El menosprecio al terrorismo suicida

The past three years saw more suicide attacks than the last quarter
century. Most of them were religiously motivated. Repeated suicide actions
show that massive counterforce alone does not diminish the frequency
or intensity of suicide attack. Like pounding mercury with a hammer, this
sort of top-heavy counterstrategy only seems to generate more varied and
insidious forms of suicide terrorism. Even with many top Al Qaeda leaders
now dead or in custody, the transnational jihadist fraternity is transforming
into a hydra-headed network more difficult to fight than before.
Poverty and lack of education per se are not root causes of suicide terrorism.
Nor do Muslims who have expressed support for martyr actions and
trust in Osama bin Laden or the late Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin as a rule
hate democratic freedoms or Western culture, although many of these Muslims
do despise U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Rising aspirations
followed by dwindling expectations, particularly regarding civil
liberties, are critical factors in generating support for suicide terrorism.
The United States, Israel, Russia, and other nations on the frontline in
the war on terrorism need to realize that military and counterinsurgency actions
are tactical, not strategic, responses to suicide terrorism—the most politically
destabilizing and psychologically devastating form of terrorism.
When these nations back oppressive and unpopular governments (even
those deemed “partners in the war on terror”), this only generates popular
resentment and support for terrorism against those governments as well as
their backers. To attract potential recruits away from jihadist martyrdom—
suicide terrorism’s most virulent strain—and to dry up its popular support
l Scott Atran
requires addressing basic grievances before a downward spiral sets in, where
core meaning in life is sought and found in religious networks that sanctify
vengeance at any cost against stronger powers, even if it kills the avenger.
The Growing Threat of Suicide Terrorism
Suicide attacks have become more prevalent globally, gaining in strategic importance
with disruptive effects that cascade on the political, economic, and
social routines of national life and international relations. The first major contemporary
suicide attack was the December 1981 bombing of the Iraqi embassy
in Beirut, probably by Iranian agents, that left 27 dead and more than
100 injured. From 1980 to 2001, political scientist Robert Pape observed that
188 suicide attacks took place, most for nonreligious motives.1 According to
an August 2003 congressional report “Terrorists and Suicide Attacks,” this
represented only three percent of terrorist attacks worldwide during this time
period but accounted for nearly half of all deaths.2
The history of suicide bombings since the early 1980s demonstrates how
such attacks have generally achieved attackers’ near-term strategic goals, such
as forcing withdrawal from areas subject to attack, causing destabilization,
and demonstrating vulnerability by radically upsetting life routines. In Lebanon,
Hizballah (Party of God) initiated the first systematic contemporary suicide
attack campaign in 1983, killing hundreds of U.S. and French soldiers in
coordinated truck bombings and compelling the United States and France to
withdraw their remaining forces. Hizballah had dramatically reduced its strategic
reliance on suicide bombing by 1992 when it decided to participate in
parliamentary elections and become a “mainstream” political party after
achieving its main objective of forcing Israel to abandon most of the territorial
and political gains made during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad used suicide attacks effectively to derail
the 1995 Oslo Interim Agreement that was designed to serve as the
foundation of a peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. In Sri
Lanka, Tamil Eelam (Tamil Homeland) only recently suspended its suicide
squads of Tamil Tigers after wresting control of Tamil areas from the Sinhalese-
dominated government and forcing official recognition of some measure
of Tamil autonomy. Suicide bombings by Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia in
the spring of 2003 accompanied a drastic reduction in the U.S. military and
civilian presence in the country. Of course, the September 11 attacks themselves
were suicide attacks.
Newer trends since the start of the millennium pose distinct challenges,
making the threat posed by suicide terrorism not only more prominent in recent
years but also more frequently religiously motivated. From 2000 to
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
2003, more than 300 suicide attacks killed more than 5,300 people in 17
countries and wounded many thousands in addition.3 At least 70 percent of
these attacks were religiously motivated, with more than 100 attacks by Al
Qaeda or affiliates acting in Al Qaeda’s name.
Even more ominous, Islamic jihadi groups are now networked in ways
that permit “swarming’’ by actors contracted from different groups who
strike from scattered locations on multiple targets and then disperse, only to
form new swarms. Multiple, coordinated suicide
attacks across countries and even continents
is the adaptive hallmark of Al Qaeda’s
continued global web-making. The war in Iraq
has energized so many disparate groups that
the jihadist network is better prepared than
ever to carry on without bin Laden.4 The International
Institute of Strategic Studies in London
is reporting that “[t]he counterterrorism effort
has perversely impelled an already highly decentralized
and evasive transnational terrorist network to become more ‘virtual’
and protean and, therefore, harder to identify and neutralize.”5
Each country in which suicide attack has occurred has seen people become
more suspicious and afraid of one another. Emboldened by the strategic
successes of suicide-sponsoring terrorist organizations in upsetting the
long-term political calculations and daily living routines of its foes as well as
by increasing support and recruitment among Muslim populations angered
by U.S. actions in Iraq, jihadi groups believe they are proving able to mount
a lengthy and costly war of attrition. Even U.S. secretary of defense Donald
Rumsfeld lamented that “[t]he cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is
billions against the terrorists’ cost of millions.”6
The longer this war of attrition lasts, the greater the long-term strategic
risk of radicalizing Muslim sentiment against the United States, of undermining
the United States’ international alliances, and of causing serious and
sustained discontent among the American people. A White House panel reported
in October 2003 that Muslim hostility toward the United States “has
reached shocking levels” and is growing steadily.7 Margaret Tutwiler, under
secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, bemoaned to a
congressional committee in February 2004 that “[i]t will take us many years
of hard, focused work” to restore the United States’ credibility, even among
traditional allies.8 Most Americans today feel no safer from terrorism, are
more distrustful of many long-standing allies, and are increasingly anxious
about the future. A survey released in the early spring of 2004 by the nonpartisan
Council for Excellence in Government found that fewer than half
Poverty and lack of
education per se are
not root causes of
suicide terrorism.
l Scott Atran
of all Americans think the country is safer than it was on September 11,
2001, and more than three-quarters expect the United States to be the target
of a major terrorist attack in the near future.9
There is good reason to be anxious. One distinct pattern in the litany of
terrorist atrocities is that there has been an increasing interest in wellplanned
attacks designed to net the highest numbers of civilian casualties.
Charting data from the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism,
Robert Axelrod, a political scientist at the University of Michigan,
observes that a very few terrorist attacks account for a very large percentage
of all casualties. Not only does this trend call for anticipating attacks
with ever broader political, economic, and social effects, it also seems to
point to an eventual suicide attack using chemical, biological, or nuclear
weapons. Although that may take some time to plan effectively, long-term
planning has proven to be Al Qaeda’s hallmark.
