Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Professor Clark R. McCauley Jr. on Nasra Hassan and Suicide Bombers

Clark R. McCauley Jr.
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.

"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.
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:
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?

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At 6:09 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

There is a theory about the mechanisms of revolutions (I forget who coined it) that says the four indispensible ingredients for revolution are money, weapons, a vanguard of idealists and criminals and a flock of retards and outcasts. Note the absence of "popular support".

Just a tangential thought. What I really came to write is that the Palestinian case appears to be exceptional as far as the quality of the martyrs is concerned. In Iraq, Af-Pak and South Asia the typical self-detonator is apparently almost exclusively from the latter above-mentioned group, namely retards (in the clinical sense), and outcasts.

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I had the same thought. The Palestinian suicide bombers are an elite (or were in the 1990s); the others you note are of considerably less quality.

I suspect that the Hizbullah suicide bombers are an elite similar to the Palestinian ones.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. The interviews only focus on one area (Palestine). I still maintain the Atran/Pape studies together have a larger (and more varied) sample size.

2. ''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.''

I think this pretty much refutes your entire argument. You’re trying to argue that in these people’s minds, getting into heaven is a bigger motivator (or at least on par with) seeing your family and friends die in front of you. But it clearly isn’t. The Palestinians are in a state of war and every time Israel attacks them, they retaliate. Here are some other quotes from Hassan’s study:

‘’If our wives and children are not safe from Israeli tanks and rockets, theirs will not be safe from our human bombs”

‘’After every massacre, every massive violation of our rights and defilement of our holy places, it is easy for us to sweep the streets for boys who want to do a martyrdom operation” (Hassan, 2001).

Suicide bombings increase after violent Israeli incursions. The simplest explanation of these facts is that political grievances trigger a desire for revenge in some people. Paradise in may help them work up the gumption to blow themselves up when it comes to it. But these people decide to blow themselves up long before their trainers focus their attention on Paradise. (By the way, in one of his papers Atran said that a majority of those interviewed said they wouldn’t resort to suicide bombing if they felt they could achieve the same goals with a roadside bombs. Hardly the thinking of people whose biggest motivation is getting to afterlife as soon as possible.) The question we should ask is this: if these people did not believe in paradise but were in the same circumstances, would they resort to terrorism? The history of non Muslim terrorism and suicide bombing suggests that they would.

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, we clearly disagree. The pious Palestinians who volunteer already believe in paradise and its rewards and need no convincing about that. The conflict with Israel provides a radicalizing trigger.

You counter, "[I]f these people did not believe in paradise but were in the same circumstances, would they resort to . . . [suicide bombing]? The history of non Muslim . . . suicide bombing suggests that they would."

I deleted "terrorism" because that blurs the issue. I think that the history of non-Muslim suicide bombing largely suggests the opposite. Otherwise, we would see the widespread use of suicide bombing as a tactic among non-Muslims under oppression. It isn't widespread.

The Tamil Tigers were apparently a notable counter-example because they, reportedly, did not consider an afterlife reward awaiting them. (I presume that they also didn't expect to be reincarnated in better circumstances, though I'm curious what they did think about that.) They would seem to have had to be content with a final ritual feast in the presence of their leader, glory among their fellow Tamils, and a belief that sacrificing themselves for the good of their community was worth the cost, this third being a justification for suicide of a type that Durkheim investigated.

But this counter-example does not tell us why other groups might use suicide bombing as a tactic. We have to look at the ideology that a specific group uses as justification. In the case of Muslim suicide bombers, you yourself note that "Paradise . . . may help them work up the gumption to blow themselves up when it comes to it." This acknowledges paradise as a motivation. You and I differ on the degree played by this motive, so I think we've reached a basic disagreement about degree and perhaps just have to agree to disagree.

Jeffery Hodges

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