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What drives suicidal mass killers?
Posted: 07 September 2013 02:16 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Maybe it is not religion after all. Psychological profiles of amok killers and terrorists are very similar, says criminologist Adam Lankford.

From Amazon:

For decades, experts have told us that suicide bombers are the psychological equivalent of America’s Navy SEALs—men and women so fully committed to their cause or faith that they cease to fear death. In The Myth of Martyrdom, Adam Lankford corrects this misconception, arguing that terrorists are driven to suicide for the same reasons any civilian might be: depression, anxiety, marital strife, or professional failure.

From Foreign Policy:

It is important to understand this because the opposing view actually helps terrorist organizations thrive. Their leaders love the propaganda-serving illusion that suicide terrorists were ordinary people who became so inspired by “God and country” that they fearlessly embraced death and selflessly sacrificed their lives for the cause. By portraying the 9/11 hijackers as courageous heroes, rather than as confused and desperate victims, organizations like al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah increase the appeal for future suicidal recruits. There’s no reason why we should help them by promoting these misconceptions. As other scholars have shown, it is both inaccurate and dangerous to give terrorist attackers undeserved credit as being sophisticated operatives.

(I could only access the page via Google Cache as the article is behind a pay wall.)

It seems to me that many politicians also serve the myth of (Islamic) martyrdom very well. It creates the common enemy that justifies the ‘War against Terrorism’, with all its malignant outgrows. (Partially) unwillingly many anti-religionists support this with their unnuanced critique on Islam. It seems that they do not think that scientific studies as the one mentioned above (or of Scott Atran) are needed to get the correct picture of the real motives of terrorists.

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Posted: 07 September 2013 04:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yes, I don’t know enough about this topic to be any kind of expert, but Lankford’s book is very interesting and persuasive.

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Posted: 07 September 2013 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Concerning this matter you may wish to read “The Science of Evil” On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelity by Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge where he questions if a grade of zero empathy is not the basic reason for what we call cruelity or not.  Its a good read and you don’t have to be a shrink to get a lot from it.

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Posted: 07 September 2013 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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To be clear, Lankford is talking about the psychology of suicide bombers themselves rather than those who recruit, train, and equip suicide bombers. The latter folks don’t fit into his schema so neatly.

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Posted: 07 September 2013 11:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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dougsmith - 07 September 2013 05:12 AM

To be clear, Lankford is talking about the psychology of suicide bombers themselves rather than those who recruit, train, and equip suicide bombers. The latter folks don’t fit into his schema so neatly.

Yeah, right. For those I assume we must look more to the psychology and mechanisms of power.

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Posted: 10 September 2013 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Sounds interesting. I’ve been waiting for a book like this to be written.

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Posted: 12 September 2013 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Good afternoon….

No idea what drives terrorists, but in the case of “Islamic terrorism” there seems to be a lot of similarity with plain, lonely nutcases who don’t have any purpose in life and then get drawn into this stuff in the hope to “become glorious heroes”.

Not so sure if that applies to the IRA or former RAF though. Political terrorism seems a bit different. Christopher Hitchens wrote an interesting review of the movie “The Baader Meinhof Complex”, and both the review and the movie are excellent. In those cases really good ideas went totally overboard killing themselves by their eventual fanaticism, the ideas I mean, since the terrorists weren’t suicidal.

At any rate, terror is never a good idea to get anywhere. Never did anything, never will. So I guess the term nutcase does apply after all.

Michelle

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Posted: 14 September 2013 01:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Michelle D. - 12 September 2013 03:07 PM

Good afternoon….

No idea what drives terrorists, but in the case of “Islamic terrorism” there seems to be a lot of similarity with plain, lonely nutcases who don’t have any purpose in life and then get drawn into this stuff in the hope to “become glorious heroes”.

Not so sure if that applies to the IRA or former RAF though. Political terrorism seems a bit different. Christopher Hitchens wrote an interesting review of the movie “The Baader Meinhof Complex”, and both the review and the movie are excellent. In those cases really good ideas went totally overboard killing themselves by their eventual fanaticism, the ideas I mean, since the terrorists weren’t suicidal.