“God has ordered us to build nuclear weapons,” proclaimed Fazlur Rahman
Khalil of Pakistan’s Harkat ul-Mujahideen on U.S. television.10 A subsequent
suicide attack on India’s parliament in December 2001 by Jaish-e-
Muhammed, a Pakistani splinter group of the Al Qaeda affiliate that Khalil
heads, perhaps brought nuclear war closer than at any time since the Cuban
missile crisis.11 Imagine what these people could do with the unconventional
weapons they actively seek.
In sum, terrorists are becoming increasingly effective by using suicide attacks,
and the trend points to a catastrophic unconventional terrorist attack
that could make the March 11 attacks in Madrid and the September 11 attacks
in New York and Washington pale in comparison. The U.S. strategic
response relies on overwhelming military force to crush evolving jihadist
swarms, but this inflexible and maladaptive strategy only propagates leaner
and meaner mutations of suicide networks and cells.
Suicide Terror Today
Repeated suicide actions in the disputed regions of Palestine, Kashmir,
Chechnya, and now in U.S.-occupied Iraq show that military action alone
has not stopped or even reliably diminished the incidence of suicide attacks.
For example, from 1993 through 2003, 311 Palestinian suicide attackers
launched themselves against Israeli targets. In the first seven years of suicide
bombing, 70 percent (43 of 61 attempts) were successful in killing other
people. From the start of the second Intifada in September 2000 through
2003, however, although the success rate declined to 52 percent, the number
of attacks increased from 61 to 250, with 129 of those being successful
(up from 43).12
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
The trend is even more alarming in Iraq and elsewhere. On May 1, 2003,
President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations in
Iraq and “one victory in the war on terror that began on 9/11.”13 Cofer
Black, the Department of State’s coordinator for counterterrorism, declared
soon thereafter that Al Qaeda had to “put up or shut up. … They had
failed. It proves the global war on terrorism is effective.”14 Within just two
weeks, however, a wave of jihadist suicide bombings hit Saudi Arabia, Morocco,
Israel, and Chechnya. Collectively, these attacks were more numerous
and widespread than any in the preceding 12
In October 2003, five full months after
major military operations had been declared
over, Iraq suffered its worst spate of suicide
bombings to date. White House claims that
such attacks only confirmed the “desperation”
15 of terrorists in the face of increasing
U.S. progress in the war on terrorism provided
little evidence that the military response
was working and were ridiculed by Arab commentators.16 A November
2003 suicide attack on Italian forces in southern Iraq convinced several
countries not to participate in the military occupation and spurred the United
States to accelerate its timetable for transferring authority to Iraqis.
Outside Iraq, also in November, suicide bombings in Turkey by self-declared
friends of Al Qaeda sought to undermine the best example of nonsectarian
and democratic rule in the Muslim world and extended the strategic
threat to NATO’s underbelly. In December 2003, renewed attacks by
Chechnya’s “black widows” (women allowed by militant Islamic leaders to
become martyrs, usually because of what Russian soldiers have done to their
husbands, fathers, and brothers) brought terror to Russian civilians. During
the year-end holidays, alerts for Al Qaeda suicide skyjackings brought continuous
air patrols and surface-to-air missiles to major U.S. cities and caused
cancellations of several international flights. Pakistan’s President Gen.
Pervez Musharraf barely escaped assassination on Christmas Day when two
suicide truck bombers from Jaish-e-Muhammed rammed his motorcade.
All of this occurred despite the fact that State Department funding for
counterstrategies to combat terrorism overseas increased 133 percent from
September 11, 2001, through fiscal year 2003, according to the final U.S.
federal interagency report.17 Including the Iraq theater (originally billed as a
war of necessity to deny weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda and its
associates), U.S. Department of Defense budget increases and emergency
supplemental measures—the bill for foreign operations in the war on terror-
The jihadist network
is better prepared
than ever to carry on
without bin Laden.
l Scott Atran
ism into 2004—exceeds $200 billion. Yet, the incidence and impact of suicide
terrorism have not declined. Of course, not all of this hard-power spending
on terrorism is wasted, but the nearly exclusive reliance on military
might has not stifled the martyr’s appeal or stalled the threat.
In fact, 2003 witnessed more suicide attacks (98) than any year in contemporary
history. A plurality (33) occurred in Iraq, now plagued with suicide
terror for the first time since the thirteenth-century hashasheen
(assassins) slaughtered fellow Muslims and Crusaders to purify Islamic lands
(it took the Mongols to stop them). In the
first three months of 2004, more than three
dozen suicide attackers struck six U.S. allies
(2 attackers in Afghanistan; 18 in Iraq; 2 in
Pakistan; 8 in Israel; 1 in Turkey; and at least
5 female bombers in Uzbekistan, a first-time
target of suicide terror) killing more than 600
people and wounding thousands. In Iraq alone
(which has so far been budgeted $165 billion
as part of the war on terrorism), from February
1 to March 2, 10 suicide bombers killed
more than 400 people—a greater number than in any single country for any
31-day period since the September 11 attacks. Even a casual glance at media
outlets and web sites sympathetic to Al Qaeda reveals a proliferating
jihadist fraternity that is not deterred by Saddam Hussein’s capture but
rather takes heart from the fall of Iraq’s secularist tyrant.18
In short, the record clearly demonstrates that military actions against terrorism
and its purported sponsors have not come close to squelching suicide
terror. At a minimum, an effective strategy for combating suicide terrorism
requires a layered approach that works on three levels in a coordinated way:
• A last line of defense to protect sensitive populations and installations
from attack. Mostly by developing and using scientific technology, efforts
should be made to block suicide terrorists from hitting their targets or to
lessen (by preemptively penetrating and destroying terror organizations
and preparation) the effects of an attack that has not been prevented.
• A middle line of defense networks, mostly through a combination of intelligence
and military action.
• A first line of defense to understand and act on the root causes of terrorism
to reduce drastically the receptivity of potential recruits to the message
and methods of terror-sponsoring organizations, mostly through
political, economic, and social action programs.
Relying on military
force only mutates
suicide networks
and cells to meaner
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
Billions and billions of dollars have been allocated to countermeasures associated
with the last and middle lines of defense (protection, mitigation, preemption).
Unfortunately, the same U.S. federal interagency report that
documents the significant increase in funding for combating terrorism and
reviews plans and activities by dozens of civil and military agencies reveals
scant evidence of serious effort or funding to understand why individuals
become, or to prevent individuals from becoming, terrorists in the first
place. Even more serious than the scarce interest and funding on this score
thus far, however, is the fact that current U.S. policies that do attempt to
address the underlying factors of suicide terrorism are woefully misguided.
The record suggests that addressing these root causes might provide a more
promising approach.
