Suicide Bombing: A Strategic Tactic?

It is difficult to fight suicide bombers because they have no fear of taking their lives or those of any one else

Dharmalingam Sidhathan

Within the media, suicide bombing is seen as an act of radicalisation. That, being ‘the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and extremist ideologies associated with terrorist groups.’ Individuals are seen as being radicalised by terrorists or having mental health issues. Whilst this is true in some cases, it is not true in all. As a result of this, I am going to discuss the strategic value of suicide bombing as I do not believe that this is obvious.

Suicide bombing ‘is a politically motivated, violent attack perpetrated by an individual who is actively and purposely causes his death by blowing himself up along with his chosen target.’ It was first used in 1881 by the terrorist organisation ‘The People’s Will.’ The group’s aim was to overthrow the Tsarist Autocracy by assassinating Alexander II. The group’s failed attempt at throwing dynamite at Alexander the II led Ignaty Grinevitsky to improvise and use himself as a mode of transport for the dynamite. His success in doing so, has led to other terrorist organisations doing the same thing.

Terrorists aim to reek havoc. They want individuals, within a given state, to become so scared that they no longer want to go out. This, in effect, will help them achieve their aim. Suicide bombings are hard to intercept due to the fact that individuals can conceal weapons on their body. By doing this, they are able to get in the middle of a busy place before setting off the bomb. Due to the instant effect, no one is able to stop them unless someone notices the suicide vest beforehand. In addition to this, suicide bombers are able to make last minute adjustments to their plan when they need to. As a result of not needing an escape route, they can continue with the plan no matter what happens. This enables them to cause a higher death poll. In fact, between 1980 and 2001, only 3% of terrorists used suicide bombing as a tactic. However, 48% of the deaths related to terrorism between the same dates were as a result of suicide terrorism. This just goes to show how effective suicide bombing is as a tactic. For example, if the terrorists involved in 9/11 were not willing to die for their cause, how would they have been able to cause the same amount of destruction? The hijackers needed to be on-board the planes in order to successfully drive them into the Twin Towers and The Pentagon. They could not have done this without dying. Therefore, suicide bombing is a strategic tactic.

For the majority of terrorist organisations, they have a political aim. Most frequently, this is to regain their homeland from a state who has invaded. The group set out that they will continue to use suicide bombing, on the opposition, until they withdraw their troops. One example of this was the US in Lebanon. At the time, there was political unrest in the state meaning that a new leader could come into power. However, in order to prevent a leader that could be corrupt, the US invaded. Furthermore, they wanted to protect the oil resources and strategic waterways. The involvement of the US in another state caused the creation and uprising of the terrorist organisation, Hezbollah. Their political aim was to regain possession of their homeland from the US. In order to achieve this, they use suicide bombing as a tactic. One particular night, they drove a vehicle, full of explosives, into the US base. It killed 241 military personnel. This left Reagan with no other decision than to withdraw troops from Lebanon. If he decided to keep them there, then Hezbollah would continue to attacks US troops. In fact, in a speech, Reagan addressed the withdrawal by saying that “[the US] couldn’t stay there and run the risk of another suicide attack on the marines.” By addressing the suicide attack, Reagan gave in to the terrorist organisation. Consequently, suicide bombing is a crucial tactic for a terrorist organisation.

A typical theory of radicalisation says that every radicalised individual goes down the same path: marginalised by society, exposure to propaganda, a catalyst event, acceptance of extremist views and in-group radicalisation. However, there is a lot of research to discredit these theories. In fact, only half of individuals who are radicalised, were socially isolated and many had partners of some sort. This discredits the idea that they are all marginalised individuals. In addition to this, less than a third had a history of mental illnesses which discredits the media’s interpretation of terrorists being mentally unstable. Studies taken between 2012 and 2017 actually proved that the majority of terrorist attacks have nothing to do with mental illness. In fact, many individuals who become terrorists or suicide bombers have a university degree. This is especially the case with the terrorist organisation Hamas. This organisation fought to remove Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By having a degree, they cannot be described as uneducated individuals. As a result of this, theories of radicalisation are weakened as there is a lack of support for them.

If this is the case, then why do the media and political figures describe suicide bombers as mentally ill, suicidal individuals? I believe that this in itself is a tactic. If the media showed how mentally sane terrorists were, then they would create fear within their state. For example, if a terrorist attack happened at your local shopping centre, you will be fearful to go there. However, if the media and politicians say that the individual who committed that crime was in fact mentally ill or suicidal, then you will not be as scared. It is a tactic to prevent people worrying about it happening again. Furthermore, it discredits terrorist ideologies. It prevents people from joining terrorist organisations as it frames them as mentally ill individuals. By the media doing this, it ensures that individuals continue with their daily lives.

By no means am I supporting the extremist ideologies of a terrorist organisation. I understand that many innocent lives are lost as a result of suicide attacks. However, I have recently had to read a lot of literature on the topic and found a lot of interesting ideas. The lack of support for the irrationality of a terrorist was an eye opener for me which is why I decided to write about what I found out.

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