Professor Clark R. McCauley Jr. on Nasra Hassan and Suicide Bombers
Department of Psychology
Bryn Mawr College
In my recent blog entry on Nasra Hassan's findings about suicide bombers, I didn't post the number of interviews she had conducted -- though I knew it to be a considerable number -- but I found that information in an article by Clark McCauley analyzing the 9/11 suicide bombers, "Understanding the 9/11 Perpetrators: Crazy, Lost in Hate, or Martyred?" (Ideologies of War; originally published in N. Matuszak (Ed.), History Behind the Headlines: The Origins of Ethnic Conflicts Worldwide, Volume 5, pp. 274-286. New York: Gale Publishing Group, 2002). In this article by McCauley, concerning the number of interviews conducted and the reasons found for the suicide bombers' actions, we read:
Nasra Hassan, a Pakistani woman and a Muslim, has interviewed over 200 Palestinians involved in "martyrdom operations" against Israel. Interviewees included young men who had volunteered as suicide bombers, organizers and trainers of the bombers, and the families of successful bombers. Young men are not so much recruited for martyrdom as selected from a flood of applicants that rises with every Israeli military incursion against Palestinians and with every Mossad (Israeli secret service) assassination of Palestinian militant leaders. Those selected must be over eighteen, unmarried, and without family responsibilities. Until recently the bombers were all male, but this barrier fell in January 2002 with the first suicide bombing carried out by a female, Wafa Idris, a 27-year-old nursing-aide from a refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank.Note the complex of motives. McCauley focuses upon the promise of paradise, but he also notes the anti-Israeli aspect. These correspond to what might be called a predispositional motive and a radicalizing motive, respectively. In his conclusion, which focuses on the 9/11 suicide bombers, McCauley says this:
"None of the suicide bombers -- they ranged in age from eighteen to thirty-eight -- conformed to the typical profile of the suicidal personality. None of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle class and, unless they were fugitives, held paying jobs. More than half of them were refugees from what is now Israel. Two were the sons of millionaires. They all seemed to be entirely normal members of their families. They were polite and serious, and in their communities they were considered to be model youths. Most were bearded. All were deeply religious" (Hassan, 2001). Except for the beards, this description might equally be a description of the 9/11 attackers.
Each Palestinian martyr is prepared for his mission by a 'trainer' and accompanied everywhere during his last week by two 'assistants' to support his resolve. A member of Hamas described the preparation to Hassan, "We focus his attention on Paradise, on being in the presence of Allah, on meeting the Prophet Muhammad, on interceding for his loved ones so that they, too, can be saved from the agonies of Hell, on the houris, and on fighting the Israeli occupation and removing it from the Islamic trust that is Palestine." With the exception of specific reference to Israel and Palestine, this might equally be a summary of the content of [Mohammed] Atta's [9/11] manual. Thus the motivation of Palestinian volunteers is very similar to that represented in the "manual": a promise of immediate reward in heaven and remission of punishment for sin.
The 9/11 attacks are not to be understood as the product of individual pathology or pathological hatred. Polls suggest that only relatively few Muslims may hate the U.S., but even if the 9/11 attackers came from among those few, the attackers themselves, as judged by Atta's manual, did not act out of hate. Rather they understood themselves to be doing God's will; they gave their lives in a rush for paradise rather than for the satisfaction of punishing their enemies.In short, McCauley holds that whatever might happen to radicalize suicide bombers, religious motives -- by analogy to the 9/11 attacks -- play an overwhelming role, a point that he supports with reference to Hassan's finding. I agree that the religious motive, the predisposition, is overwhelming for the would-be suicide bomber, as we see in the cases of 9/11 and the Palestinians, but without a radicalizing trigger, few Muslims would be willing to blow themselves up.
What therefore constitutes a trigger?