Suicide vest on display in Trinco
It seems something of a tautology. Suicide bombers are suicidal. This is, however, not the dominant view. According to Mia Bloom at Penn State, “You don’t want to conflate the Western ideas of suicide with something that is, in the Middle East, a religious ceremony.” I still find that most western analysts of suicide bombing falter, however, when they make it a Middle Eastern or Muslim thing. The Sri Lankan example is proof that it isn’t and a scientific study of the thing has to go beyond the 9/11 bias of focusing on a strange Muslim threat. I once read a profile of a Sri Lankan suicide bomber in Marie Claire which talked about how she was repeatedly raped at 7 and how other LTTE bombers were from similar background. In that vein, these scholars Williams and Lankford may be on to something when they say that many suicide bombers have suicidal tendencies themselves. The bombing organizers they interviewed, for example, have none.
Islam is an interesting basket that Western media and scholarship puts all kinds of batshit into. This is not accurate however, because most Muslims are not Arab. Most are in Indonesia or India and they don’t exactly fit into the Western analysis. Living in Sri Lanka, I know tons of Muslims as neighbors and friends, a reality which might lead western researchers to question some of their assumptions. I am increasingly of the belief that much of the presentation layer of this life just obscures a simple business logic. That economic and personal concerns predominate. A prior work by Robert Pape presumed that the logic of suicide bombing was more about perceived occupation than religion, which thus squares with Sri Lankan cases.
It is curious, however, that the canon of work on suicide bombers seems to accept religion as an unquestioning motive. The quantity of non-religious bombers in Sri Lanka would seem to disprove this as an explanation for suicide bombing in general, but most people still define it as an Islamic invention and phenomenon. It is neither. As one example, in his interesting book The End Of Faith, Sam Harris details a scene of a suicide bomber entering a bus and concludes ‘Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy – you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it easy – to guess the young man’s religion?’ Well, it’s not. For me the first example that springs to mind is a Hindi/Christian or atheist LTTE suicide bomber. Indeed, until 2000 a significant proportion of suicide bombers were Sri Lankan, almost half. Hardly something you’d bet your life on.
The Sri Lankan case may be an outlier, but I don’t think it’s correct to say that religion is the cause for suicide bombing without looking at other factors. Suicide bombing in Iraq increased after US occupation, for example, while Islam presumably remained relatively constant. As I said before, I’m finding that more and more seemingly ideological issues are actually very bread and butter underneath. The ideology is almost an emergent layer on top of innate human tendencies, like religion itself may be.
Thus, it is interesting to see scholars exploring the idea that suicide bombers may have suicide has part of their motivation (Boston Globe). Thinking about it, we all have an instinct to live, and standing there, the moment before you blow yourself up, ones own life must figure somewhere in your mind.