Misconceiving Root Causes
A common notion in the U.S. administration and media spin on the war on
terrorism is that suicide attackers are evil, deluded, or homicidal misfits who
thrive in poverty, ignorance, and anarchy. This portrayal lends a sense of
hopelessness to any attempt to address root causes because some individuals
will always be desperate or deranged enough to conduct suicide attacks. Nevertheless,
as logical as the poverty-breeds-terrorism argument may seem, study
after study shows that suicide attackers and their supporters are rarely ignorant
or impoverished. Nor are they crazed, cowardly, apathetic, or asocial.
The common misconception underestimates the central role that organizational
factors play in the appeal of terrorist networks. A better understanding
of such causes reveals that the challenge is actually manageable: the key is not
to profile and target the most despairing or deranged individual but to understand
and undermine the organizational and institutional appeal of terrorists’
motivations and networks.
The U.S. National Strategy for Combating Terrorism highlights the “War of
Ideas” and “War on Poverty” as adjunct programs to reduce terrorism’s pool
of support and recruitment.19 The war of ideas is based on the premise that
terrorists and their supporters “hate our freedoms,” a sentiment Bush has
expressed with regard to Al Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance.20 Yet, survey
data reliably show that most Muslims who support suicide terrorism and
trust bin Laden favor elected government, personal liberty, educational opportunity,
and economic choice.21 Mark Tessler, who coordinates long-term
surveys of Muslim societies from the University of Michigan’s Institute for
Social Research, finds that Arab attitudes toward American culture are
most favorable among young adults—the same population that terrorist recruiters
single out—regardless of their religious orientation.22 Khalil
l Scott Atran
Shikaki, director of the Palestinan Center for Survey and Policy Research,
consistently finds that a majority of Palestinians has a favorable impression
of U.S. (and Israeli) forms of government, education, economy, and even literature
and art, even though about three-fourths of the population supports
suicide attack.23
In sum, there is no evidence that most people who support suicide actions
hate Americans’ internal cultural freedoms, but rather every indication
that they oppose U.S. foreign policies, particularly regarding the Middle
East. After the 1996 suicide attack against U.S. military housing at Khobar
Towers in Saudi Arabia, a Defense Department Science Board report stated,
“Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international
situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United
States.”24 U.S. intervention in Iraq is but the most recent example. A United
Nations report indicated that, as soon as the United States began building
up for the Iraq invasion, Al Qaeda recruitment picked up in 30–40 countries.
25 Recruiters for groups sponsoring terrorist acts reportedly told researchers
that volunteers were beating down their doors to join.
Similarly, the war on poverty is based on the premise that impoverishment,
lack of education, and social estrangement spawn terrorism. Economist
Gary Becker’s theory states that the greater the amount of human capital
(including income and education) a person accumulates, the less likely that
person is to commit a crime.26 The theory is that the greater a person’s human
capital, the more that person is aware of losing out on substantial future
gains if captured or killed. Similar thinking applies to suicide terror: the
less promising one’s future, the more likely one’s choice to end life. Almost
all current U.S. foreign aid programs related to terrorism pivot on such assumptions,
now generally accepted by the mainstream of both U.S. political
parties. Although the theory has proven useful in combating blue-collar
crime, no evidence indicates its bearing on terrorism.
Studies by Princeton economist Alan Krueger and others find no correlation
between a nation’s per capita income and terrorism27 but do find
a correlation between a lack of civil liberties, defined by Freedom House,28
and terrorism. A recent National Research Council report finds that
“[t]errorism and its supporting audiences appear to be fostered by policies
of extreme political repression and discouraged by policies of incorporating
both dissident and moderate groups responsibly into civil society
and the political process.”29 There seems to be a direct correlation between
U.S. military aid to politically corroded or ethnically divided states,30
human rights abuses by those regimes,31 and the rise in terrorism,32 as
initially moderate opposition is pushed into common cause with more
radical elements.
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
Despite these realities, the meager U.S. monies available for nonmilitary
foreign aid are far too concentrated in poverty reduction and literacy enhancement.
In fact, in Pakistan, literacy and dislike for the United States
have increased while the number of Islamist madrassa schools grew from
3,000 to nearly 40,000 since 1978. According to a U.S. State Department
report, development aid is based “on the belief that poverty provides a breeding
ground for terrorism. The terrorist attacks of September 11 reaffirmed
this conviction.”33 Bush declared at a UN conference on poor nations in
Monterrey, Mexico, that “[w]e fight against
poverty because hope is an answer to terror.”34
Yet, study after study demonstrates that suicide
terrorists and their supporters are not abjectly
poor, illiterate, or socially estranged.35
Another misconception that implicitly drives
current national security policy is that suicide
terrorists have no rational political agenda and
are not sane. According to Gen. Wesley Clark,
unlike nineteenth-century Russian terrorists
who wanted to depose the czar, current Islamic
terrorists are simply retrograde and nihilist: “They want the destruction of
Western civilization and the return to seventh-century Islam.”36 Senator
John Warner (R-Va.) testified that a new security doctrine of preemption
was necessary because “those who would commit suicide in their assaults on
the free world are not rational.”37 According to Vice President Dick Cheney,
the September 11 plotters and other like-minded terrorists “have no sense
of morality.”38
In truth, suicide terrorists on the whole have no appreciable psychopathology
and are often wholly committed to what they believe to be devout
moral principles. A report on The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism used
by the Central and Defense Intelligence Agencies (CIA and DIA) finds “no
psychological attribute or personality distinctive of terrorists.”39 Recruits are
generally well adjusted in their families and liked by peers and often more
educated and economically better off than their surrounding population.
Researchers Basel Saleh and Claude Berrebi independently find that the
majority of Palestinian suicide bombers have a college education (versus 15
percent of the population of comparable age) and that less than 15 percent
come from poor families (although about one-third of the population lives
in poverty). DIA sources who have interrogated Al Qaeda detainees at
Guantanamo note that Saudi-born operatives, especially those in leadership
positions, are often “educated above reasonable employment level [and
that] a surprising number have graduate degrees and come from high-status
Current U.S.
policies that
attempt to address
root causes are
woefully misguided.
l Scott Atran
families.”40 The general pattern was captured in a Singapore parliamentary
report on prisoners from Jemaah Islamiyah, an ally of Al Qaeda: “These men
were not ignorant, destitute, or disenfranchised. Like many of their counterparts
in militant Islamic organizations in the region, they held normal, respectable
jobs. Most detainees regarded religion as their most important
personal value.”41
Except for being mostly young, unattached
males, suicide attackers differ from members
of violent racist organizations to whom they
are often compared, such as white supremacist
groups in the United States.42 Overall,
suicide terrorists exhibit no socially dysfunctional
attributes (fatherless, friendless, jobless)
or suicidal symptoms. Inconsistent with
economic theories of criminal behavior, they
do not kill themselves simply out of hopelessness
or a sense of having nothing to lose. Muslim clerics countenance
killing oneself for martyrdom in the name of God but curse personal suicide.