At any rate, terror is never a good idea to get anywhere. Never did anything, never will. So I guess the term nutcase does apply after all.

Michelle

Thanks for pointing out the Baader Meinhof movie, I haven’t heard about it, and now I want to check it out. Just read Hitchens’ review - I think he got it right. Baader Meinof were psychotic “guilty white kids”, mixed with a few thrill seekers.

Are you familiar with Scott Atran? He wrote a book about terrorism not long ago: http://www.amazon.com/Talking-Enemy-Religion-Brotherhood-Terrorists/dp/0061344915

His thesis is that tribalism motivates nearly all political/religious terrorism - not religion itself.

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Posted: 14 September 2013 06:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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mid atlantic - 14 September 2013 01:04 AM
Michelle D. - 12 September 2013 03:07 PM

Good afternoon….

No idea what drives terrorists, but in the case of “Islamic terrorism” there seems to be a lot of similarity with plain, lonely nutcases who don’t have any purpose in life and then get drawn into this stuff in the hope to “become glorious heroes”.

Not so sure if that applies to the IRA or former RAF though. Political terrorism seems a bit different. Christopher Hitchens wrote an interesting review of the movie “The Baader Meinhof Complex”, and both the review and the movie are excellent. In those cases really good ideas went totally overboard killing themselves by their eventual fanaticism, the ideas I mean, since the terrorists weren’t suicidal.

At any rate, terror is never a good idea to get anywhere. Never did anything, never will. So I guess the term nutcase does apply after all.

Michelle

Thanks for pointing out the Baader Meinhof movie, I haven’t heard about it, and now I want to check it out. Just read Hitchens’ review - I think he got it right. Baader Meinof were psychotic “guilty white kids”, mixed with a few thrill seekers.

Are you familiar with Scott Atran? He wrote a book about terrorism not long ago: http://www.amazon.com/Talking-Enemy-Religion-Brotherhood-Terrorists/dp/0061344915

His thesis is that tribalism motivates nearly all political/religious terrorism - not religion itself.

No, never heard of Scott Atran… but I’ll check it out. Thanks!

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Posted: 14 September 2013 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Yeah, just like every theist needs to read Dawkins’s “God Delusion,” every New Atheist ought to read Atran’s book—that is, if they are willing to challenge their faith.

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Posted: 15 September 2013 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Michelle D. - 12 September 2013 03:07 PM

Not so sure if that applies to the IRA or former RAF though. Political terrorism seems a bit different. Christopher Hitchens wrote an interesting review of the movie “The Baader Meinhof Complex”, and both the review and the movie are excellent. In those cases really good ideas went totally overboard killing themselves by their eventual fanaticism, the ideas I mean, since the terrorists weren’t suicidal.

To compare IRA, RAF, and Moslem terrorism would be a huge task. There might be some similarities in the psychology of the terrorists.  I think what they have in common is that the terrorists somehow see their values betrayed, possibly their own personal economical futures. RAF and Moslem terrorists would not have the illusion that they would survive (which is obvious for suicide terrorists, but I cannot believe most RAF terrorists would think they would survive their ‘battle’). At least the IRA was fighting a battle they could think to win, and they knew they had a lot of support from the Catholics, even if many possibly did not support the methods (I am not sure about that at all btw).

On the other side the RAF was not involved in ‘mass killing’. Their killing targets were people they saw as representatives of the capitalist system; or they kept people hostage as blackmail for political demands (like the freeing of Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin).

Moslem terrorists fit the profile of the amok killer best I think. They kill innocent people, among their victims might be even other Moslems who sympathise with them. They don’t know their victims.

Just a few thoughts…

George - 14 September 2013 07:44 AM

Yeah, just like every theist needs to read Dawkins’s “God Delusion,” every New Atheist ought to read Atran’s book—that is, if they are willing to challenge their faith.

Nice way of putting this… You are right.

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Posted: 23 September 2013 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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This is a reaction on Lois’ posting here. I think it fits better here, than in that thread.

Lois - 23 September 2013 08:56 AM

Well, you can always find a way to take belief out of the equation if you try hard enough.

