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Suicide terrorism as a desperate weapon of liberation
by Graeme J. Davidson,
7 November 2009.

See also: Different types of suicide bomber: what makes them tick

There have been Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and nonreligious bombers. Until defeated by the Sri Lankan military earlier this year, most of the former Marxist-Leninist inspired Tamil Tiger suicide bombers were agnostic or atheist. There has been at least one Christian suicide bomber.

....The suicide bomber is the poor rebel’s mobile smart bomb. A fully primed explosive vest can cost around $200. With little training, the bomber usually hits the target, causing carnage that grabs headlines, creates fear and proves the dedication of the terrorists.
Since the modern spate began in Lebanon in 1983, there have been about 2000 suicide bombings worldwide. And they are highly effective. The bombers are responsible for only four percent of terrorist attacks, yet they cause nearly 50 percent of all terrorist-inflicted casualties.
In the West, we shake our heads and wonder how any sane person could do such a terrible thing. We view these human carnage machines as mentally deranged religious extremists seeking martyrdom and 72 virgins in the afterlife. We may think of them as poorly educated young men, unmarried and easily indoctrinated in militant Islamic schools, or madrassas, on holy war. We can also assume the suicide fanatics have widespread popular support among Muslims.
....The facts are different. Although the average suicide terrorist is a male in his early 20s, they have been as young as 11 and in their middle age. Moreover, it’s an equal opportunity job, albeit short-term. Women have blasted themselves and their victims to kingdom come in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Israel, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan. A third of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger suicide bombers were women.
Some female bombers are married with children. In 2004, when 22-year old Reem al-Reyashi detonated herself and killed four Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, she left behind a husband, a 3-year old son and a 1-year old daughter.
.... Incidents like this shake our view of women as nurturers who abhor violence. It also makes nonsense of the old 1970s feminist belief that if women ran the world there’d be no more wars.
....Researchers have found that, apart from recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, suicide volunteers come from all walks of life. They have usually had a good education, are mentally stable and have shown no previous signs of undue militancy or religious fanaticism.
There have been Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and nonreligious bombers. Until defeated by the Sri Lankan military earlier this year, most of the former Marxist-Leninist inspired Tamil Tiger suicide bombers were agnostic or atheist. There has been at least one Christian suicide bomber. He killed himself and four soldiers in East Beirut in 1985.
....Nevertheless, the vast majority have been Muslims. That doesn’t mean, though, that their goal is religious. Religion might inspire – and terrorist leaders exploit religion – but politics is the primary reason for the self-sacrifice.
....In his book Dying to win: the strategic logic of suicide terrorism, Robert Pape argues that there’s "little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions”. He concludes: "The taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism," and maintains that it is "an extreme strategy for national liberation."
....He has a point. There were no reported suicide bombings in Iraq until it was occupied by the US-led military coalition in 2003. After that, it was used as a weapon to destabilise the country and put pressure on the coalition forces to leave. Suicide bombing also became popular as a weapon against US-backed Ethiopian troops when they occupied Somalia. The Taliban are now using it in their fight against the US-backed Pakistan and NATO-supported Afghan governments.
....Yet, despite its nationalist aims, the popularity of suicide bombings against civilian targets has plummeted since its heyday in 2005. According to a recent Pew Research study in Muslim territories, there’s been a huge decline in popular support for Osama bin Laden and suicide terrorism over the last year.
....Even so, there has been another, less obvious casualty from this form of terrorism, especially after the suicide attacks of 9/11. Many of us in the West now view all religion with suspicion and wrongly see those who are passionate about their faith as contributing to bigotry and potential violence. So we react by marginalising religion.



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