“He who commits suicide kills himself for his own benefit,” warned Sheikh
Yussuf Al-Qaradhawi (a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood), but
“he who commits martyrdom sacrifices himself for the sake of his religion
and his nation. … [T]he Mujahed is full of hope.”43
Another reason that personal despair or derangement may not be a significant
factor in suicide terrorism is that the cultures of the Middle East,
Africa, and Asia where it thrives tend to be less individualistic than our
own. These cultures are more attuned to the environmental and organizational
relationships that shape behavior and are less tolerant of individuals
acting independently from a group context.44 Terrorists in these societies
also would be more likely to be seeking a group, or collective, sense of belonging
and justification for their actions.
A group struggling to gain power and resources against materially betterendowed
enemies must attract able and committed recruits—not loaners—
who are willing to give up their lives for a cause. At the same time, the
group must prevent uncommitted elements in the population from simply
free-riding on the backs of committed fighters, that is, sharing in the fighters’
rewards and success without taking the risks or paying the costs of fighting.
Insurgent groups manage this by offering potential recruits the promise
of great future rewards, such as freedom for future generations or eternal
bliss in Paradise, instead of immediate gain. Only individuals committed to
delayed gratification are then liable to volunteer. Insurgent groups also tend
to seek out individuals with better education and economic prospects be-
There is no evidence
that most who
support suicide
actions hate U.S.
cultural freedoms.
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
cause they view a person who invests resources in education and training for
a better economic future as a signal that that person is willing to sacrifice
today’s satisfactions for tomorrow’s rewards and is able to realize commitments.
For this reason, the relative level of education and economic status is
often higher among insurgent groups that recruit primarily on the basis of
promises for the future than among traditional armies that rely more on
short-term incentives.45
Relative Deprivation and Religious Redemption
The connection among suicide and terrorists and religion might be explained
by the role that religious ethnic groups can play. Ethnic groups offer a good
foundation for sustaining resource-deficient insurgencies because they provide
a social structure that can underpin the maintenance of reputations
and the efficient gathering of information about recruits. Yet, ethnicity
alone may not be enough; religion may also be needed to cement commitment.
A comparison of ethnic Palestinians with ethnic Bosnian Muslims
(matched for age, income, education, exposure to violence, etc.) shows the
Palestinians much more liable to use religious sentiments to express hope for
the future confidently by being willing to die for the group, whereas the
Bosnians do not express religious sentiments, hope, or a willingness to die.46
Martyrdom, which involves “pure” commitment to promise over payoff and
unconditional sacrifice for fictive “brothers,” will more likely endure in religious
ethnic groups.
None of this denies that popular support for terrorism is sustained in part
by economic factors, such as explosive population growth and underemployment,
coupled with the failure of rigidly authoritarian governments to provide
youth outlets for political and economic advancement. Middle Eastern
and, more broadly, most Muslim societies, whose populations are doubling
within one generation or less, have age pyramids with broad bases: each
younger age group is substantially larger (or has more people) than the next
older. Even with states that allowed for a modicum of political expression or
economic employment, society’s structure of opportunities can have trouble
keeping pace with population.
Regional governments are increasingly unable to provide these opportunities,
enhancing the attractiveness of religious organizations that are able
to recruit tomorrow’s suicide terrorists. Weak and increasingly corrupt and
corroded nationalist regimes in Muslim countries have sought to eliminate
all secular opposition. To subdue popular discontent in the postcolonial era,
the Ba’thist socialist dictators of Syria and Iraq; the authoritarian prime
ministers of Pakistan and Malaysia; the monarchs of Morocco and Jordan;
l Scott Atran
and the imperial presidents of Egypt, Algeria, the Philippines, and Indonesia
all initially supported militant Islamic groups. To maintain their bloated bureaucracies
and armies, these failed states—all poor imitations of Western
models with no organic history in the Arab and Muslim world—readily delegated
responsibility for the social welfare of their peoples to activist Islamic
groups eager to take charge. These groups provided schooling and health
services more efficiently and extensively than governments could, offering a
desecularized path to fulfill modernity’s universal
mission to improve humanity. When
radical Islam finally vented political aspirations,
beginning with the 1965 “Islamic Manifesto,”
Milestones, written in prison by the
Muslim Brotherhood’s Sayyid Qutb just before
he was hanged for sedition by Egyptian
leader Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser, popular
support proved too deep and widespread to
Although the process of rising aspirations
followed by dwindling expectations that generates terror can be identified,
disentangling the relative significance of political and economic factors in
the Muslim world is difficult and perhaps even impossible. During the
1990s, momentous political developments in Algeria (multiparty elections,
including Islamic groups in 1992), Palestine (Oslo peace accords in 1993),
Chechnya (dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of Communist control),
Indonesia (Suharto’s resignation in 1998 and the end of dictatorship),
and elsewhere fanned rising aspirations among Muslim peoples for political
freedom and economic advancement. In each case, economic stagnation or
decline followed as political aspirations were thwarted (the Algerian army
cancelled elections, the Israel-Palestine Camp David negotiations broke
down, Russia cracked down on Chechnya’s bid for autonomy, and Suharto
army loyalists and paramilitary groups fomented interethnic strife and political
Support and recruitment for suicide terrorism occur not under conditions
of political repression, poverty, and unemployment or illiteracy as such but
when converging political, economic, and social trends produce diminishing
opportunities relative to expectations, thus generating frustrations that radical
organizations can exploit. For this purpose, relative deprivation is more
significant than absolute deprivation. Unlike poorer, less-educated elements
of their societies, or equally educated, well-off members of our society, many
educated, middle-class Muslims increasingly experience frustration with life
as their potential opportunities are less attractive than their prior expecta-
Suicide terrorism
becomes perceived
to be an altruistic
act for a future
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
tions. Frustrated with their future, the appeal of routine national life declines,
and suicide terrorism gives some perceived purpose to act altruistically,
in the potential terrorist’s mind, for the welfare of a future generation.
Revolutionary terror imprints itself into history when corrupt and corroded
societies choke rising aspirations into explosive frustration.
Organization and the Banality of Evil
This frustrating confluence of circumstances helps to account for terrorism’s
popular support and endurance but not the original spark that ignites
people’s passions and minds. Most people in the world who suffer stifling,
even murderous oppression do not become terrorists. As with nearly all creators
and leaders of history’s terrorist movements, those who conceive of using
suicide terrorism in the first place belong mostly to an intellectual elite
possessing sufficient material means for personal advancement but who
choose a life of struggle and sacrifice for themselves and who often require
even greater commitment from their followers. They are motivated not by
personal comfort or immediate gain but rather by religious or ideological
conviction and zeal, whose founding assumptions, like those of any religion,
cannot be rationally scrutinized and for which they inspire others to believe
in and die. But irrational motivations do not preclude rational action.
