I am taking a Terrorism class at Penn State's Online World Campus. My teacher only told us to pick a topic that is related to what we have studied in the course and write a 8-9 page paper on it. I chose suicide bombers. This essay is worth 40% of my grade, so I really need to do well. I feel that I have done alright, but I am looking for some editing and feedback. This is my first draft so I am sure there will be some basic mistakes... more importantly, I would like feedback on the flow of the paper, organization of information, and general thesis.
Thank you very much!! I am sorry for how long it is....
Terrorism can be defined as "The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes." Of course, the business of intimidating the masses and shaking political foundations can be expensive, tactically difficult, and dangerous. As a result, terrorist organizations have had to become creative in their searches for low-cost but highly destructive and public types of attacks. Whereas political assassinations are certainly effective, they do not always stand the test of time nor do they have the ability to foster overwhelming feelings of helplessness and humiliation. Since the early 1980s both fundamental and secular terrorist organizations have been utilizing suicide bombers for their violent agendas. Most notably, the use of suicide bombers has evolved almost as rapidly as the organizations themselves; these tactics when masked with religious motivations are designed to reveal the weaknesses of the respective governments as well as terrify the public. There is no certain demographic for the suicide bomber although; motivations, life events, and community approval seem to be common traits through all the terrorist organizations that use this type of tactic. The following will explore the evolution, effects, causes, and candidates for suicide missions of the "human precision missile".
When thinking of suicide bombers the American tragedy, 9/11, often comes to mind. One is reminded of that fateful morning where an American icon was destroyed and a handful of jihadists fulfilled what they believe to be their destiny, in the process of which they took the lives of all too many American citizens. Al Qaeda, the organization behind the 9/11 attack, is most known for Islam extremism. The main goal of the organization is to cleanse the earth of the Great Satan (the United States) and Little Satan (Israel). Although Al Qaeda is best known for their jihadists (holy warriors) and its extremist religious beliefs, the motivations behind their suicide bombings are not entirely religious. It is important to examine the way that fundamental terrorist organizations use suicide attacks because the two actions are so contradicting. However, it is in the way that the "trainers" of suicide candidates tend to spin the religious text, along with a set of previous life events which these terrorists are able to believe they are righting a wrong and bringing pride and justice back to their community. In actuality the motivations behind suicide tactics are to hurt as many people as possible, gain as much public attention, and create overwhelming feelings of helplessness in order to achieve their own political goals.
While there are several different organizations known for using suicide tactics including; Al Qaeda, Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Al Aqsar Martyrs Brigade, Al Ansar Mujahidin, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Syrian Socialist Nation Party (SSNP/PPS), it is important to note that not all of these organizations are religious fanatics but rather a combination of secular and fundamental groups. Before discussing the evolution of suicide tactics it is important to understand its beginnings. The 9/11 attacks were by no means the first major suicide bombing of a terrorist organization, but rather one of many before and after. The use of suicide bombers began in the 1980s and was primarily used by the LTTE. The LTTE is an organization in Sri Lanka created to fight for the independence of Tamil, in the northern Sri Lanka. Currently the LTTE commit the largest number of suicide bombings accounting for ninety percent with 1,080 attacks between 1981 and 2009.iv While the LTTE was not the first to use suicide bombings as a tactic, nor was it the first organization to use women as their combatants they are significant because of to their recruiting, training, and large number of attacks. The LTTE is known for recruiting orphans and refugees; who are typically women. These "trainees" are given a special status and told that they are needed to accomplish a common goal for the community therefore they are very important. Part of the reason the LTTE has an easier time of recruiting as well as conducting these attacks is that Sri Lanka has a weak politicians and officials within the community; this makes a perfect environment for the LTTE to take the law into their own hands.ii
The LTTE certainly needs to be mentioned in a discussion about suicide bombers due to its ferocity and vast number of attacks, but as mentioned before they were not the first to use this tactic – much less to use women. Normally when one thinks about the typical suicide bomber, they imagine a young man but terrorist organizations are finding there are many benefits to using females as their combatants. In many societies where suicide bombings are regular occurrences there is also a prominent separation of the sexes. Women in these countries tend to be treated like second-class citizens, and as a result they are often ignored. Many places also refuse to do a body search on a woman for either religious or cultural reasons; in addition they have the ability to conceal a bomb more easily simply by disguising it as a pregnant belly. The first known female suicide bomber was from the SSNP organization in 1985; when a 16-year-old girl drove a truck into an Israeli Defense Force convoy and killed two soldiers. While many religious organizations are hesitant to use women as their suicide bombers (often referring to them as the equivalent of a "reserve army") more terrorist leaders are finding that when an attack is carried out by a woman there is not only physical and political damage, but also the humiliation of being attacked by a female.