Sorry Lois, we talked about mass suicide killers, not all of other categories of people you bring up here. Of course people also act because of their religious convictions but most of them are not mass suicide killers. To become a terrorist mass suicide killer the main motivation is the same as other amok killers.

Lois - 23 September 2013 08:56 AM

But ask the families of the people who died in the WTC if they think the bombers were poor hapless victims of their religion. 

Sure, they are the experts in the psychology and sociology of terrorism.

Lois - 23 September 2013 08:56 AM

However you look at it, they were driven by belief, just as most suicide bombers and mass murderers are.

You deny the outcomes of scientific research, because it does not fit your prejudices.

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Posted: 23 September 2013 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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GdB - 23 September 2013 09:56 AM

This is a reaction on Lois’ posting here. I think it fits better here, than in that thread.

Lois - 23 September 2013 08:56 AM

Well, you can always find a way to take belief out of the equation if you try hard enough.

Sorry Lois, we talked about mass suicide killers, not all of other categories of people you bring up here. Of course people also act because of their religious convictions but most of them are not mass suicide killers. To become a terrorist mass suicide killer the main motivation is the same as other amok killers.


I did not suggest that everyone who acts because of their religious convictions are anything like mass suicide killers.  You are twisting my statement.  Religion DOES motivate SOME people to engage in horrific inhumane acts.  Do we ignore them because not everyone who is religious is moved to commit such acts? Do we ignore the religious aspect because there are other factors involved?

Lois - 23 September 2013 08:56 AM

But ask the families of the people who died in the WTC if they think the bombers were poor hapless victims of their religion. 

Sure, they are the experts in the psychology and sociology of terrorism.


Does that mean you consider yourself an expert in the sociology of terrorism? After all,you have also presented an opinion on whether religion is behind terrorist acts.  Are you proposing that ALL individuals should avoid expressing their opinions if they are not experts? Does it work that way for you, too? Or are you suggesting that it sis only those who think religion is often a factor in terrorist acts who should not speak up if they are not experts?

Lois - 23 September 2013 08:56 AM

However you look at it, they were driven by belief, just as most suicide bombers and mass murderers are.

You deny the outcomes of scientific research, because it does not fit your prejudices.

As do you. You can find “scientific research” to support any theory you hold.  Please cite the scientific research you allude to.

[ Edited: 23 September 2013 10:27 AM by Lois ]
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Posted: 23 September 2013 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Lois - 23 September 2013 10:20 AM

Please cite the scientific research you allude to.

Read the OP.

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Posted: 23 September 2013 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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GdB - 23 September 2013 10:23 AM
Lois - 23 September 2013 10:20 AM

Please cite the scientific research you allude to.

Read the OP.

I did. I see no mention of scientific research.  I see opinions in articles and books.

The point is it’s a controversial subject and there is no definitive evidence one way or another.  For every citation you provide that shows religion is not a contributing factor, I can provide equally reasonable citations that show it is.

“According to Juergensmeyer, religious terrorism consists of acts that terrify, the definition of which is provided by the witnesses - the ones terrified - and not by the party committing the act; accompanied by either a religious motivation, justification, organization, or world view. Religion is sometimes used in combination with other factors, and sometimes as the primary motivation. Religious Terrorism is intimately connected to current forces of geopolitics.

“Bruce Hoffman has characterized modern religious terrorism as having three traits:

“The perpetrators must use religious scriptures to justify or explain their violent acts or to gain recruits.
Clerical figures must be involved in leadership roles.
Perpetrators use apocalyptic images of destruction to justify the acts.“5

Juergensmeyer 2004, pp. 4–10.
Hoffman 1999, p. 90.
Arquilla et al. 1999, pp. 19–20

Cited in Wikipedia

[ Edited: 23 September 2013 10:43 AM by Lois ]
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Posted: 23 September 2013 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Lois - 23 September 2013 10:31 AM

I did. I see no mention of scientific research.  I see opinions in articles and books.

Yes, you are right. It is just an opinion of criminologist. And Scott Atran is just an anthropologist who did research into the environment and psychology of terrorist suicide killers, e.g. by interviewing (not successful) suicide killers. Your opinion is as good as theirs, or even better.

(Missing the irony tags..)

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