Sponsors of martyrdom are not irrational. Using religious sentiments for
political or economic purposes can be eminently rational, as when martyrdom
or missionary actions gain recognition, recruits, and power to increase
political “market share”47 (to gain in the competition for political influence
in a regional context, within the larger Muslim community, or with the rest
of the world). Dwindling returns on individuals’ future prospects in life
translate into higher levels of recruitment and prompt returns for terrorist
groups and leaders. This degree of manipulation usually works, however,
only if the manipulators themselves make costly, hard-to-fake commitments.
Through indoctrination of recruits into relatively small and closeted
cells—emotionally tight-knit brotherhoods—terror organizations create a
family of cellmates who are just as willing to sacrifice for one another as a
parent for a child. Consider the “Oath to Jihad” taken by recruits to Harkat
ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani affiliate of the World Islamic Front for Jihad
against the Jews and Crusaders, the umbrella organization formed by bin
Laden in 1998. The oath affirms that by their sacrifice members help secure
the future of their family of fictive kin: “Each [martyr] has a special place—
among them are brothers, just as there are sons and those even more dear.”48
These culturally contrived cell loyalties mimic and (at least temporarily)
override genetically based fidelities to kin while securing belief in sacrifice
l Scott Atran
to a larger group cause. The mechanism of manipulation resembles that of
the U.S. Army (and probably most armies), which trains soldiers in small
groups of committed buddies, who then grow willing to sacrifice for one another
and only derivatively for glory or country.
Key to intercepting that commitment before it solidifies is grasping how,
like the best commercial advertisers but to ghastlier effect, charismatic leaders
of terrorist groups turn ordinary desires for kinship
and religion into cravings for the mission they
are pitching, to the benefit of the manipulating organization
rather than the individual manipulated.
Therefore, understanding and parrying suicide terrorism
requires concentrating more on the organizational
structure, indoctrination methods, and
ideological appeal of recruiting organizations than
on personality attributes of the individuals recruited.
No doubt individual predispositions render some more susceptible
to social factors that leaders use to persuade recruits to die for their cause,
but months, sometimes years, of intense indoctrination can lead to blind
obedience no matter whom the individual.49
Part of the answer to what leads a normal person to suicide terror may lie
in philosopher Hannah Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil,” which she
used to describe the recruitment of mostly ordinary Germans, not sadistic
lunatics, to man Nazi extermination camps.50 In the early 1960s, psychologist
Stanley Milgram tested her thesis. He recruited Yale students and other
U.S. adults supposedly to help others learn better. When the learner, hidden
by a screen, failed to memorize arbitrary word pairs fast enough, the helper
was instructed to administer an electric shock and to increase voltage with
each erroneous answer (which the learner, actually an actor, deliberately got
wrong). Most helpers complied with instructions to give potentially lethal
shocks (labeled as 450 volts, but in fact 0) despite victims’ screams and
pleas. This experiment showed how situations can be staged to elicit blind
obedience to authority and more generally that manipulation of context can
trump individual personality and psychology to generate apparently extreme
behaviors in ordinary people.51
Social psychologists have long documented what they call “the fundamental
attribution error,” the tendency for people to explain human behavior
in terms of individual personality traits, even when significant situational
factors in the larger society are at work. This attribution error leads many in
the West to focus on the individual suicide terrorists rather than the organizational
environment that produces them. If told that someone has been ordered
to give a speech supporting a particular political candidate, for
Sponsors of
martyrdom are
not irrational.
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
example, most people in Western society will still think that the speaker believes
what he is saying. This interpretation bias seems to be especially prevalent
in individualistic cultures, such as those of the United States and western
Europe, as opposed to collectivist cultures, such as in Africa and Asia. Portrayals
by the U.S. government and media of suicide bombers as deranged
cutthroats may also suffer from a fundamental attribution error: no instance
has yet occurred of religious or political suicide terrorism resulting from the
lone action of a mentally unstable bomber (e.g., a suicidal Unabomber) or
someone acting entirely under his own authority and responsibility (e.g., a
suicidal Timothy McVeigh). The key is the organization, not the individual.
For organizations that sponsor suicide attack to thrive or even survive
against much stronger military foes, they need strong community support.
Yet, the reasons for that communal support can differ among peoples. Among
Palestinians, perceptions of historical injustice combine with personal loss
and humiliation at the hands of their Israeli occupiers to nurture individual
martyrs and general popular support for martyr actions. Saleh observes that
a majority of Palestinian suicide bombers had prior histories of arrest or injury
by Israel’s army, and many of the youngest suicide shooters had family
members or close friends with such a history.52 Shikaki has preliminary survey
data suggesting that popular support for suicide actions may be positively
correlated with the number of Israeli checkpoints that Palestinians
have to pass through regularly to go about their daily business and the time
needed to pass through them (this can involve spending hours at each of
several checkpoints, any of which can be arbitrarily closed down at any
time to prevent passage). Humiliation and revenge are the most consistent
sentiments expressed by recruits as well as their supporters, though expressed
more as community grievances than as personal ones.
Although individual grievances generate support for terrorists and motivate
some people to become recruits, debriefings with captured Al Qaeda
operatives at Guantanamo and with Jemaah Islamiyah prisoners in Singapore
suggest that recruitment to these organizations is more ideologically driven
than grievance-driven. Detainees evince little history of personal hardship
but frequently cite relatives or respected community members who participated
in earlier jihads, or close peers presently engaged, as influencing decisions
to join the fight.53 Of course, ideology and grievance are not mutually
exclusive. Jessica Stern’s interviews with jihadists and their supporters in
Kashmir reveal that both abound.54
Despite numerous studies of individual behavior that show situation to be
a much better predictor than personality in group contexts, Americans overwhelmingly
believe that personal decision, success, and failure depend on
individual choice, responsibility, and personality. This perception is plausibly
l Scott Atran
one reason many Americans tend to think of terrorists as homicidal maniacs.
“If we have to, we just mow the whole place down,” said Senator Trent
Lott (R-Miss.), exasperated with the situation in Iraq. “You’re dealing with
insane suicide bombers who are killing our people, and we need to be very
aggressive in taking them out.”55 As Timothy Spangler, chairman of Republicans
Abroad (a group of Americans living overseas that helps the Republican
Party develop policy) recently put it, “We know what the causes of
terrorism are—terrorists. … It’s ultimately about individuals taking individual
decisions to kill people.”56 According to last year’s Pew survey, most
of the world disagrees.57 Although we cannot do much about personality
traits, whether biologically influenced or not, we presumably can think of
nonmilitary ways to make terrorist groups less attractive and undermine
their effectiveness with recruits. That holds the key to defeating terrorism.