The origins and types of organizations that use suicide bombers have been briefly explained. The next logical questions to answer are "Who is the suicide bomber? What persuades someone to give their life for an end result that they will never see?" While there is no definitive demographic for a suicide bomber (these individuals varying in age, sex, ethnicity, politics, religion, color, and geography)ii a common link in past events, need for change within the government, poor community conditions and image, as well psychological manipulation all seem present among these individuals. The act of committing suicide is normally committed by one with low self-esteem and severe depression; it is an act of desperation and a final attempt to end pain. Not surprisingly, the individuals who commit suicide strongly believe that the world will be better off because they are no longer a part of it. However, suicide bombers are on a complete opposite end of the spectrum. When these individuals are about to execute an attack their self-esteem is very high, they feel as though they are special, unique, important, as well as a martyr for a greater cause. Like the individual who commits suicide these suicide bombers believe the world will be better when they're gone, although their belief rests in that they have made the world better because they died for their cause.
Typically it is easiest to recruit younger individuals as part of entering adulthood comes with a desire for rebellion and importance. Terrorist recruiters who find potential candidates for their suicide missions often look for pre-teen to young adults who come from neglectful homes, have been directly humiliated by the perceived enemy, are looking for someone to fill the void their parents could not. As a child grows it is very important that their relationship to their parents (be it both or even just one) is an encouraging and affectionate one. Without that strong bond between child and parent "cracks" begin to form in their personality where the ability for trust and affection would normally be. Furthermore, a direct event of humiliation from the perceived enemy these young adults are fueled with aggression and the recruiters are right there to give them an outlet. It is important when looking for potential suicide bombers to find people that have been directly hurt by the perceived enemy rather than just suffering from a general feeling of oppression. When these young adults suffer the loss of a loved one, physical abuse, public humiliation, or even the destruction of their property at the hands of their enemy the willingness to retaliate is much stronger.iii
Part of being in a terrorist organization is giving up one's "sense of self" and individual identity as well as embracing the "group identity." As new recruits join the organization they, are told they must keep their affiliation and intentions secret being given this immense responsibility fosters a feeling of independence and self-worth within the individual. They begin to see themselves a part of the group with only the group's best intentions in mind. In order for optimal functionality, it is important for suicide bombers to lose all sense of personal identity and simply feel as though they are an extension of the organization. One example that shows this sort of personality shaping was observed by Vamik D. Volkan while he was in Lebanon. Volkan was at a Palestinian orphanage (Biet Atfal al-Sommoud) and happened to meet five infant survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982. He noticed that these five children acted completely normal as long as they were together, almost as though they were a team. However, when they were broken apart, the children would become angry and severely agitated – this issue being resolved as soon as the "team" was brought back together. Volkan had asked with the help of a translator to interview each of the children separately, but this could not happen as one of the children started hallucinating and another even went as far as to tear apart the interview room. After noting this phenomenon, Volkan concludes that (at least within the Aramaic cultures) suicide bombers struggle with their personal identity, this makes the terrorist organization so appealing because it offers a group identity.iii
The use of women as suicide bombers is becoming more common among many terrorist organizations, making up about thirty to forty percent of the suicide bombers.vi The motivations for joining these organizations to become a suicide bomber is the same for women as it is for men, although it allows the women of these cultures to play a more active role in their lives. Many times, females in non-democratic war torn countries are almost the equivalent to property or slaves. When they join these terrorist organizations and devote their lives mission to becoming a suicide bomber, suddenly they are in control of their lives and destiny as well as being able to overthrow the culture that seems to be at fault for "enslaving" them.
