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Anthro Identity 1ab3

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Genesis of Suicide Terrorism
Alternative Assignment 2 Question 3

Anthro 1AB3
Dr. Antonio Sorge
March 27th 2013

Question 3: What approaches does Atran suggest to help combat and alleviate the recruitment of suicide bombers?

Suicide bombing is a topic that is not yet fully understood. Researchers and power figures alike are trying to find a way of detecting and preventing the act of suicide bombings. In the given article, they define suicide terrorism as, “the targeted use of self-destructing humans against noncombatant (typically civilian) populations to effect political change” (Atran, 2003, p.p. 1534). Scott Atran discusses a few alternative strategies to help combat and alleviate the recruitment of suicide bombers. Three strategies that Atran looks into are; preventing bombers from reaching targets, raising literacy rates and understanding what psychological and/or cultural relationships are commonly possessed by a suicide bomber (Atran, 2003). In brief, the article goes through defining what suicide terrorism is defined as and how different sides of an audience might see the act differently. One might see the acts as “terrorism” while another’s point of view might see the suicides as “freedom fighters”. Atran looks at the recent history of suicide attacks and then the author brings up the fundamental attribution error. This error happens with this subject because people try to explain suicide bombings by looking at individual personality traits instead of the more influential situational factors affecting the individuals from the larger society. Atran ends with a few suggestions for combating and lessening the recruitment of suicide bombers (Atran, 2003). Firstly, a strategy that has been used for many years is trying to prevent and stop bombers from reaching targets. This is the strategy that is the most expensive and the least likely to succeed according to Atran because of the multitude of vulnerable and likely targets (Atran, 2003). Even though Atran believes this is a bad alternative, there are many tactics that large countries who have sufficient resources use to protect military targets against attack. One method of preventing attacks is using an analytical approach to terrorist clubs and suicide attacks. Researchers analyze the possibility of apprehension by looking at the probability that the attacker is caught and assuming that apprehension exposes the identity of all operatives. With more growth and resources within a country comes more funds to use on protection and more research like what was just stated to detect attacks (Scwartz, Dunkel, Waterman, 2009). It is very hard to have a fool proof method for defense and while some countries have money to spend on research for analytical approaches the might work, most countries can only spend money on random bag or body searches. These searches are not very effective against people willing to die. The odds of randomly catching someone in the act are not very high. Random bag searches do although give a sense of security to civilians that help a country with psychological defense against warfare (Atran, 2003). Things can be done to try to mitigate risk against destruction and hopefully catch some attacks, but this strategy would not be the best strategy to invest in overall. Another strategy addressed by Atran in the given article was the idea of rising literacy rates. This is another strategy that Atran doesn’t believe in because he argues that suicide terrorists are often labeled as cowards that want to senselessly destruct things and who comes from poverty and ignorance. Research now indicates that suicide terrorists have no common psychopathology and are as educated and economically well off as their adjoining populations (Atran, 2003). Before more research was around to indicate that suicide bombers were usually average members of society, the general population expected suicide bombers to have the same intentions as other criminals involved in different sorts of crimes. Economist Gary Becker created a model saying that,
“Criminals are rational individuals acting on self-interest. Individuals choose illegal activity if rewards exceed probability of detections and incarceration together with expected loss of income from legal activity.” (Atran, 2003, p.p.1536)
Becker also said that criminals usually lack skill and education and that by calculating their opportunity costs, they figured out that crimes pays. These theories do not account for all types of crimes because in the case of a suicide bombing, the criminal doesn’t benefit. They sacrifice themselves for the sake of their religion and their nation. Suicide terrorists are normally not missing out on opportunities in relation to the average population before they choose to become part of the terrorist organization (Atran, 2003). Even leaders of suicide attackers tend to have the same income levels as the general population but have higher educational levels. Higher education levels within these terrorist groups might be necessary because the harder the target, the more selective the leaders need to be for their team. Not only do the leaders need to be well educated to lead a large organized group but everyone in the trusted team would be needed to execute the right plan (Berman, Laitin, 2008). Another reason higher literacy levels could be a bad thing is that it could translate into greater exposure of terrorist propaganda. As literacy increases, dislike for the United States has increased with the number of religious Madrasa schools recently created. The more the groups’ views gets exposure, the more people will be willing to join the cause (Atran, 2003).
An alternative to helping these countries internally could be instead giving these countries different opportunities for people to join groups that are less destructive. Giving people opportunities to get involved within a group of their peers would help reduce the attractiveness of terrorist ideologies. Instead of providing better opportunities for better literacy level, maybe other countries should focus on providing opportunities to envision more attractive ways of living in the community doing things not associated with a terrorist lifestyle (Scwartz, Dunkel, Waterman, 2009). Lastly Atran discusses looking into more research to determine psychological and/or cultural relationships that are commonly possessed by a suicide bomber. There are up to millions of ordinary people getting involved with terrorist organizations. More studies need to be developed to better understand how these terrorist institutions form. Similarities and differences need to be discovered between the different organizational structures, recruiting practices and populations that the organizations recruit from to join these organizations (Atran, 2003).
There is research on whether suicide bombers are actually suicidal. Suicide bombers do go into their attacks intending to die but if they do not complete their mission, they will be condemned by their homeland with a one-way ticket to hell. Suicide bombings are primarily motivated by collective goals while suicide on its own is principally motivated by individual goals. Rational and psychologically healthy people can suddenly become suicidal depending on a range of social contextual and situational factors (Lankford, 2011). As mentioned earlier most research concludes that suicide terrorists span their population’s normal distribution in terms of education, socioeconomic status and personality type. Except for being young and unmarried males, suicide bombers do not share much more in common with each other. There are no attributes that one would think a suicide bomber would possess that would probe other human beings to turn towards depression and suicide (Atran, 2003).
As of now the only critical factor determining suicide terrorism is thought of as faithfulness towards an army of peers in which recruiting groups often encourage though religious communion. Social recognition occurs only after death and leaders promise their terrorist groups that their families will be safe in the future because of their acts (Atran, 2003). Other than a strong religious loyalty, more need to be determined about the type of person who joins a terrorist suicidal organization. A lot of the possible solutions towards combating and alleviating the recruitment of suicide bombers are inconclusive. Spending large sums on money towards preventing suicide bombings seems like a bad strategy because of how expensive and unlikely to succeed this alternative is. There are so many targets and people to check when attempting to prevent suicide bombings from happening and it is often not worth it. The popular misconception of eliminating poverty and rising literacy rates to eliminate inhabitants from willingly joining these organizations could potentially backfire into more suicidal terrorist organizations. Atran believes an effective way to defend against suicidal bombing would be to better understand configurations of the civilians joining the organizations. There is some speculation regarding what makes a person join these organized groups but not enough is out to show much of a relationship between all of them.


Atran, Scott
2003 Genesis of Suicide Terrorism. Science (NS) 299 (5612): 1534-1539.

Berman, Eli., Laitin, David D..
2008 Religion, Terrorism and Public Goods: Testing the Club Model, in Journal of Public Economics. 92: pp 1945–1967.

Lankford, Adam.
2011 Could Suicide Terrorist Actually be Suicidal, in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. ed. 34: pp 337-366.

Schwartz, Seth J., Dunkel, Curtis., Waterman, Alan S..
2009 Terrorism: An Identity Theory Perspective, in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. ed. 32: pp 537–559.

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