Soft Power Counterstrategy
The basis of community support for organizations that sponsor terrorism
needs to be the prime long-term focus of U.S. policymakers and others who
are interested in combating the threat such organizations pose. For without
community support, terrorist organizations that depend on dense networks
of ethnic and religious ties for information, recruitment, and survival cannot
thrive. No evidence, historical or otherwise, indicates that popular support
for suicide terrorism will evaporate or that individuals will cease to be persuaded
by terrorist groups’ promises of future rewards without complicity in
tackling at least some fundamental goals that suicide attackers and supporting
communities share, such as denying support to discredited governments
and making maximum efforts to end the conflict in the Palestinian territories,
whose daily images of violence engender global Muslim resentment.
Republicans and Democrats alike clamor for the allocation of billions of dollars
to protect innumerable targets from suicide attackers. Guarding sensitive
installations is a last line of defense, however, and probably the easiest
line to breach because of the abundance of vulnerable targets and would-be
Preempting and preventing terrorism requires that U.S. policymakers
make a concerted effort to understand the background conditions as well as
the recruitment processes that inspire people to take their own lives in the
name of a greater cause. Current political and economic conditions that
policymakers currently monitor are important but not necessarily determinant.
Rather, what likely matters more is the promise of redeeming real or
imagined historical grievances through a religious (or transcendent ideological)
mission that empowers the militarily weak with unexpected force against
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
enemies materially much stronger. This was as true for Jewish zealots who
sacrificed themselves to kill Romans two millennia ago as it is for modern
Identifying sacred values in different cultures and how they compete for
people’s affections is surely a first step in learning how to prevent those values
from spiraling into mortal conflict between societies.
All religions are based on sacred values,
as are many quasi-religious ideologies that
make claims about laws of history or universal
missions to reform humanity.58 Such values
are linked to emotions that underpin feelings
of cultural identity and trust. These emotionladen
sentiments are amplified into moral
obligations to strike out against perceived
opponents no matter the cost when conditions
of relative deprivation get to a point
where suicide terrorists actively seek alternatives because of lack of political
and economic opportunity.
Such sentiments are characteristic of apparently irrational, emotionally
driven commitments, including heartfelt romantic love and uncontrollable
vengeance, that may have emerged under natural selection’s influence to
override rational calculations based on seemingly impossible or very long
odds of achieving individual goals, such as lasting security.59 In religiously
inspired suicide terrorism, these sentiments are again manipulated by organizational
leaders, recruiters, and trainers, mostly for the organization’s benefit
at the expense of the individual. Such manipulation is an extreme form
of a common practice in which society’s ruling management demands readiness
to die from its own members—and occasional execution of this demand
—as a demonstration of faith in society. In times of crisis, every society
routinely calls on some of its own people to sacrifice their lives for the general
good of the body politic. For militant jihadists, crisis is constant and
unabating, and extreme sacrifice is necessary as long as there are nonbelievers
(kuffar) in the world.
Policy may head off this downward spiral toward mortal conflict between
incommensurable moral views of the world by helping to provide political
and economic opportunity for some. Once that spiral starts for others, however,
the task becomes much more difficult. Once values become sacred, negotiated
trade-offs based on balancing costs and benefits become taboo—much
like selling off one’s child or selling out one’s country would be, no matter
the payoff—and offers of compromise or exchange are met with moral outrage.
Counting on military pressure, the economic power of globalization, or
Making terrorist
organizations seem
less attractive holds
the key to defeating
l Scott Atran
the Western media’s powers of persuasion to get others to give up such values
is probably a vain hope. Policymakers from nations that fight sacred terror
and hope to defeat it need to circumscribe the point at which commitment
becomes absolute and nonnegotiable and seek to reach people before they
come to it.
Traditional top-heavy approaches, such as strategic bombardment, invasion,
occupation, and other massive forms of coercion, cannot eliminate tactically
innovative and elusive jihadist swarms
nor suppress their popular support. According
to a survey by the Pew Research Center released
in March 2004, nearly half of Pakistanis
and substantial majorities of people in
supposedly moderate Muslim countries such
as Morocco and Jordan now support suicide
bombings as a way of countering the application
of military might by the United States in
Iraq and by Israel in Palestine.60
Rather than focusing on hard power as a
last defense, the first line of defense should be convincing Muslim communities
to stop supporting religious schools and charities that feed terrorist
networks. For example, just a small percentage of what the United States
spends on often ineffective counterinsurgency aid to unpopular governments
can help to train teachers and administrators, build schools and dormitories,
furnish books and computers, provide fellowships and stipends,
and fund local invitations for all willing parties to discuss and debate. Radical
Islamic and other terrorist groups often provide more and better educational,
medical, and social welfare services than governments do; democratic
nations that fight terrorism therefore must discretely help others in these societies
to compete with, rather than attempt to crush, such programs for the
bodies, minds, and hearts of people.
Clearly, shows of military strength are not the way to end the growing
menace of suicide terrorism: witness the failure of Israel’s and Russia’s coercive
efforts to end strings of Palestinian and Chechen suicide bombings.
Rather, those nations most threatened by suicide terrorism, the world’s democracies
in particular, must show people the aspects of democratic cultures
they most respect. These nations should promote democracy but also must
be ready to accept democracy’s paradox: if people choose representatives
whom the United States and its democratic allies dislike or who have different
values or ways of doing things, voters’ decisions still must be accepted as
long as the outcome does not generate violence. Democratic self-determination
in Palestine, Kashmir, and Iraq, or for that matter Pakistan, Uzbekistan,
Good versus Evil
rhetoric feeds
jihadism’s religious
conviction, zeal, and
power to recruit.
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
and Saudi Arabia, will more likely reduce terrorism than would additional
military and counterinsurgency aid. At the same time, the United States
and its allies need to establish an intense dialogue with Muslim religious and
community leaders to reconcile Islamic custom and religious law (shari‘a)
with internationally recognized standards for crime, punishment, and human
To address the problem of relative deprivation, the United States and
its allies should promote economic choice. Yet, people must be allowed
to pick and choose the goods and values they desire and not be forced to
privatize their traditional ways of trading and doing business any more
than they should be forced to collectivize. In other words, people should
not be made to accept goods and values that they may not want in the
name of “free markets” or “globalization.” Most importantly, the United
States and its allies should actively seek to redress the denial of civil liberties
by withdrawing military and political support from those of its
partners in the war on terrorism who persistently infringe on human
rights and deny political expression to their people and by encouraging
moderates to debate alternative visions for their societies constructively.
These new partners in the war on terrorism cited by the General Accounting
Office, for example, are the Eurasian republics of Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia. All but
Tajikistan and, just recently, Georgia are run by former Communist Party
leaders–turned-nationalists, whose rule, like Saddam’s, involves brutal
personality cults. 61 Of course, the United States cannot unilaterally pull
out of places that would then be threatened with collapse or hostile takeover.
At the same time, long-term planning must not allow the United
States and its allies to become embroiled in maintaining brutal and repressive
regimes whose practices generate popular resentment and terrorism.
