Religion News Report
Archived News items about religious cults, sects, and alternative religions
Attackers Neither Mad Nor Desperate
New York Times Service, Sep. 13, 2001
To a nation suddenly plunged into horror and grief, they seemed like acts of unspeakable madness.
Yet the attacks visited on New York and Washington on Tuesday were in all likelihood the work of perfectly sane people, said experts on the psychology of terrorism.
Although such incidents are often called suicide attacks, the experts said, the terrorists themselves are usually not suicidal in any common sense of the word. They do not qualify for any psychiatric diagnosis. They are not impelled by depression, despair or low self-esteem.
Ariel Merari, a psychologist at Tel Aviv University who has profiled more than 60 Palestinian and Lebanese suicide bombers, said they were often young men who were recruited after expressing a desire to give their lives for the Arab cause.
The history of suicide attacks stretches back at least to the 11th century, when the Assassins, the disciples of the Persian master Alamut, conducted suicide raids on neighboring fortresses. The Koran forbids suicide, Mr. Post noted, but he added that suicide bombers often consider their deaths acts of heroism, not self-destruction, and believe they will be elaborately rewarded in the afterlife. Harvey Kushner, an expert in terrorism and chairman of the department of criminal justice at Long Island University, noted that suicide attacks are not condoned by most Muslims, but are espoused "by leaders of religious factions within the Islamic community" who have what he described as "a contorted view of what is spiritually permissible."
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