Why it’s important to view suicide terrorists as rational actors

By Danielle Bonner

mind set

Credit Matt Dorfman

It can be difficult to imagine that a person who would carry out an act of suicide terrorism is a sane actor. It can be easier to assume such a person who would engage in such an brutal activity must be insane to have the ability to carry out such violent acts.

However researchers in the field of terrorism such as Jerrold Post argues that terrorists including the extreme suicide terrorists are in fact “psychologically normal” pointing out that terrorist groups themselves even take measures to insure they do not have mentally impaired individuals within their group or organisation because they recognise that such persons pose a security risk to their operations.[1]

Others such as Louise Richardson and Ehud Sprinzak also support the claim that Suicide terrorists are rational actors. Richardson notes that “there is no particular terrorist personality, and that the notion of terrorists as crazed fanatics is not consistent with the plentiful empirical evidence available”.[2] While Sprinzak who although does view terrorists even suicide bombers as fanatics states that they are also “rational fanatics”.

So if suicide terrorist are sane actors why is it important to test this theory? It’s been noted terrorism is a highly complex and constantly changing phenomenon,[3] if we are therefore going to understand its multiple aspects we must learn to understand its actors.

If we go from the position that terrorists are solely politically motivated we are able to understand the mental processes of such actors. If terrorists are sane actors when we can move away from the notion that their behaviour and actions are not some random acts of terror and violence but rather we can begin to address and investigate the reasons behind their behaviour their actions. Understanding such behaviour and motivations can go some way to developing counter-terrorism polices. There could be social issues that play a role in the recruitment of terrorists therefore if these issues could be addressed terrorism could be further reduced.

For example it has been reported there was increase in willing suicide bombers in 2002 when “Iraq decided to increase the payment to families of suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip”[4] which would suggest there could be a social economic aspect for some terrorist to engage in such behaviour particularly those in low income societies where there is a history of ongoing conflict while others have also observed that there is an open willingness to die for the cause that being the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

The use of suicide terrorism is a strategic tactic used by organisations to achieve their political objectives for example it has been reported that Al Qaida during 2005 response to seeing “Iraqi battalions beginning to join the persistent U.S. forces in al Anbar” they used suicide attacks as part of their strategic plan to avoid direct fighting with the international and national forces as they did not have the real capacity to defeat them. [5] The same could be said to the situation in Afghanistan and the use of suicide attacks by the Taliban to destabilize national security and install fear into the population arguable in these situations we can see that suicide terrorism in an active war zone is used as a war tactic.

One of the most recent cases surrounding the metal state of a terrorist was that of Norwegian Anders Breivik, who in 2011 planted a bomb and went on a shooting spree, in total his actions killed of 77 and the injury over 242. While Anders always stated himself to be sane whereas the prosecution tried to make the case for his insanity[6]. The case produced conflicting reports as to his mental state with the first Psychiatrists assessments concluding that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and later reports dismissing this diagnose.

On 24 August 2012, the trials presiding judges delivered a verdict declaring Breivik to be criminally sane and convicting him of terrorism and premeditated murder,[7]  In delivering the verdict Judge Wenche Arntzen in dismissing the argument of insanity pointed to the fact that “Breivik’s withdrawal and suspiciousness could be a consequence of his terrorist plans” rather than a result of insanity. [8]

But how can we be sure that terrorist are not crazed actors? It was noted by Edwin Bakker that “there is an absence of empirical evidence due in part to the fact that it is very difficult to diagnose terrorists, because few scholars have had the opportunity to interview and monitor terrorists the way psychiatrists normally can”.

Therefore in the absence of such evidence an argument could be made that we cannot be 100% sure suicide terrorists are not insane. However at the same time there is very “little empirical evidence that suggests that terrorists are crazy”. This situation also shows why it is important to continually monitor and evaluate the behaviour of such actors to ensure that counter-terrorism has the most up to date potential profile of such actors.

As its stands the majority of reported suicide terrorists can be seen not as insane actors but calculated and strategic tactic used to form part of an overall objective.  We therefore should focus on analysing terrorist believe values and working objectives to help combat current and future terrorist attacks.

