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.

Montreal Massacre

On the 6th December 1989, a young man with a firearm went into a college classroom at the École Polytechnique, Montreal, and killed 14 people and injured 10. The 25 year old, named Marc Lépine, had previously been denied admission to the college for engineering. Once he had found out how many women had got the positions instead, he was very angry and upset as he believed engineering to be a role traditionally occupied by men. After entering the classroom, where 60 or so engineering students were, he ordered the men to leave the room. Before opening fire on the women left, he screamed “you’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists.” After leaving that room, where 6 women were left dead, he continued his killing spree and killed 8 more women. 4 of the individuals left injured were men, who were unintentionally killed in the crossfire. To finish, he killed himself.

When the media found out about this killing spree, they avoided the fact that it was a targeted attack against women. Instead, he was a “madman” and women happened to be the ones that were killed. The police force, at the time, found a suicide note in which Lépine had written prior to the shooting. However, they refused to share what the note had said. When it eventually got leaked, it was further shown that the attack was against women. In the note, Lépine had said “I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their maker…I have decided to put an end to those viragos.” Also, within the letter, was a list of radical feminists at the time whom he said he would have killed if he had the time to do so. Whilst it was noticeable that the attack was against women, as proven by witnesses and the suicide letter, the media continued to ignore the anti-feminist views behind Lépine, as it showed a flaw within their society.

In response to the massacre, the surviving members of the Polytechnique campaigned to change gun laws in Canada. With a petition to make more rigid gun laws came little change. In order to acquire a gun under the new law, Lépine would have had to prove he was older than 16 and had no criminal record. In addition to this, he would have had to check a box on the Firearms Acquisition Certificate indicating he was not mentally ill. However, the gun Lépine used, a Mini-14 rifle, was not put on the banned list. This is because of it’s links to hunting. In fact, when Lépine bought he rifle, he had told the shopkeeper that he was going after “small game.” To this day, 30 years on, individuals still campaign to get the gun banned.

The Montreal Massacre is still remembered to this day, with the 6th of December becoming national day of remembrance and action on violence against women, in Canada. It was not until more recently that the commemorative plaque hanging outside of a Montreal park, honouring those killed in the attack, was changed to acknowledge the anti-feminist aspect of the attack. It was changed to: “This park is named in the memory of 14 women assassinated in an anti-feminist attack.”

Violence against women is still a massive issue in the world. In Canada, a study found that a woman or girl is killed every 2.5 days. Whilst all of these attacks may not be based on their gender, many still are. However, the issue still goes unaddressed by political leaders. A Montreal university professor, and expert on the Polytechnique shooting, says that the obstacle to solving the issue is an unwillingness to call violence against women an act of hatred. Until this is recognised, hatred against women, in particular feminists, who are still viewed in a negative way, will continue to go on.

Male Suicide

“Man up!”

What does it mean to be told to “man up”? To act masculine? To not show emotion? To not cry? To be strong for your family? To provide for them?

In 2016, there were 5,965 suicides registered in the UK. Men accounted for three-quarters (4,508) of these deaths.

In 2017, there were 5,821 suicides registered in the UK. Men accounted for more than three-quarters (4,832) of these deaths.

In 2018, there were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK. Men accounted for three-quarters (4,903) of these deaths.

Notice a trend?

The Office for National Statistics defines suicide as deaths from intentional self-harm (where a coroner has given a suicide conclusion or made it clear in the narrative conclusion that the deceased intended to kill themselves).

Suicide is complex and rarely caused by one thing. Many of us experience suicidal feelings in our life, but they are temporary, even if someone has been feeling low, anxious or struggling to cope for a long period of time. That’s why getting the right kind of support at the right time is important.

Dr Elizabeth Scowcroft (Head of Research at Samaritans)

Suicide is a complicated thing to understand. This is because, unlike other things, there are no two cases that are alike. Whilst there are trends in the causes of suicide, each case has a unique story. Whether this be losing a job, and experiencing financial issues, losing a family member (by death or separation), experiencing mental health issues and not seeking support, a combination of these, or even none of them. The list continues.

But, why are men more at risk? In society, there is still an issue with masculinity. There is an expectation of men to be strong individuals that show no emotion. Instead of thinking of themselves, they are expected to provide for and look after their family. When seen crying, they are often viewed as weak and feminine. A society like this causes men to not talk about their feelings. To not seek help when they need it. The fear of being judged, if they were to talk about their feelings, drives many men to their deaths.

Whilst society is changing with time and becoming more accepting, we are not quite there yet. We need to redefine what it means to be a man. To show emotion is acceptable. It doesn’t make you feminine. In fact, it takes a lot of strength and courage to talk about your feelings with other people.

Women, on the other hand, seem to talk about their feelings all the time. Whether this be with a loved one, or with a professional, they are more likely to seek help. Just look at Instagram- it’s filled with women sharing their issues with mental health in order to encourage others to do the same. It is inspiring, but it needs to extend to men.

There has, however, been a growth in charities and movements that target male suicide:

  1. Alright Mate. As suicide is the single biggest killer for men aged under 45 in the UK, this movement encourages men to look out for each other. Rather than building it up, it hopes men will begin to talk to each other about any concerns that they may have. Whether this be small issues, like arguments at home, or larger issues, like mental health and suicidal thoughts.
  2. CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). This campaign seeks to offer support to men in the UK. They do this through helpline services, their website and their magazine. It hopes to challenge a culture that prevents men seeking help when they need it. They also campaign with media partners, brands and ambassadors to spread awareness of suicide.
  3. Movember. This movement looks at mental health through a male lens, focusing on prevention, early intervention and health promotion. They do this through education, promoting conversations and pressuring the government to understand the issues that men are facing.
  4. Men’s Minds Matter. This is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the prevention of male suicide by building psychological resilience and emotional strength. They provide a lot of information and support on their website for anyone who is suffering.

What are the government doing about it? In 2019, they released the first ever cross-government suicide prevention plan where they:

  • Focused on social media and the latest technology in order to identify those at risk of suicide.
  • Encouraged local councils to take action and put in effective suicide prevention plans for their area.
  • Improve data to better understand the triggers that can lead someone to take their own life.
  • Greater focus on addressing the increase of suicide and self-harm among young people.
  • Asked social media companies to take more responsibility for online content that promotes methods of self-harm.
  • £25 million in funding to address the specific needs of high risk groups, including middle-aged men.
  • Ensured that every prison had actions in place to reduce suicide and self-harm.

More needs to be done in order to prevent suicide further, especially among men. Next time, instead of telling someone to “man up”, ask them how they are feeling. Whilst it may be a joke on your part, you do not know what that person is going through. Your comment may just tip them over the edge, especially if they were getting closer to talking about it. Instead, encourage healthy conversations because you might just save a life.