April 5th, 2011
10:57 AM ET

Research: Could suicide terrorists actually be suicidal?

Adam Lankford's research suggests maybe so:

For years, it has been widely agreed on that suicide terrorists are not suicidal individuals, and that behaviorally, they are more similar to noble soldiers who are willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause. However, upon closer examination, it appears that the foundation of this conventional wisdom is extraordinarily shaky. There are many reasons to think that both event-based and psychological risk factors for suicide may drive the behavior of suicide terrorists. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that more than 75 individual suicide terrorists have exhibited these classic suicidal traits. Given the power that the stigma of suicide may have to deter future suicide terrorists, it is critical that governments, scholars, and practitioners examine this issue once again.

Güneş Murat Tezcür et al. examines the state of support for democracy in Iran:

This article presents the first systematic analysis of support for democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran and contributes to the scholarly literature on popular views of democracy in an authoritarian regime. It reaches three main findings. First, religiosity is strongly and negatively related with support for democracy. Second, education and age indirectly affect support for democracy; their effects are mediated through satisfaction with regime performance. Third, greater dissatisfaction with the regime strongly correlates with greater demands for democratization. The data come from a survey conducted in Tehran in 2008 and the 2005 Iranian World Values Survey.

Marc Lynch explores the basis of the Sunni Arab Iraqi "Awakening" between 2004-2007:

This article explores the reasons for the dramatic change in Sunni Arab Iraqi attitudes toward the United States from 2004 to 2007, which made possible the "Awakenings," local groups of mostly Sunni tribes and former insurgents that decided to cooperate with the United States against al Qaeda in Iraq. While there have been many studies of the military strategy, there has been little attention paid to the reasons for the underlying attitude change. This article argues that the dramatic changes in the information environment and in the nature of direct contacts across a range of Sunni society played a crucial role. It draws on a wide range of Arabic language primary sources that have generally been neglected in U.S. military-centric accounts. No single dialogue flipped the Sunnis, and the change would not likely have happened without the material changes underpinning their interests. But years of ongoing, intensive dialogues across a wide range of interlocutors reshaped the foundations of the relationship and to convince those involved individuals of the possibility of a strategic shift. American counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine and the surge helped by proliferating the points of contact with Iraqis and by transforming the relations at the individual level. This has broad implications for key debates in contemporary U.S. foreign policy, as well as for counterinsurgency and international relations (IR) theory.

For more international relations studies, check out Kevin Lewis' terrific list.

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Topics: Global • Iraq • Middle East • Terrorism

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Jay

    The suicide bombers in many cases have 2 choices. One – to be killed or persecuted by their handlers and possibly die in the process and get nothing but shame and humiliation for it. Two- to commit mayhem while dying but have a reward for the family left behind and the "glory" of a martyr including "life size" posters in public and a large funeral procession!! So it is the lesser of two evils that they pick. That they are "suicidal" from a psychological point of view is a futile and in this case an irrelevant discussion.

    April 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      I agree, someone who is, due to mental instability suidal, is of no use to those who plan terrorist attacks. Nowadays anybody who, lacking consciousness, behaves strangely in the public, would be reported to the police. A suicide bomber needs to be watchful and alert, in order to achieve his goal.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:54 am | Reply
  2. Kabuli

    Best book ever written on this subject is by Diego Gambetta "Making Sense of Suicide Missions" who is also one of the first to quanitfy all of this. This should be linked in.

    April 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  3. JonathanL

    I have always had a problem with murder / suicides. I believe it is a personal choice whether you live or die but you can not choose for someone else. If you take your life, go it alone, it is not for anyone to decide to take others in the process. I think some suicides are seen as an easy way out of paying the price for murder and there is the further element of control, and of course there is the base emotion beneath it all, anger, but too bad. It is not fair to take someone's life against their will. It is wrong and no legitimate God would ever reward murder, much less a suicidal murder. It is all so antithetical to doing something good and therefore toward anything that would be misconstrued as an action that would be rewarded in some way by any entity other than an evil doer such as a mythological devil or just a very bad or evil person or group of people.

    April 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  4. Rod

    If we see religious authorities trying to police their own, then we have hope. If we see them inciting the more then expect hell over there.

    And I think the best policy in that situation is to leave them to themselves. Without anybody to quarrel with or to fight with, expect them to quarrel and to fight among themselves then until they see sense.

    April 5, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  5. Rod

    Because too much interference with internal affairs of others only promotes export of violence we call terr orism.

    April 5, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  6. Rod

    It is all politics with religion as just a mule that politicians ride on to power. By themselves they find other issues to ride on, yes, on to power, among themselves. We have seen them killing each other over political power.

    April 5, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  7. Only Way

    All suicidal attempts are coming from satan. Satan misleads people to believe that there is no point in living and if these people think that there is some reward if they kill while comitting suicide they will be motivated more. Islamic prophet Mohammad tried comitting suicides many times (Al-Bukhari Vol 9, Number 111). Mohammad have many people killed in his life time. The modern Muslims combined these two behaviors and are becoming suicide bombers. The truth is these people have atleast now an opertunity to follow the real God who came in the flesh (Jesus) to die for their sins.

    April 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Reply
    • Derek

      "Our god is the one true god."

      "no, ours is!"

      "How do you know?"

      "It says right here in our book."

      just get out. you(religious people)do so much damage, you incubate and nurture so many backward and abusive beliefs.

      April 5, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Reply
      • Relieous

        Religeous peple aren't to blame. All religens tell us to love each other. If you lived correctly to any religen you wouldn't do as much damage compared to an athiest mocking people.

        February 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  8. J

    Either "Only Way's" charms worked on Derek or he's just one of those lost guys. You know the kind that can't be reasoned with.

    The sad thing is that he thinks he's part of the chosen.

    The saddest thing is the jokes on him.....

    April 6, 2011 at 12:50 am | Reply
  9. Belky

    Perception is reality, we are all learnt behavior. Depending on what surrounds each and every one of us from birth until adulthood is what makes us who we are! How can anyone expect to truly understand how another person conceives and perceives the reality they have come to know to be true? Only a good sociologist or psychiatrist can come close to at least having an idea but then again just as everyone else they depend on perception and learn behavior in order to perceive the reality they know and understand to be true. For all the reasons anyone becomes a suicide bomber I am sure there are many, from depression to perception of how things are and what is real surely come in play.

    April 6, 2011 at 2:35 am | Reply

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