One-for-all cultures foster suicide bomber terrorism

Sep 12, 2013 by Blaine Friedlander

To understand suicide bombers better – why people kill themselves and others for a cause – we need to look more closely at cultures that value a group over an individual, says new Cornell social sciences research.

"Suicide bombing is one of the most devastating terrorist tactics. Understanding what explains and predicts its adoption is very important for states facing threats from ," says Michael Genkin, a Cornell in the field of sociology, who co-authored a study with Robert Braun, Cornell doctoral student in the field of government. Their paper was published online Aug. 19 in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Until 1981, there was virtually no use of among terrorist organizations. By 2006, about 25 percent of were using this tactic. Such attacks have killed some 16,000 people and wounded 35,000 others, explained Braun. Suicide bombers have assassinated heads of state and other high profile targets. In fact, the most devastating use of a suicide tactic was carried out against Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. "We establish that deeper cultural dimensions and spatial patterns should be taken into account if we want to improve our understanding of where suicide bombing spreads," says Braun.

Given that collectivism stresses self-sacrifice, it can be plausibly linked to suicide terrorism. Using case studies, survey data and diffusion models, the researchers discovered that collectivism lowers the cost of adopting these tactics by facilitating the recruitment of attackers and reducing societal backlash against self-sacrifice. As a consequence, it tends to spread faster to collectivist groups.

"If the tactic is so effective, why haven't we seen a single terrorist organization based in Europe or North America adopt it?" asks Genkin. "Consider war. For armies in individualist cultures, like our own, risky operations – on behalf of the group – are appropriate. But ordering a soldier to sacrifice his own or her own life crosses a red line. Terror groups in individualist cultures subscribe to the same norm. Otherwise there would be a strong backlash by members, supporters and sympathizers."

The study, "Cultural Resonance and the Diffusion of Suicide Bombings: The Role of Collectivism," appeared in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Explore further: Report shows there is space for at least 1 million new homes on brownfield sites in England

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why it's 'homicide bomber' not 'suicide bomber'

Sep 02, 2013

A University of Adelaide suicide prevention expert has called for the term "homicide bomber" to replace the widely used "suicide bomber", because he says people who kill themselves while murdering others have few similarities ...

The faithless side of suicide bombing

Jun 06, 2011

Terrorist groups bend the rules of 'true' Islam to justify the use of female suicide bombers, according to Margaret Gonzalez-Perez from Southeastern Louisiana University in the US. Her paper traces the development of radical ...

Suicide bombers' motivations are studied

Jun 21, 2007

A British scientist says the view that suicide bombers are brainwashed, religious fanatics vulnerable through poverty and youth is not accurate.

Recommended for you

Study identifies why re-educating torturers may not work

Nov 21, 2014

Many human rights educators assume – incorrectly, as it turns out – that police and military officers in India who support the torture of suspects do so because they are either immoral or ignorant. This ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.