[1] Post, Jerrold M. The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to Al Qaeda. (Palgrave Macmillan: 2007)

[2] Video 3.2 Assumptions Terrorists are crazy

[3] Bakker, Edwin. Jihadi terrorists in Europe, their characteristics and the circumstances in which they joined the jihad: an exploratory study, (Clingendael Institute: 2006) Click here to read

[4] Krueger, Alan B. and Jitka Malecková. ‘Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?’, NBER Working Paper No. 9074 (July 2002),  Click here to read

[5] Jones, Seth and Martin Libicki. How Terrorist Groups End: Implications for Countering Al Qa’ida | RAND, (RAND Corporation: 2008), pp. 1-45, Click here to read

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-15936276

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19365616

[8] The Breivik case and what psychiatrists can learn from it – Melle – 2013 – World Psychiatry – Wiley Online Library. 2014. The Breivik case and what psychiatrists can learn from it – Melle – 2013 – World Psychiatry at:http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wps.20002/full.


Women have the power: united they cannot be defeated

Women have the power

By Danielle Bonner

There’s a certain energy created when you have a group of women come together for a common cause, an energy that can lift your confidence and empower you to take on any challenge.

In April I attended the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) 2015 conference, on women’s power to stop war. It was an extra special conference because it also celebrated 100 years since the organisations formation when 100s of women came together on 28th April 1915 at The Hague to call for the end of the First World War.

100 years on again some 1000 women came together from over 82 countries some travelling from ongoing conflict in their country such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and other conflict war zones. To hear, share and discuss the ways we can end conflict and lay foundations for peace.

Over 3 days I listened and talked with women from all over the world, like Fatima from Pakistan whose supporting women in her country through the promotion off human rights and the use of technology.

The women from Syria who spoke of their everyday coordination with other women across the county to end the conflict and highlight the crimes being committed, to the women from Iraq and Libya highlighting their efforts against extremism in their communities.

On my last day I talked with Maureen an energized 83 year old from America. She’d been round the world twice on what she called borrowed money! Though she always paid back. In 1995 she travelled with 200 other women from Helsinki to Beijing on the peace train to be present at the 4th UN women’s conference, which produced the Platform for Action to support women, an agreement still in effect today which sets the framework to support the rights and empowerment of women.

 The diverse stories told by women were inspiring, empowering but also eye opening, while stories of conflict can be seen in the news, when you are sitting in a room with a survivor of conflict and you hear their personal story you cannot but feel a wave of emotions.

The issue of sexual violence as a weapon of war was a widely featured topic during the conference, one journalist from Colombia spoke of her kidnapping and rape at the hands of a militia, and while it was difficult for her to speak about her experience she explained she did so to bring a human face to the reality of sexual violence and the impact it has. Similarly a young women from Uganda and a victim survivor of the terrorist group Lord Resistance Army (LRA), spoke of the continual injustice victims of sexual violence faced in her country and the lack of support provided to them in the aftermath of experienced violence.

Commitment to action was also demonstrated, during the conference a lady from Yemen highlighted she found herself stateless because she could re-enter her country because of the recent imposed closed borders and international military airstrikes in Yemen. The next day WILPF prepared a statement for government action demanding the end to these imposed sanctions, which was hand then delivered by 20 women to 12 foreign embassy residing in The Hague who influenced the conflict in some form.

Amal Basha from Yeman and Sameena Nazir from Pakistan, calling for action to end conflict in Yemen

The actions of the women were reported in the media drawing awareness to the conflict and the realities people faced. This collective action is an example of the power and solidarity women have to create change. A solidarity I’ve seen in my own work in the women’s sector which connects locally and nationally to support women, raising awareness to issues effecting women’s lives, to the women’s groups across communities who provide friendly support relief for women in their communities.

The conference too highlighted the importance of sharing and giving voices to women’s lives, while it demonstrated the great leadership women have across our world’s communities. It brought voices to the many talented women working to end conflict and build peace in challenging circumstances.

Research shows including local women in a peace process increases the chance of violence ending by 24%. Yet despite this research women find it particularly challenging to even gain a seat or have their voices heard at peace negotiation tables, further allowing women’s rights to be under prioritised and omitting women from having any input in peace process and decisions affecting their lives as women. Women in Peacebuilding

Women’s security, rights and political inclusion are common challenges face by women in conflict and post conflict environments. It is therefore vital that we ensure international laws such as the UN Resolution 1325 and other agreed human rights and laws are not only implemented but continually developed to ensure women are protect and have a voice in peace processes.

The Women’s Power to Stop War conference provided an international platform for women to come together to share work, ideas and empower each other particularly youth women to address and play an active role in bringing war and conflict in our world to an end.

And while the many may never no their names or hear about the great work these women are currently doing they are the silent backbone to peace in our world. They prove we can and should all do something to unmask injustices & create change in our world.