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Suicide Bombing: The induced breakdown of human spiritual interconnectedness

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by Paul J Balles

Mr. Balles examines the phenomenon of suicide bombers from the socio-psychological perspective. Noting the French sociologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim’s remark that, when an individual’s needs surpass his capacity to satisfy them, “the result can only be friction, pain, lack of productivity and a general weakening of the impulse to live”, he says: “The suicide bomber, unable to develop and express his individuality under [Israeli] occupation and unable to serve his society in constructive ways, turns to a goal beyond this world.

A report on MSNBC news stipulates that “a suicide takes place somewhere around the world every 40 seconds, or nearly one million a year, and the rate looks set to surge over the next two decades”.

The report adds that suicide is a major world health problem, that it’s largely preventable. The highest suicide rates (in percentages of population) have been in former Communist states – Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Latvia and Hungary, followed by Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Slovenia and Finland.

Judging from numbers alone in 2000, the greatest incidents of suicide have occurred in China (195,000), where there are more women suicides than men; India (87,000); Russia (52,000); and the USA (31,000). While there have been suicides in Arab countries, they certainly haven’t figured among the major sufferers either in numbers or rates per 1,000.

My interest in the topic has been fuelled by a wish to discover authoritative studies about what leads a person to self-destruct. According to New Scientist Digital (8 September 2004), “Suicide kills more people each year than road traffic accidents in most European countries, the World Health Organization is warning. And, globally, suicide takes more lives than murder and war put together, says the agency in a call for action.”

The death toll from suicide at almost one million people per year ­ accounts for half of all violent deaths worldwide, said the WHO report. It also noted, “people in Latin America, Muslim countries and a few Asian nations are least likely to die by their own hand”.

“It’s important to realise that suicide is preventable,” points out Lars Mehlum, president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention. “And that having access to the means of suicide is both an important risk factor and determinant of suicide.”

Since high self-esteem and social “connectedness” can protect against suicide, it’s logical to conclude that the absence of these factors can play an important role leading to suicide. The problem not only affects those who die at their own hands. It’s been estimated by health officials that 20 times that number have failed in their attempts to commit suicide.

The yearly costs associated with self-afflicted injuries have been estimated in the billions of dollars. As pointed out by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), “For every suicide death there are many survivors; their lives are profoundly affected emotionally, socially and economically.”

Professor Mehlum, the president of IASP, said, “Suicidal behaviour has a large number of underlying causes which are complex and interact with one another. Factors such as living in poverty, unemployment, loss of loved ones, arguments with family or friends, legal or work-related problems are all acknowledged as risk factors when affecting those who are predisposed or otherwise especially vulnerable to self-harm.”

In a scholarly paper on “Suicide (1897)”, Robert Alun Jones reports on studies by the great French sociologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim that dealt with a whole range of topics including:

1. What is suicide?
2. Extra-social causes
3. Social causes and social types
a. Egoistic suicide
b. Altruistic suicide
c. Anomic suicide
4. Suicide as a social phenomenon
5. Critical remarks

“Suicide thus varies inversely with the degree of integration of the religious, domestic and political groups of which the individual forms a part; in short, as a society weakens or “disintegrates,” the individual depends less on the group, depends more upon himself, and recognizes no rules of conduct beyond those based upon private interests. Durkheim called this state of “excessive individualism” egoism, and the special type of self-inflicted death it produces “egoistic suicide”.

If suicides are low in Arab societies, what accounts for the increasing rates of suicide in Bahrain, especially among Indians? With the expatriate society weak and the individual independent of the group, he becomes the egoistic suicide defined by Durkheim. That certainly wouldn’t explain the suicides of the Palestinians. For this, Durkheim had another explanation:

“But if excessive individuation thus leads to suicide, so does insufficient individuation: …men on the threshold of old age, women upon the deaths of their husbands, followers and servants upon the deaths of their chiefs — in which the person kills himself because it is his duty.” Such a sacrifice, Durkheim argued, is imposed by society for social purposes; and for society to be able to do this, the individual personality must have little value, a state Durkheim called “altruism”.

