THE MYTH OF MARTYRDOM - What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers, written by Adam Lankford, is an interesting read. Lankford rejects the prevailing view of suicide terrorists as radicalized individuals who will do anything for a cause and asserts, they are merely unhappy, damaged individuals who want to die.
This idea is interesting, but I don't buy it. I know quite a few experts who would disagree also. Let's look at one chapter in the book, The Myth Of Martyrdom:
Chapter Four - The Truth About 9/11.
Mohamed Atta is the Most infamous and influential suicide terrorist in human history.
As the ringleader of the nineteen hijackers who struck on September 11, 2001, and the first pilot to crash into the World Trade Center towers, Atta directly brought about the death of nearly three thousand Americans. In addition, he indirectly triggered the United States' "Global War On Terror," along with it's costly invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Recent estimates have put the toll in those wars at nearly $4 trillion and approximately 225,000 civilians and soldiers dead.1
It's conceivable that, if not for Atta, most of those funds could have been dedicated to more humane purposes, and most of those victims would still walk among us.
Stunningly, considering his importance, Atta has been fundamentally misunderstood for more than a decade. For instance, presidential campaign adviser and political scientist Robert Pape has claimed that Atta was relatively normal, and that he was "not readily characterized as depressed, not unable to enjoy life, not detached from friends and society."2 He further asserts that Atta's "psychological history, motivations, and behavior do not appear terribly different from those of ... many soldiers from many cultures who saw their societies desperate struggles for survival."3
Others have similarly suggested hat Atta's actions were solely the product of his ideological commitment to the cause, "not individual psychology."4 According to this view, Atta was just following orders. As former CIA expert and renowned government consultant Jerrold Post has explained, "as we've come to understand, the terrorists involved in 9/11 had subordinated their individuality to the group. And whatever their destructive charismatic leader, Osama bin Laden said was the right thing to do for the sake of the cause was what they would do."5 For them, he insists, "Osama bin Laden [was] an almost God-like figure."6
The facts say otherwise. When Atta was in Germany, some other Islamic fundamentalists would praise bin Laden to the heavens. But Atta remained skeptical and unconvinced. Unlike the others, he said that maybe bin Laden was a great man -- or maybe not.7
No -- the truth is that Atta had his own agenda. Like many suicidal people, he was not willing to take his own life until he was ready: he wouldn't be rushed into it, and it needed to be on his terms. In fact, unlike a professional soldier or ideologically committed Green Beret, he was willing to jeopardize the mission's success in order to meet his own objectives.
See what I mean. An interesting read, interesting perspectives, thought provoking, and sure to be debated by terrorism experts, psychologists, and all others concerned with not just terrorists but with mass murders who end their killing spree by committing suicide. Other chapters include: What Real Heroes Are Made Of; Murder-Suicide: The Natural Comparison; The Four Types of Suicide Terrorists; Mission Impossible? How to Stop Suicide Terrorism.
About the Author
Adam Lankford is a criminal justice professor at The University of Alabama. His research has been featured by media outlets such as Foreign Policy, The Daily Beast, CNN, NPR, The Atlantic, and The Boston Globe. From 2003 to 2008, Lankford helped coordinate anti-terrorism efforts in conjunction with the U.S. State Department's Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. Lankford has written for The Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, and many peer-reviewed journals, and is the author of Human Killing Machines. He lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
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