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Toward an Analytical Model of Suicide Terrorism—A Comment

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 11 November 2014, At: 12:50Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Toward an Analytical Model of SuicideTerrorismA CommentAMI PEDAHZUR aa Department of Political Science , IsraelPublished online: 10 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: AMI PEDAHZUR (2004) Toward an Analytical Model of Suicide TerrorismAComment, Terrorism and Political Violence, 16:4, 841-844, DOI: 10.1080/095465590899786

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  • Toward an Analytical Model of SuicideTerrorismA Comment

    AMI PEDAHZUR

    Department of Political Science University of HaifaHaifa, Israel

    In this comment, I offer an alternative model for describing and explaining suicideterrorism. The model offers three stage: a) decision making among elites of terroristorganizations, b) individual motivations of the perpetrators and c) the organisa-tional process of recruitment, socialization, and launching of the terrorist.

    This is an impressive and interesting article, written by two scholars who have anoutstanding understanding of the field of suicide terrorism. The article covers mostof the academic literature on the topic and offers an exceptional summary of recentstudies. I was also impressed by the professionalism and academic integrity of thewriters, while describing the different methodological problems involved in studyingthis issue, and the limitations which these problems imposed on their study.

    In general, I agree with many of the arguments raised in the article. However,I would like to offer a slightly different approach to the study of this importantphenomenon. Throughout the article the authors mention the salient questionswhich preoccupy all of us while studying suicide terrorism, such as what are the rootcauses of this phenomenon and what fostered its rapid expansion. The questionwhich they put in the heart of the current article is: What motivates suicide terrorists?

    In my opinion, all these questions, including the ones that emphasize the individ-ual motivations of the terrorists, call for a broad theoretical endeavour and a com-parative analysis of the different manifestations of suicide terrorism in different partsof the world over the last three decades. The authors, however, chose a lessambitious path. Instead of a theory they offer a typology and instead of a compara-tive study they offer an in-depth look into the case of Palestinian suicide bombers.I must note though that in some parts of the article they do refer the reader to casestudies outside the Palestinian scene. Moreover, despite their focus on the typologythey do try to offer explanations concerning the causes that lead the different typesof suicide bombers to perpetrate this act.

    While trying to think of the causes that led the authors to limit their research toa typology it became clear to me that this might have been a result of their decisionto stick to the academic tradition of the first wave of studies in the field, those who

    Address correspondence to Ami Pedahzur, University of Haifa, School of PoliticalScience, Division of Government and Political Theory, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.E-mail: pedahzur@poli.haifa.ac.il

    Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol.16, No.4 (Winter 2004), pp.841844Copyright Taylor and Francis, Inc., 2004DOI: 10.1080/095465590899786

    Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol.16, No.4 (Winter 2004), pp.841844Copyright Taylor and Francis, Inc., 2004DOI: 10.1080/095465590899786

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  • put the terrorists in the spotlight. The majority of the studies of the second waveshifted the attention from the perpetrator to the leadership of the terrorist organiza-tion, as well as to the political and social conditions that allowed the phenomenon ofsuicide terrorism to take root in different countries. I strongly believe that this focusis more beneficial when trying to attain better understanding of the phenomenon.

    To go beyond the limitations of the typology and the relatively narrow scope ofthe Palestinian case I will offer in the next few paragraphs a tri-stage model, whichI believe has both the capacity to describe and explain the process that begins with arational strategic decision-making among the organizations elites, and concludes inthe explosion of the suicide terrorist. Unlike the current article, this model assumes amore macro approach, yet it does not neglect the individual level of analysis.

    Before presenting the model, I should indicate some of its limitations. First,despite my attempt to offer a model which would be applicable to as many casesas possible the current model is mainly relevant to societies and communities whichsuffered from repression and were involved in a long lasting struggle (for example:Shiis in Lebanon, Palestinians, Tamils, Kurds, Chechens, etc.). Thus, the modelexcludes some of the Al-Qaeda suicide terrorists and, most prominently, the hijack-ers of 11 September. Second, the rapid expansion of suicide terrorism over the lastfew years and, especially, the events in Chechnya and Iraq, have not yet been docu-mented in a way which would enable academic analysis. This may require someadaptation and modification of the model in the future.

    Third, my attempt to divide the process into three stages is mostly for illustrativepurposes. Stages one and two will probably take place concurrently. Fourth, while instages one and two I refer to independent and dependent variables, stage three is stilldescriptive. Fifth, due the short nature of the current comment I can only portray itsgeneral ideas and not discuss it at length or offer examples to support it (Figure 1).

    In the first stage, there is the rational process where leaders of the organization,in view of considerations related to the struggle with a stronger enemy,1 but also in

    Figure 1. A model for describing and explaining suicide terrorism.

    842 A. Pedahzur

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  • view of internal political considerations,2 reach a conclusion that suicide terrorism isthe most effective way of furthering their goals at a certain point in time. Neverthe-less, the decision to mobilize suicide bombers cannot be implemented without asocial environment that approves of this type of method of operation, for a terroristorganization acts on behalf of a social category and strives to advance its interests.The elite of the terrorist organization will do anything necessary to convince itsconstituency that suicide terrorism is a valuable tactic.3 The best way to do so isby endorsing the culture of death. The use of religious or nationalistic rhetoriccan make martyrdom appear as the right thing for this particular society at thispoint.

    If this social group, or part of it, embraces the culture of death and concurswith the organizations decision to deploy suicide bombers, then this support willmost likely maximize the benefits of this strategy. To the extent that this socialgroup, on the other hand, will have reservations regarding the use of suicide mili-tants, the organization will be left without much of an option but to engage in alter-native methods of action.

    The second stage, after the organizational elite has decided on this mode ofaction, calls for the recruitment of suicide potentials. In contrast to research that iswidely covered in the article and which focuses on the psychological problems ofthe individual which are liable to cause him or her to commit such an act, I believethat the person who chooses this act is mostly motivated by reasons anchored inpersonal experiences he=she has been exposed to, or is a resu

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