Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,

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Trading Life for Identity is Key to the Logic of Suicide Terrorism

As we grow up we try different roles in our search for an identity. Identity is very precious. We need it to function in society; without it, we cannot enjoy income, physical health, marriage, or friendship. Through trial and error each of us eventually establishes an identity that we hope will pay better than others. That identity is concerned with how we are expected to live, but may also define how we should die. In particular circumstances some may conclude that their identity’s value can only be preserved by death and will be devalued or completely destroyed by continuing to live. Examples include a mother dying entering a burning house in a futile attempt to save her children, because if she didn’t she would have to live on without her identity as a loving parent, or someone who accepts a death sentence rather than recant their religious faith.

Sometimes young people choose identities that can only limit or end their lives. They invest in identities that turn out not to be viable because they lack the ability or resources to carry them off or they choose identities based on wrong information or defined too narrowly to cope with change. This is made more likely if they are trying to construct such identities in a conflict riven and or oppressive environment that further limits that identity and may overcome the innate will of children to love life. This idea may give insights into some key puzzles about suicide attackers such as:

Why are they not uneducated? Young people often make substantial efforts to get an education but if the efforts invested fail to pay off the identity of a warrior martyr may become more attractive.

Terrorist organisations play a crucial role. Suicide terrorism is the outcome of a contract. The suicide attacker and the terrorist faction enter voluntarily into this contract in expectation of mutual benefit. The volunteer trades life for identity. He will die to promote the faction’s terrorist objectives. In return the faction agrees to affirm the volunteer’s identity in the community as a warrior martyr, and also provides the means of destruction to distinguish this identity through violence. However, such a contract risks being broken because it involves one party dying who cannot then observe its fulfilment by the other party. This risk is covered by the widespread promotion of the “living martyr”: a few days before the event the bomber records a final statement of joy at becoming a martyr in photographs, videos, and letters. When the recording has been distributed and the letters and photographs have been sent each side is fully committed and neither can draw back since each will now lose more by breaking the contract than by implementing it.

(via HNDR)
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