American Suicide Bombers

*Editor’s note: I had begun collecting my resources for this article when the shooting in Oregon happened, not when the newest American psychopath shot kids learning. The initial post took time to make so I decided to wait until the next shooting happened (pretty dark but let’s be real, in this country it WILL happen again) Just want to make clear it was already in my thought bucket. Another editor’s note: use this map for references. The shootings in Oregon and Connecticut and more recently California make me wonder: how much are mass shooters different from suicide bombers? Let’s highlight some similarities and differences.

As a co-worker of mine pointed out, suicide bombers are usually motivated by religion or politics but are almost always communally (meaning as part of a societal/ movement struggle) motivated- or they did it for the good of a community. To the best of my knowledge, no suicide bomber has detonated themselves all over a elementary school to just do it (until recently). A tangential thing to mention is that Kamikaze pilots of World War Two and Vietnam bombers were communally motivated i.e. a armed political/ economic struggle. Obviously the means and methods by which both types of people orchestrate their mayhem differs. Suicide bombers, as the name suggests, bomb; shooters shoot (bullets). Also, most suicide bombers volunteer through an organization- Hamas, Al Qaeda or the Tamil Tigers- whereas most US shooters are lone operators.

“Contrary to the popular image that suicide terrorism is an outcome of irrational religious fanaticism, suicide bombing attacks are resolutely a politically-motivated phenomenon.” In addition, the Yale study contends that, “Humiliation, revenge and altruism appear to play a key role at the organizational and individual levels in shaping the sub-culture that promotes suicide bombings.”As I look over this list of shooters in the U.S., I notice quite a few with the tick mark of being flagged as mentally unstable (and obtaining guns illegally). One would think suicide bombers are also the local loonie toon, but numerous studies have said this is not the case. While I believe suicide bomber candidates are certainly brainwashed and taken advantage of by terrorist leaders, I also find it rather hard to believe they are mentally ill. A warped reality? Yes. Crazy? No. In contrast, when the police do take a shooter alive, they are later found to be beer nuts nuts. Well, what about religion? Isn’t that a popular motivator for a suicide bomber? 70 something virgins and all that? Well yes, of course religion plays a role, I hardly think many kill themselves without thinking about where they are going. Where it gets sticky is whether religion is the sole factor in a bombers decision to push the button. WTF am I talking about? This. And this. And this. The Yale study makes an interesting point,

I will stop being lazy and copy and pasting and just say that the Yale study also says that after the Abu Gharib prison scandal in Iraq that suicide bombings soared. Researchers concluded that it was the fact that Iraqis felt humiliated that they felt compelled to strap on bombs.

One of the truly interesting things I found and one similarity between our two groups is depression. This story reported on in the Boston Globe told the story of a young Afghani man who, instead of killing as many people as possible, went into a back bathroom of an internet cafe to just die “alone” (still killed two). Researchers concluded and the man’s friends agreed that the man was just…depressed. This is in line with researchers looking at motives and causes of mass shooters in the United States.

Whatever the causes or motives, one thing is sure: the perpetrators of such atrocities get some fame.Many (here and here too) in the United States have accused the media for immortalizing and- to certain minds- glorifying gratuitous violence. Similarly, there is the shaheed, linked to Middle Eastern culture. The title of shaheed, meaning “witness,” or “martyr,” is traditionally given to those that die for “holy causes” (and let’s remember one’s version of “holy cause” can differ from your version of it). This culture could not be complete without videos such as these and posters such as these:

In the end, the obvious thing to do is denounce all violence, whatever its cause or reason. To fight only stiffens the other sides resolve, which stiffens your resolve, which stiffens their resolve, which stiffens my fingers from writing out the whole cycle again and again. Whatever the reason for a shooting or bombing, the result is usually the same: sorrow and dead bodies. Maybe I am too idealistic when I say it, but maybe a renewed focus on the aftermath of these horrendous tragedies and not their causes can lead us to a solid solution.

Additional reading:


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