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    what hollywood has taught us about the ticking time bomb scenario..., 2007-11-07 16:59:51 | Main | hints for staying off the 894,000-strong terrorism watchlist..., 2007-11-11 16:42:49

    will 'beyond belief ii' feature more atran-harris suicide flaming?:

    One can only hope. For the comments section whenever their mysql server is restored, this was reiterated in said comments section all the way down:

    "then they do something that is only explained by religion...blow themselves up and kill civilians"

    Except for all the, as far as it matters, atheists that have blown themselves up and killed civilians. This idea that suicide terrorism can only be explained by religion is contradicted by the empirical data.

    You can go back to 19th century anarchists or you can look at the socialist and communist suicide bombers for 1980s Hezbollah - the majority - or a decade later many LTTE Black Tigers. Last we checked, pan-slavism isn't a religion either. More generally one could include most suicide terrorist attacks prior to 2003 in our interpretations of the observed universe.

    Why not start somewhere more basic than complex social phenomenon like religious belief? One could come up with rationalizations for the necessary preconditions to becoming a suicidal terrorist:

    1. Believes civilians are a legitimate target for violence.
    2. Believes limited operational capabilities demand suicidal tactics.

    in uncountable ways. It's a simple matter of identifying with one community and dehumanizing another from the weak end of a conflict. Religion carries no special cachet in that regard. Perhaps it foments tighter communal bonds than, say, evolutionary biology, but non-religious people still, thankfully, find ways to commune without religion. For a quick demonstration of the potential for dehumanization outside prayer groups just turn on CNBC for a few minutes.

    The simplest explanation for the predominance of religious backgrounds in the most recent suicide campaigns in Iraq is as a byproduct of the Iraqi population being predominately religious, and one supposes, the ubiquitous denial of access to a modern airforce with which to carpet bomb surgically strike the eastern seaboard.

    Scott Atran is focused on particular campaigns where religion is the basis for communal identities, so the details of the religious belief are relevant. He has to explain to oblivious Western leaders how to destroy them, after all. Sam Harris, just judging from his performance from last year, has had nothing at all useful to add to the discussion.

:: posted by buermann @ 2007-11-11 05:15:20 CST | link

      Those are pretty good preconditions. I'd add downward economic mobility, with the confirmed expectation that any appeal of the progression will be judged with more weight given according to status than any standard of Golden Rule justice. How people stand in relation to their peers and enemies gnaws at them.

    posted by Scruggs @ 2007-11-11 17:54:02 | link

      I wonder if the impression that poverty has something to do with it stems from that wonderfully apt phrase "poor man's airforce". The poverty that induces suicide terrorism is capital in nature rather than a matter of personal finance.

      The young men and women found to engage in it usually had fine futures ahead of them. They come from middle class backgrounds and attend, oftentimes Western, university. I think you could link "downward economic mobility" to it, but it would be the downward mobility of their societies at large or their communities in particular. More so, that downward mobility would have to be percieved as a result of an external source. Sanctions against Iraq, etc..

      But this is getting away from a useful frame of reference. The individual motivations of any man or women for any kind of suicide mission are both highly private and irrelevant to the causes for the mission.

      I think one of the reasons the discussion on this topic so often circles back on itself is that two or more private rationalizations for a typical suicide are summoned up to explain a more general phenomenon, with much nodding all around. But if one glances at the literature on suicide by itself it becomes obvious that utterly opposite private rationalizations - say the egoistic and altruistic - could easily motivate different bombers working towards identical goals. Motivations of economic justice, nationalism, or simple revenge are just as functional as religious obligations or rewards in an afterlife. The reason the last are such favorites - and the only ever discussed despite all evidence to the contrary - among Sam Harris and his anti-religious ilk in identical rhetorical form to the anti-Muslim conservatives who harp on the same details - is because it's serves as such a fine bludgeon for political movements uninterested in internalizing new or corrected data into their worldview.

      It would be far more useful, frankly, for us to dismiss the ghastly fascination with individual suicide bombers altogether and focus on the dynamics of the conflict for which suicides, afterall, merely volunteer. The focus on suicide terrorism as a practice so far beyond the realms of humanity as to require special attention is a useless distraction but for those who find some utility in distracting us.

      Gotta go suicide pwn some noobz on halo.

    posted by buermann @ 2007-11-11 19:51:27 | link

    go ahead, express that vague notion

    your turing test:

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