Friday, July 06, 2007

Multi-Perspectival Suicide Bombing Explanations

Multiple explanations for suicide bombing.

One from evolutionary psychology (hat tip Matthew):

Suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, but according to Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, when religion is involved, the attackers are always Muslim. Why? The surprising answer is that Muslim suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran (except for two lines). It has a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex.

What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don't get any wives at all.

So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. By doing so, they have little to lose and much to gain compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygyny makes men violent, increasing crimes such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors as economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy, and political factors in the region.

However, polygyny itself is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombing. Societies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are much more polygynous than the Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. And they do have very high levels of violence. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a long history of continuous civil wars—but not suicide bombings.

The other key ingredient is the promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. The prospect of exclusive access to virgins may not be so appealing to anyone who has even one mate on earth, which strict monogamy virtually guarantees. However, the prospect is quite appealing to anyone who faces the bleak reality on earth of being a complete reproductive loser.

It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings. Consistent with this explanation, all studies of suicide bombers indicate that they are significantly younger than not only the Muslim population in general but other (nonsuicidal) members of their own extreme political organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And nearly all suicide bombers are single.

But, as evolutionary argument only, it is reductionistic (not wrong, one important item). More is going on, here's Tom Friedman (hat tip: Thomas Barnett):

Two trends are at work here: humiliation and atomization. Islam's self-identity is that it is the most perfect and complete expression of God's monotheistic message, and the Koran is God's last and most perfect word. to put it another way, young Muslims are raised on the view that Islam is God 3.0, Christianity is God 2.0, Judaism is God 1.0, and Hinduism and all others are God 0.0. One of the factors driving Muslim males, particularly educated ones, into these acts of extreme violence is that while they were taught that they have the most perfect operating system, every day they're confronted with the reality that people living by God 2.0, God 1.0 and God 0.0 are generally living much more prosperously, powerfully and democratically than those living under Islam. This creates a real dissonance and humiliation. How could this be? Who did this to us? The Crusaders! The Jews! The West! It can never be something that they failed to learn, adapt to or build. This humiliation produces a lashing out.

Not only that, but the first quotation makes a distinction between politics and religion that is not always so clear, especially in the Muslim world (e.g. bin Laden's grievances are foreign policy issues).

Remember Robert Pape's work that the vast majority of suicide bombings are political tactics used by countries occupied by liberal democracies. Put all those together, then you really begin to see an integrated response.


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