Durkheim notes that “the altruist commits himself to a goal beyond this world, and henceforth this world is an obstacle and burden to him… the unhappiness of the altruist… springs from hope, faith, even enthusiasm, and affirms itself in acts of extraordinary energy”.

Those responsible for the suicide of the Palestinian bomber may know full well what their treatment of the Palestinians does to their psyches, in which case they remain entirely responsible for the deaths incurred.

To quote Durkheim again, “No living being can be happy unless its needs are sufficiently proportioned to its means; for if its needs surpass its capacity to satisfy them, the result can only be friction, pain, lack of productivity and a general weakening of the impulse to live.”

Whether they knew the outcome or not, this means that the Israeli occupation forces have themselves been responsible for the deaths made of their own sacrificial lambs that they have attributed to terrorists.

Palestinian suicide bombers have a kinship with the Romans at the time of Cato. Romans viewed suicide as a rational act, calmly undertaken, carefully planned in advance and intended for public consumption (almost entirely at odds with our modern conception of suicide).

Whereas most modern societies tend to view nearly all suicides as irrational, hastily planned and executed in a fit of passion, and usually undertaken alone, this type of suicide was the sort most deplored by the Romans, the type of suicide they sought to avoid when choosing their own deaths.

Thus Tacitus criticizes a man who leapt to his end from a building for his “sudden and undignified death” and reports that his mother was blamed and banished from Rome for 10 years. The Romans never condoned hasty, messy, irrational suicides. They haven’t been by Arabs either.

The suicide bomber, unable to develop and express his individuality under occupation and unable to serve his society in constructive ways, turns to a goal beyond this world.

Fouad Ajami U.S. News reports, “We love death,” said that quintessential merchant of death Osama bin Laden, “as much as the infidels love life.” Ajami adds, “The young homicide bomber walking into a Tel Aviv discotheque has come to serve a warrant of death on people his age whose ways he yearns for yet cannot have.”

Ajami concludes his article by saying, “…the 9/11 commission recently recommended the launching of a campaign of public diplomacy in the Muslim world. But this is illusion. For at heart, this war for Islam is one for Muslims to fight. It is for them to recover their faith from the purveyors of terror.”

Both conclusions are illusion. “Diplomacy in the Muslim world” will do nothing to change the circumstances – the sense of hopelessness imposed on the Palestinians and the oppression and humiliation of occupation felt by the Iraqis – under which the victims feel compelled to commit suicide.

The Muslim clerics that Ajami refers to as “purveyors of terror” are no more responsible for the conditions experienced by their congregations than their followers themselves are.

Neither the clerics nor their followers are fooled by the propaganda that calls the suicide bombers terrorists while ignoring the gross terrorism of occupation forces that murder, maim, destroy homes and livelihoods and instil constant fear with fighter jets, bombers, tanks, helicopter gunships and a well-armed military machine.

The propagandists may deceive their willing audiences in the West, but they don’t delude either the hopeless who have been impelled to suicide or those who feel empathy for the abject victims of oppression.

Something needs to be done about the disgusting tendency in the West to feel sorry for the victims of the victims. As Cesare Pavese has written, “No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.” It’s time to stop bluffing and bullying and to start corrective work on the reasons.

About the writer:

Paul Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for 35 years. For more information, see LINK.

Editorial reference, LINK


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Written by thecanadianheadlines

December 22, 2009 at 11:21 am

One Response

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  1. You missed the all point. Committing a suicide in the mission of exalted matter is one of the directives of Islam. The true Allah’s believer is deserting to execute any glorifying Allah’s deed by sacrificing himself. First it is a must when some Islamic leader thinks it must. Generally Muslims are segregated into sects and groups and the imam of any group have the moral and religious power to determent the roll and the rules for his own group. Second, it is expected that the livings will cherish the memory of the suicide one and pray for him to meet the promised virgins in paradise.
    That deep cultivated culture is pushed to the mind of the kids from their day one. No wonder that lot of youngsters are volunteering to meet their challenge to soon and too easy and commit a suicide terror mission in the name of their god.


    January 20, 2010 at 10:14 am

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