Candor and argumentation with open dissent instill confidence,
but propaganda and manipulative public relations breed disaffection and
In addition, because it is the main target and foe of suicide attacks by
jihadists, the United States must work in concert with the international
community to address the historical and personal grievances, whether perceived
or actual, of people who have been denied opportunity and power to
realize their hopes and aspirations for personal security, collective peace, environmental
sustainability, and cultural fulfillment. The festering conflicts
and killing fields of Israel/Palestine, Pakistan/Kashmir/India, Russia/
Chechnya, the Western Sahara, Mindanao, the Moluccas, or Bosnia should
be as much of a concern and a catalyst for action as the current state of the
world economy.
l Scott Atran
Finally, the United States has to stop insisting on planetary rights of interference
in the belief that our vision of civilization is humanity’s last great
hope or that U.S. national security depends on the world accepting “a single
sustainable model of national success … right and true for every person, in
every society.”62 “America is a nation with a mission,” proclaimed Bush in
his 2004 State of the Union address. Yet, a key lesson of the Vietnam War,
according to former defense secretary Robert
McNamara, was the error in thinking “we’re
on a mission. We weren’t then and we aren’t
today. And we shouldn’t act unilaterally militarily
under any circumstances. We don’t have
the God-given right to shape every nation to
our own image.”63 The new National Security
Strategy of the United States frames the United
States’ new global mission in words the president
first used at the U.S. National Cathedral
three days after the September 11 attacks: “[O]ur responsibility to history is
… to rid the world of evil.” Of course, exorcising the world’s evil, or even all
forms of terrorism, is as much an impossible mission as forever ending injustice.
This publicized mission that pits the United States’ moral world of
good against the jihadist world of evil directly parallels the jihadist division
of the world between “The House of Islam” (Dar al-Islam) and “The House
of War” (Dar al-Harb) and feeds jihadism’s religious conviction and zeal as
well as its power to persuade recruits. Such rhetoric does the United States
and its allies no good.
Clearly, none of this necessitates negotiating with terrorist groups that
sponsor martyrs in the pursuit of goals such as Al Qaeda’s quest to replace
the Western-inspired system of nation-states with a global caliphate. Bin
Laden and others affiliated with the mission of the World Islamic Front seek
no compromise and will probably fight with hard power to the death. For
these groups and already committed individuals, using hard power is necessary.
The tens of millions of people who for now only sympathize with bin
Laden are likely open to the promise of soft-power alternatives64 that most
Muslims seem to favor: elected government, freedom of expression, educational
opportunity, economic choice. Although such soft-power efforts may
demand more patience than governments under attack or under pressure to
reform typically tolerate politically in times of crisis, forbearance is necessary.
To be effective, the historical precondition for such opportunity, as well
as the popular legitimacy of any form of governance, is to ensure that potential
recruits in the Arab and Muslim world feel secure about their personal
safety as well as their cultural heritage.
The United States
has to stop insisting
on planetary rights
of interference.
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
1. Robert Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science
Review 97 (August 2003): 343–361.
2. Audrey Kurth Cronin, “Terrorists and Suicide Attacks,” CRS Report for Congress, RL32058,
August 28, 2003, p. 12, www.fas.org/irp/crs/RL32058.pdf (accessed April 8, 2004).
3. See Scott Atran, “Individual Factors in Suicide Terrorism,” Science, April 2, 2004,
pp. 47–49, www.sciencemag.org/cgi/data/304/5667/47/DC1/1 (accessed April 8,
2004) (supplementary online materials) (hereinafter Atran supplementary online
4. Scott Atran, “A Leaner, Meaner Jihad,” New York Times, March 16, 2004, p. A25.
5. Christopher Langton, ed., The Military Balance 2003–2004 (London: Oxford University
Press, 2003).
6. Dave Moniz and Tom Squitieri, “Defense Memo: A Grim Outlook,” USA Today,
October 22, 2003, p. 1.
7. Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, “Changing
Minds, Winning Peace: A New Strategic Direction for U.S. Public Diplomacy in the
Arab & Muslim World,” October 1, 2003, www.state.gov/documents/organization/
24882.pdf (accessed April 8, 2004).
8. Christopher Marquis, “U.S. Image Abroad Will Take Years to Repair, Official Says,”
New York Times, February 5, 2004, p. A5.
9. Christopher Lee, “Most Say They Are Less Safe Since 9/11,” Washington Post, April 1,
2004, p. A3.
10. Fazlur Rahman Khalil, interview, 60 Minutes II, CBS, October 15, 2000.
11. Rahul Behdi, “India ‘Will Go to War After the Monsoon,’” News Telegraph, May 21,
2002, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/05/21/wkash21.xml
(accessed April 6, 2004); Rory McCarthy, “Dangerous Game of State-Sponsored
Terrorism That Threatens Nuclear Conflict,” Guardian, May 25, 2002.
12. Middle East Resource Exchange Database (MERED), August 14, 2003,
%2C+Well+Educated (accessed April 6, 2004). The MERED data have been updated
through 2003. The breakdown of successful attacks is Hamas—51, Palestinian
Islamic Jihad—27, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades—31, other Fatah groups—7, Popular/
Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—3, unknown—10.
13. David Sanger, “President Says Military Phase in Iraq Has Ended,” New York Times,
May 2, 2003.
14. Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, “Spy Agencies’ Optimism on Al Qaeda Is Growing;
Lack of Attacks Thought to Show Group Is Nearly Crippled,” Washington Post, May 6,
2003, p. A16.
15. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “President Bush, Ambassador
Bremer Discuss Progress in Iraq,” October 27, 2003, www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/
2003/10/20031027-1.html (accessed April 8, 2004).
16. Neil MacFarquhar, “Arab World of Two Minds About U.S. Involvement in Iraq,”
New York Times, October 29, 2003, p. A10.
17. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), “Combating Terrorism: Interagency Framework
and Agency Programs to Address the Overseas Threat,” GAO-03-165, May
23, 2003, p. 4, www.gao.gov/new.items/d03165.pdf (accessed April 8, 2004).
l Scott Atran
18. See “What After the Capture of Saddam,” December 16, 2003, www.islamonline.net/
livedialogue/english/Browse.asp?hGuestID=mYDRef (accessed April 8, 2004).
19. National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, February 2003, https://usinfo.state.gov/
topical/pol/terror/strategy/ (accessed April 6, 2004).
20. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Address to a Joint Session of Congress
and to the American People,” September 20, 2001, www.whitehouse.gov/news/
releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html (accessed April 8, 2004); “Bush: ‘Al Qaeda Types’
Committing Terror in Iraq,” Fox News, August 22, 2003.
21. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Views of a Changing World,”
June 2003, https://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=185 (accessed
April 8, 2004).
22. Mark Tessler, “Do Islamic Orientations Influence Attitudes Toward Democracy in
the Arab World: Evidence from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria,” International
Journal of Comparative Sociology 2 (spring 2002): 229–249; Mark Tessler and Dan
Corstange, “How Should Americans Understand Arab and Muslim Political Attitudes:
Combating Stereotypes with Public Opinion Data from the Middle East,”
Journal of Social Affairs 19 (winter 2002).
