What motivates the Suicide bomber?

What is the background story?

Al-Shabaab suicide bombers early in the week laid a siege on a Mogadishu hotel with the primary motive of eliminating a retired military General. After a prolonged exchange of fire the three suicide bombers detonated their vests leading to their own demise and the loss of nine other lives. Today, suicide bombing is considered a ‘normal’ and a weapon of choice by most militant groups globally.

What is the considered motivation of a suicide bomber?

The term ‘Suicide bomber’ should be getting out of vogue; suicide is the willing taking of one’s own life. Homicide is the taking of another human’s life. The suicide bomber is both an executioner and a self-immolator. The appropriate term strictly should be a homi-suicide bomber.

Etymology aside, studies have indicated that a homi-suicide bomber’s motivation is due to an explosive mix of desperation, pride, anger, sense of powerlessness, culture and religious fervour.

But why do resistance groups opt for this method?

Suicide bombings have high symbolic value because the willingness of the perpetrators to die signals high resolve and dedication to the cause. Their action also assists in galvanizing popular support, helps to generate financial support for the organization and becomes a source of new recruits for future suicide missions.

Strategically, suicide bombings serve the interests of the sponsoring organization by coercing an adversary to make concessions and by giving the organization an advantage over its rival in terms of support from constituencies.

However, it is both a tactic and a weapon.

Why are suicide bombers generally male?

People tend to have a strong aversion to what they perceive as injustice, with the dark side manifested as revenge. Men attach more value to vengeance than women; and young people are more prepared to act in a vengeful manner than older individuals. It is not surprising, then, to find that most suicide bombers are both young and male. However, there are emergence of female suicide bombers but very few.

How would you rate the success of modern suicide bombers in bringing strategic change?

Tactically, it brings major changes generally on the strengthening of potential targets. On the strategic front, the changes are mainly attributed to the legal angles rarely to a major policy change on the political front.

What is the history of modern Suicide terrorism?

Modern suicide terrorism emerged in the early 1980s and grew to become a familiar phenomenon globally as a form of asymmetric warfare. The capacity of a suicide attack to inflict mass casualties and immense destruction endows its perpetrators with an aura of power that far exceeds the actual strength.

The Tamil Tigers have used it, not infrequently, against their adversaries. It got an added impetus in the Chechnya conflict and the Hizbollah adopted it in the mid-80s. Al Qaeda commercialized it early in the millennium while Islamic State (IS) has recently perfected it. Al Shabab has embraced it.

Could it be that the resistance movements opt for suicide terrorism because it is relatively cheap compared to other weaponry/methods?

Suicide is absolutely unnatural; it is an aberration in creatures whose instinct is to survive.

Suicide terrorism, therefore, is not a cheap weapon as one might think; it is not a one-time spontaneous activity. But rather consider it is a tactic which calls for significant resources if the end state is to be met. Very few communities can willingly give their daughters and sons at their prime of youth to immolate themselves. The individual set for this task  to become a human bomb, may cost an organisation less than a missile   but then the  tasking organisation must  need to invest heavily and systematically  in propaganda designed to build and then maintain that “martyrs cult” if they are to avoid a backlash from relatives and friends and the wider community.

The families of the so called ‘martyrs’ also need to be looked after; funerals are organised and paid for and valedictory clips and movies are made and broadcasted. This calls for a tremendous resources and puts a strain on any group.

The IS and other extremist organisations are, therefore, forced to resort to foreign volunteers, partly to make a statement that it was about their support globally but even more importantly because the foreign volunteers are cheaper in the long run; much cheaper since there are no family ties.

Considering that most suicide terrorism cases have been in a way tied to the Muslim faith, is suicide an Islamic religio-cultural tradition?

That argument dissolves in the counter arguments of history and from the holy writings.

Suicide Terrorism has been part and parcel of human history even before the advent of Islam, the phenomenon appearing among the Jewish Sicaris in the 1st Century, among the Moslem Hashishiyun in the 11th Century, and among the Asians in the 18th Century. During World War II, the Japanese military also perfected the technique of Kamikaze pilots. Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a Tamil Tiger female suicide bomber.

Islam has been around for 1400 years but nothing points to Islam as a religion advocating suicide as a method of fighting the enemy. Not even in their holy writings.

 Muslims link to suicide terrorism can be attributed  to the  relatively  recent introduction  of   suicide bombing by  Hezbollah in 1983 in Lebanon who carried out close to 50 suicide bombings during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Islamic State had also perfected this activity using religion as a motivating factor to rally the world to be suicide bombers.

The Koran states that the punishment for murder is execution unless the survivors waive it. The punishment for suicide is eternal hell and there is no way out.

Once again it needs to be pointed out that the driving force for this act is not religion but a cocktail of motivations ranging from personal to communal.

So what is the future of suicide terrorism?

As a kinetic tactic of causing fear to the larger public, the homi –suicide bomber will persist. Other technological (and deadlier) innovations like use of drones, biological or chemical methods will likely to be more prominent.

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