What if suicide bombers aren't so much radical as depressed and suicidal? Paul Kix floats this idea in the Boston Globe this past weekend, reviewing the work of a "small cadre of scholars from across the world." The thesis in his report is straightforward: there's a growing amount of research showing that the mostly young people who become suicide bombers are more motivated by depression and isolation rather than a radical ideology. He recounts the story of Qari Sami, a university student with a bomb strapped to his person who walked into a Kabul internet cafe, past the tables and crowd and into a bathroom where he locked the door. And only then did he blow himself up.
The scholars to wchich Kix refers are trying to alter the mainstream perception of what motivates a suicide bomber. Though the idea that a suicide bomber "may in fact be suicidal" sounds painfully obvious, the conclusion, Kix argues, is an important one.
Many Americans, Kix observes, still choose to conjure up an image of a suicide bomber as solely a "brainwashed, religiously fervent automaton, anticipating a paradise of virgins in the clouds." If someone like Mohammed Atta, the ringleader behind the 9/11 hijacking, were seen and understood as something other than a martyr, this reasoning goes, "the next Atta would not have the same effect on the world." In other words, "the more the terrorist is understood, the less damage the terrorist can cause." Will we perceive them differently if we know that "terrorist recruiters [admit] they look for the 'sad guys' for martyrdom"?