As mentioned earlier, the beliefs of the suicide bomber as compared to the typical person who commits suicide is vastly different. The suicide bomber expirences pride, justice, and belief of superiority and uniqueness through their death. This is clearly an abnormal emotional response to suicide; leading many to believe that the suicide bomber is psychotic. In fact, this could not be farther from the truth; individuals who devote their lives to this kind of destruction are normal people who not only psychologically stable but have deep ties with their communities.iii Aside from the fact that these individuals lack a personal identity, tend to have a difficult time with trust and an affinity for aggression (this trait of course being encouraged by the terrorist organization) they are normal citizens. This, of course, is part of the reason they can be so difficult to find. Therefore, it is never obvious who the suicide bombers are because being as blended and normal as possible is crucial to their missions.
Individuals enter terrorist organizations with the intention to become "martyrs" or suicide bombers, it is not only to satisfy their own desires of heroism but to protect the people they love. Many times recruiters will promise that the families of these suicide bombers will be taken care of; that through their death the common goal of the organization will be reached thereby making life better for everyone. In return, not only do they feel a rush of self-esteem, but their deaths are celebrated just as much as wedding ceremonies. In many of the Islamist extremist terrorist organizations, they are also promised eternal rewards in Heaven by Allah.iii Organizations like LTTE and PKK are more motivated through ethno-nationalist beliefs and therefore are not promised heavenly rewards for their deaths; although they are treated as though they are special warriors, which still feeds the need for recognition and appraisal. v
The origins and organizations that use suicide tactics, the types of people that become suicide bombers, and the abnormality of their beliefs but stability of their mental health have been briefly explored. It would make sense to conclude if the suicide bomber is not psychotic, and they are not being forced into making these decisions (coerced perhaps but not forced), one must assume that the culture and community in which they live is the catalyst for these types of actions. In part this is true; however, it is in a terrorist organizations nature to act outside of the "norm" of their culture. It is through unbelievable acts of violence and widespread fear that they can accomplish their goals. It is when the community becomes accustomed to these types of attacks and sees them as a part of the trials of everyday life the environment begins to reinforce the negative cycle.
The primary purpose of suicide tactics is to manipulate the public into believing that they are completely helpless. By successfully executing their missions these organizations show the public that their officials and politicians cannot protect them. Without a new form of leadership and change, death and chaos will become a daily part of life. These types of tactics work best in areas where there is already a weak government. The attacks allow people to believe that their government can no longer protect them or relieve any their emotional stress. As a result the public turns to the terrorist organization. It is through this type of strategy that the terrorist organizations challenge their governments instead of pushing them to make changes for the better. The normal response of most governments to retaliate in the same manner to which the terrorist organization initially executed, but attacking and killing someone who was already ready to die is not an effective response. Instead, it simply continues the cycle of violence and throws the public right in the middle of a war (the public already being the biggest target and victims in these types of power struggles).
Suicide tactics are difficult to battle because they are chaotic and random. This is not to say that the planning that goes into executing one of these missions is lacking, but that the strike itself is meant to hit as many people as possible when they least expect it. Terrorist organizations like to utilize suicide tactics for several key reasons: they are a low-cost operation (because no escape route or rescue mission is required) they increase the likelihood of death/casualties as well as extensive damage, there is no fear that interrogated terrorists will release vital information because they are already prepared to die, and it has a huge impact on the public and media.vi
The massive growth and evolution of technology and wireless networking has benefited greatly these organizations and their operations. Terrorist organizations are separated by cells; these cells are loosely connected and in some cases seem to work independently. Virtual communication has made it so that cells can have contact with each other and remain under the radar. This technique makes it very difficult to not only infiltrate terrorist cells and organizations but also to identify leaders or determine what attacks are being planned. Terrorist organizations are interesting in the fact that they also learn from each other's mistakes without every communicating with each other. When an organization attempts an attack and is not successful, other groups will look to see what went wrong and try to correct that error for their own purposes.
