History has revealed that terrorists are capable of carrying out bold and destructive acts that at first glance appear to be unexplainable. What kind of person would sacrifice his or her own life in order to kill innocent people? What could possibly motivate a young person to become a suicide bomber? In the wake of many tragic events, it can be difficult to analyze objectively the causes and processes leading up to them. For many, understanding the motives behind suicide bombing comes dangerously close to excusing or approving it. It may seem easier just to assume that the people involved are "evildoers" or "callous fanatics delighting in the carnage they have created."  Any extreme measures taken against them will be regarded, not simply as appropriate and justified, but as obligatory. However, terrorism is not a simple phenomenon with easy explanations. Although many people cite "evil" as a prime motivator, there seems to be no single, complete theory about what brings about such behavior. Usually a wide variety of motives and causal factors are involved. Unsurprisingly, many people have attempted to understand suicide bombing in terms of the abnormality of the individuals responsible. However, if only those with some kind of psychopathology could be terrorists, terrorism would not be the large problem that it is. Research shows no indication that terrorists are crazy or psychopathic or that they lack moral feelings.  Most terrorists are not psychologically deviant and do not operate outside the normal rules of behavior, but are instead ordinary people from unremarkable backgrounds. In fact, research indicates that terrorists tend to have considerable insight into their own actions and are aware of how others view them.  They believe that their violent actions, while somewhat regrettable, are justified and noble. Moreover, their emotional commitment to their cause and comrades is indicative of normal human psychology. Often their actions do not ultimately stem from hatred, but rather from love of their own group and culture that they believe is threatened and requires protection.  It is important to note at the outset that the use of the term 'suicide' to characterize these attacks reflects an outsider's view. Those who commit or advocate such attacks do not regard them as acts of suicide, but rather as acts of martyrdom.  While suicide is associated with hopelessness and depression, the actions of the bombers are seen as a matter of heroism and honor.
Many theorists focus on ideology in their attempt to understand what motivates suicide bombers. Randy Borum (2003), for example, focuses on terrorist ideology and the process of how these ideas or doctrines develop. He identifies a four-stage process whereby individuals develop extremist beliefs. A group or individual first identifies some sort of undesirable state of affairs; then frames that event or condition as unjust; then blames the injustice on a target policy, person, or nation; and then vilifies or demonizes the responsible party so that aggression seems justified.  Those suffering from adverse conditions do not regard themselves as "bad" or "evil," but only as the victims of injustice. This makes aggression against the "evildoers" who have wronged one's group easier to justify psychologically. Those who maintain that suicide attacks are motivated by religious ideology suggest that the bombers believe that God has sent them on a mission. They are motivated primarily by the promise of a happy afterlife and heavenly reward and the threat of heavenly retribution Their rationale is that by blowing themselves up in a crowd of people, they are making themselves martyrs and forging their own gateway to heaven.  Many of these individuals are indoctrinated at an early age about the spiritual importance of purifying the world and sacrificing their lives to a holy war. In some cases, radical religious groups use the...
 Andrew Silke, "Courage in Dark Places: Reflections on Terrorist Psychology," in Social Research, (70:1, 2004), 178.
 Clark McCauley, "Psychological Issues in Understanding Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism," in The Psychology of Terrorism: Theoretical Understandings and Perspectives, ed. Chris E. Stout, (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002), 5.
 Randy Borum, "Understanding the Terrorist Mindset, p. 7-10 in FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (72:7, 2003), 8.
 Michael J. Stevens, "The Unanticipated Consequences of Globalization: Contextualizing Terrorism," in The Psychology of Terrorism: Theoretical Understandings and Perspectives, ed. Chris E. Stout, (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002), 36.
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