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What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers

by Adam Lankford

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-230-34213-2
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

A fierce attack on the view that suicide terrorists are true martyrs to a cause, worthy of respect or honor because of their commitment.

Lankford (Criminal Justice/Univ. of Alabama) argues that most suicide terrorists suffer from depression, grief, shame and rage, and they are seeking a way out of an existence they find unbearable. Religion and politics may affect the form of suicide and provide the target for rage, but they are not the underlying causes. The author cites studies and psychological assessments of suicide terrorists to support his position. He tabulates the similarities between rampage shooters, school shooters and suicide terrorists, notes their differences from workplace shooters, and examines different types of suicides—e.g., coerced (Kamikaze pilots), escapist (high-ranking Nazis) and indirect (players of Russian roulette). Lankford takes close looks at Mohamed Atta, leader of the 9/11 attack; Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter; the Columbine killers; and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. The author believes that to call suicide terrorists martyrs is to fall victim to terrorist propaganda that glorifies their acts. Instead, Lankford counsels, we must stigmatize their acts, expose them as psychologically damaged individuals and use the accumulated knowledge of risk factors and warning signs to identify potential perpetrators before they strike. Three appendices provide lists of attackers along with their known risk factors for suicide, names and dates of attacks between 1990 and 2010 in the United States, and countermeasures for dealing with different types of suicide terrorists.

Lankford presents some persuasive evidence, but the scorn he displays for those with differing views significantly detracts from his message.