The best approach to handling suicide attacks seems to dismantle it in the early stages of planning. Once the suicide bomber has their mission planned and is on route to complete their task it is nearly impossible to stop them; there is no guarantee that if they are caught they will not detonate the bomb early. It is also important to note that capturing, interrogating, or even killing someone who is already planning to die is not an effective response. However, if intelligence comes to light about an attack being planned and officials can take the main players of the mission into custody they can stop that particular event.
Scrambling to find information about every suicide bombing would take massive amounts of manpower and money (something that most of the countries do not have). Regardless of the efforts there would still be a few events that slip through the cracks. The question becomes, "How does a government work to reduce or stop the number of suicide bombings within its country?" The answer is through heightened international scrutiny as well as preventive and proactive measures.ii
One may commonly hear that there are no negotiations with terrorists, but that statement should really have an asterisk after it. While it is not beneficial or productive to give into all of the demands of a terrorist organization, it is important always to leave the door open for a peaceful resolution. Many of these organizations are working to change oppressive or weak governments (albeit through violent and destructive measures). This is a difficult area to define when a government should and should not work with terrorist organizations. It is true that many terrorists who use suicide tactics rarely give up their trend of violence, even after negations have been carried out. For example, the Palestinian Authority still engages in suicide attacks through the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. These terrorist organizations will often take advantage of peaceful times and train their militaries, increasing their capabilities and stockpiles should the need arise again. It is important for governments to offer that option of peace though because should an organization seriously want to give up violence they need an easy way to enter mainstream politics. Many people will resort to terrorism because of injustices, humiliations, or ignorance; but as humans we always function better in a peaceful society, one not dominated by suffering, pain, injuries, loss, and death.
Simply creating a peaceful alternative for terrorists is not enough; governments also need to work on the deficiencies within their countries. Many social and economic approaches exist to help improve struggling communities. As Dr. Rojan Gunaratna suggests, rewards that lead to the arrest of recruiting agents, or information that disrupts an attack while it is being planned or prepared encourages the public to rely more on the government instead of the terrorist organization. These rewards also encourage the public to identify members and affiliates of terrorist organizations instead of keeping quiet or even supporting their actions. Formal and informal education about where they go after death is also beneficial, especially in countries dominated by fundamental terrorist organizations. Part of the recruiter's job (in fundamental organizations) is to convince the potential suicide bomber that they will be rewarded in Heaven for their death on Earth. However, by informing the public that their religious text does not condone suicide in any form or that they will not be rewarded, can help deter interest in becoming a martyr. It is important that governments work to improve the conditions in which their people live; this means taking more measures to raise their standard of living, provide better education, more employment, creating better relations with their communities, and meeting the legitimate goals and grievances of those they who have suffered in the past.ii When a country's people are happy and content with their lives and government they will be much less likely to turn to violent actions and support of terrorist organizations.
Ultimately, there is an abundance of variables that influence terrorist organizations as well as individuals to take action through suicide bombings. Furthermore, it should be noted that these groups of people do not focus on rationality or follow any formal set of rules or laws. Terrorist organizations seek to push their own agendas and cause as much death, destruction, and fear as possible. Suicide bombings are the perfect event to cause massive and overwhelming sense of helplessness and fear. While these individuals may feel as if they are committing a heroic action they are, in fact, helping destroy the community they seek to save. There must always be an option for peace for these organizations; governments must work more to improve the social and economic conditions in which their citizens live. Through proactive and preventative measures as well as increased scrutiny when it comes to international security governments can set up a defense against organizations that use suicide tactics. Terrorist organizations are growing and evolving entities, one must understand that there will always be a new type of tactic designed to strike fear into as many people as possible. Similarities can be seen between the suicide bombers ambitions and the parable about the frog and scorpion. The frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river if the scorpion would not sting him. Halfway through their journey the scorpion stung the frog in the back and poisoned him. The frog cried out to the scorpion, "You have killed us both, why would you do that?" and the scorpion simply replied, "It is just my nature." Just as it is in the scorpion's nature to kill, so it is the terrorist's nature to be as destructive as possible.