Genesis of Suicide terrorism
To cite this version:
Scott Atran. Genesis of Suicide terrorism. Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2003, 299, pp.1534-1539.
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Genesis of Suicide Terrorism
Contemporary suicide terrorists from the Middle East are publicly deemed crazed cowards bent on senseless destruction who thrive in poverty and ignorance. Recent research indicates they have no appreciable psychopathology and are as educated and economically well-off as surrounding populations. A ﬁrst line of defense is to get the communities from which suicide attackers stem to stop the attacks by learning how to minimize the receptivity of mostly ordinary people to recruiting organizations.
ccording to the U.S. Department of
State report Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 (1), no single definition of terrorism is universally accepted; however,
for purposes of statistical analysis and policymaking: “The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” Of
course, one side’s “terrorists” may well be
another side’s “freedom fighters” (Fig. 1).
For example, in this definition’s sense, the
Nazi occupiers of France rightly denounced
the “subnational” and “clandestine” French
Resistance fighters as terrorists. During the
1980s, the International Court of Justice used
the U.S. Administration’s own definition of
terrorism to call for an end to U.S. support for
“terrorism” on the part of Nicaraguan Contras
opposing peace talks.
For the U.S. Congress, “‘act of terrorism’
means an activity that—(A) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life that is a violation of the criminal laws of the
United States or any State, or that would be a
criminal violation if committed within the
jurisdiction of the United States or of any
State; and (B) appears to be intended (i) to
intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii)
to influence the policy of a government by
intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the
conduct of a government by assassination or
kidnapping.” (2). When suitable, the definition can be broadened to include states hostile to U.S. policy.
Apparently, two official definitions of terrorism have existed since the early 1980s: that used by the Department of State “for
statistical and analytical purposes” and that
used by Congress for criminal proceedings.
Together, the definitions allow great flexibilCNRS–Institut Jean Nicod, 1 bis Avenue Lowendal, 75007 Paris, France, and Institute for Social Research,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106 –1248,
USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
is perceived as the common good of alleviating the community’s onerous political and social realities.
Suicide attack is an ancient practice with a
modern history (supporting online text). Its
use by the Jewish sect of Zealots (sicari) in
Roman-occupied Judea and by the Islamic
Order of Assassins (hashashin) during the
early Christian Crusades are legendary examples (5). The concept of “terror” as systematic use of violence to attain political ends was first codified by Maximilien...
References: 5. B. Lewis, The Assassins (Basic, New York, 2002).
7. A. Axell, Kamikaze (Longman, New York, 2002).
8. A precipitating event was the exiling of 418 Palestinians suspected of afﬁliation with Hamas (18 December 1992), the ﬁrst mass expulsion of Arabs from
Palestine since 1948.
12. “Suicide terrorism: A global threat,” Jane’s BioSecurity (2002); available at www.janes.com/security/
13. B. Lewis, What Went Wrong (Oxford Univ. Press, New
14. D. Malakoff, Science 295, 254 (2002).
15. D. Chapin et al., Science 297, 1997 (2002).
18. S. Milgram, Obedience to Authority (Harper & Row,
New York, 1974).
19. L. Ross, C. Stillinger, Negotiation J. 7, 389 (1991).
20. R. Clark, Crime in America (Simon & Schuster, New
23. G. Becker, Pol. Econ. 76, 169 (1968).
27. T. Friedman, Longitudes and Attitudes (Farrar, Strauss,
Giroux, New York, 2002)
29. R. Ezekiel, The Racist Mind (Viking, New York, 1995).
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