23. Khalil Shikaki, “Palestinians Divided,” Foreign Affairs 81, no. 1 (January/February 2002);
Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, “Public Opinion Poll No. 9,” October
7–14, 2003, www.pcpsr.org/survey/polls/2003/p9a.html (accessed April 8, 2004).
24. 1997 DSB Summer Study Task Force, “DSB Force Protection Panel Report to DSB,”
December 1997, p. 8, www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/trans2.pdf (accessed April 6, 2004).
25. Colum Lynch, “Volunteers Swell a Reviving Qaeda, UN Warns,” International Herald
Tribune, December 19, 2002, p. 3.
26. Gary Becker, “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach,” Political Economy
76 (1968): 169–217.
27. Alan Krueger and Jitka Malecková, “Seeking the Roots of Terror,” Chronicle of
Higher Education, June 6, 2003, https://chronicle.com/free/v49/i39/39b01001.htm
(accessed April 6, 2004).
28. Alan Krueger, “Poverty Doesn’t Create Terrorists,” New York Times, May 29, 2003.
29. Neil J. Smelser and Faith Mitchell, eds., Discouraging Terrorism: Some Implications of
9/11 (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2002), p. 2, www.nap.edu/
books/0309085306/html/R1.html (accessed April 8, 2004).
30. Michelle Ciarrocca and William D. Hartung, “Increases in Military Spending and
Security Assistance Since 9/11/01,” October 4, 2002, www.worldpolicy.org/projects/
arms/news/SpendingDOD911.html (accessed April 8, 2004).
31. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regularly document “horrific”
and “massive” human rights abuses occurring in countries that receive the most
U.S. aid in absolute terms (Israel, Egypt, Colombia, Pakistan) and the greatest relative
increase in aid (Central Asian republics, Georgia, Turkey). For details, see
Atran supplementary online materials.
32. World Markets Research Centre, “Global Terrorism Index 2003/4,” August 18, 2003.
Colombia, Israel, and Pakistan top the list of places at risk for terrorist attack. Iraq,
not previously a major risk, has also leapt to the forefront.
33. George Carpenter and Robert K. Pelant, “Hope Is an Answer to Terror,” interview
with Charlene Porter, in September 11 One Year Later, September 2002, p. 14, (accessed
April 8, 2004). See “The Link Between Poverty and Terrorism,” statement
by Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Baroness Symons,
House of Lords, London, February 27, 2002.
Mishandling Suicide Terrorism l
34. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “President Outlines U.S. Plan to
Help World’s Poor,” March 22, 2002, www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/03/
20020322-1.html (accessed April 8, 2004). See Janet J. Jai, “Getting at the Roots of
Terrorism,” Christian Science Monitor, December 10, 2001, p. 7 (comments by Nobel
Peace Prize laureates).
35. Scott Atran, “Genesis of Suicide Terrorism,” Science, March 7, 2003, pp. 1534–1539.
36. Wesley Clark, address to Veterans of Foreign Wars, Nashua, N.H., December 20,
37. David Von Drehle, “Debate Over Iraq Focuses on Outcome,” Washington Post, October
7, 2002, p. A1.
38. Richard Cheney, interview by Brit Hume, Fox News, March 17, 2004.
39. Rex A. Hudson, “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and
Why?” September 1999, p. 40, www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/Soc_Psych_of_Terrorism.pdf (accessed
April 8, 2004).
40. Scott Atran, “Who Wants to Be a Martyr,” New York Times, May 5, 2003, p. A23.
41. Ministry of Home Affairs, Republic of Singapore, “White Paper—The Jemaah
Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism,” January 7, 2003, www2.mha.gov.sg/
mha/detailed.jsp?artid=667&type=4&root=0&parent=0&cat=0&mode=arc (accessed
April 8, 2004).
42. Raphael Ezekiel, The Racist Mind: Portraits of American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen
(New York: Viking, 1995).
43. Al-Ahram Al-Arabi (Cairo), February 3, 2001.
44. Richard Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently
and Why (New York: Free Press, 2003).
45. Jeremy Weinstein, “Resources and the Information Problem in Rebel Recruitment,”
November 2003, www.armedgroups.org/_media/Weinstein_paper.pdf (accessed April
9, 2004).
46. Brian Barber, Heart and Stones: Palestinian Youth from the Intifada (New York: St.
Martin’s Press, 2003).
47. Mia Bloom, “Devising a Theory of Suicide Terror,” in Dying to Kill: The Global Phenomenon
of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming). See Al
Aqsa’ Martyrs Brigades communiqué, January 10, 2003; “Communiqués of the Martyr
Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, March 15–April 25, 2002,” www.tao.ca/~solidarity/texts/
palestine/PFLPcommuniques.html (accessed April 6, 2004); cf. “Military
Communiqué—Qassam Brigades,” August 9, 2001, www.intellnet.org/resources/
hamas_communiques/hamas/comm_text/2001/9_aug_01.htm (accessed April 8, 2004).
48. David Rhode and C. J. Chivers, “Qaeda’s Grocery Lists and Manuals of Killing,”
New York Times, March 17, 2002, p. A1.
49. Studies of people who become torturers for their governments demonstrate the
eventual power of such blind obedience. See Mika Haritos-Fatouros, “The Official
Torturer: A Learning Model for Obedience to the Authority of Violence,” Journal of
Applied Social Psychology 18 (1988): 1107–1120.
50. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York:
Viking Press, 1970).
51. Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority (New York: Harper & Row, 1974).
52. Basel Saleh, “Economic Conditions and Resistance to Occupation in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip: There Is a Causal Connection,” paper presented to the Graduate
Student forum, Kansas State University, April 4, 2003.
l Scott Atran
53. Atran, “Who Wants to Be a Martyr.”
54. Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (New York:
HarperCollins, 2003).
55. Hill, October 29, 2003.
56. Timothy Spangler, interview, BBC News, January 21, 2003.
57. Pew Research Center, “Views of a Changing World.”
58. Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2002).
59. Robert Frank, Passions Within Reason: The Strategic Role of the Emotions (New York:
W.W. Norton, 1988).
60. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “A Year After Iraq War: Mistrust
of America in Europe Ever Higher, Muslim Anger Persists,” March 16, 2004,
https://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=206 (accessed April 9, 2004).
61. GAO, “Combating Terrorism.”
62. National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2003, www.whitehouse.gov/
nsc/nss.html (accessed April 9, 2004) (introduction by President George W. Bush).
63. Robert McNamara, “In Retrospect—The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” address
to the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, April 25, 1995,
(accessed April 9, 2004).
64. Joseph S. Nye Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York:
PublicAffairs, 2004).

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