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Suicide Bombers

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We read about it every day. Just this morning at an Iraqi Army enlistment center near Baghdad, 28 Iraqis died and more than 60 were wounded by two  suicide bombers. These constant suicide bombings keep this question alive every day we walk down the street.


A woman entered a mosque in Karbala, killing dozens and wounding another hundred. What drove her to this?


When Mahmoud Marmash, a young bachelor, blew himself up near Tel Aviv, in 2001, he took several Jews with him, perhaps to the same afterworld, or maybe not. “I want to avenge the blood of the Palestinians.” From a poor community-- he grew up where many people despair in poverty and hopelessness-- Mahmoud’s act is difficult for many of us to understand. We wonder what would push a person to such extremes?


An examination of suicide, though, uncovers that politically-based suicide is nothing new. It appears more than seven times in the Old Testament. Remember Samson in Judges 16:29-30? As an escape from the despair of Roman oppression, martyrdom is common in the New Testament.


Many of the same motivations for political suicide drive other types of suicide victims. Most infamously, many “experts” on TV News discussed the case of Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attack, and a well-established professional with a doctorate in architecture.


What most people fail to mention is that he never fit into the German culture where he studied and was lonely. Looking for community, he frequented a mosque that indoctrinated him to fundamentalism of an extreme flavor. Like most such suicide cases, Atta was alienated and woefully under- or un-employed most of the time. 


Contrary to many current assertions, a careful gander into this subject teaches us that the suicide bomber draws motivation from the same wellspring as other types of suicide victims.


This arises not just in the Middle East or from Muslims. America has raised its occasional suicide fanatic who fed from the Christian fundamentalists. Christians Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh bombed a government building in Oklahoma City. The Christian Identity movement inspired them.


As civilized people, we should be able to do much better than the Bush-Cheney approach: throw our hands up and invade Iraq. "Sweep it all up," Rumsfeld said as a retaliation for the 9/11 attack while drooling over the world's second largest oil reserves.


Little wonder that terrorism has only increased greatly since the US Supreme Court elected the neocons into the Executive Branch.


We can diagnose this sickness and identify its causes in order to reduce them, and thus avoid so much violence.


Suicide at the Foundation of Sociology


In the early 20th century, sociologist, Emile Durkheim studied and categorized the reasons for suicide. Emile Durkheim lived during the peak of the industrial revolution, what Mark Twain called the Gilded Age, when wealth was extremely concentrated among the ownership class and labor movements incited violent riots, including terrorist bombings.


This was a time of great social and economic upheaval. Perhaps this explains both Durkheim’s theories of suicide and his interest in the subject. After careful analysis, Durkheim found it was the individual’s bonding to society that could determine whether or not he was likely to commit suicide, and he described four different types of these bonds:


Altruistic: Durkheim explained that too much social integration leads to self-sacrifice for society, patriotism, honor; the altruist, such as the WWII kamikaze pilots, commits himself to a goal beyond himself and considers this world an obstacle and burden.


Egotism: Too little social integration leads to alienation, loneliness; the egoist sees no goal to which he might commit himself, and thus feels useless and without purpose.

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Mark Biskeborn is a novelist: Mojave Winds, A Sufi's Ghost, Mexican Trade. Short Stories: California & Beyond. Poetry & Essays. For more details: See Mark's stories on or wherever books are (more...)
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