washington between these two rival camps geared toward combating Iraqi suicide bombers. The psychopath camp is presumably imploring the Bush administration to refrain from feeding the inferiority complexes of potential terrorists with inflammatory rhetoric such as the Axis of Evil. Conversely, the suicide logic camp is arguably encouraging the Bush administration to delegate more responsibility to the Iraqi parliament in hopes of sooner achieving the political changes suicide bombers are willing to sacrifice so much to attain.

Nevertheless, both schools fail to realize that suicide bombers are more than especially passionate pawns in a violent game. It is essential that the individuality of suicide bombers not be neglected. While the ostensible motives of suicide bombers may appear to be easily generalized as the products of fractured psyches or ruthlessly strategic minds, the only realistic categorization that can be applied to suicide bombing is desperation.

The suicide component of suicide bombing seems to be ignored all too often. The notion that suicide bombers are consciously taking their own lives is apparently obscured in most cases by the fact that they are taking the lives of innocents along with them. Although the concept of a broken self or the prospect of strategic gains may be relevant, it must be recognized first and foremost that the suicide bomber has, somewhere in the course of his or her existence, lost respect for humanity and the significance of his or her individual existence. Returning to the most recent incidence of suicide bombing this Wednesday, maybe an Iraqi looks around a defeated, conflicted, occupied land and questions what the future could possibly hold.

Most likely, the prospective suicide bomber is deeply saddened by the answer that he or she receives. Arguably it is the bitterness of this answer that leads suicide bombers to take their own lives, and in doing so, to take the lives of potentially many others. Psychological arguments merely help the foreign specialists sleep better, and strategic arguments merely create villains out of those who have lost faith in life.