Sunday, January 22, 2006
Psychology of the cultural suicide network
The Discovery Channel and the BBC want to make sure you don't harbor any unworthy thoughts about sentient explosives. In "Psychology of Suicide Bombers," a Discovery-BBC co-production aired last night in the United States, the program plunged deep, deep into motivational territory and concluded that suicide bombers are just plain folks -- well, except that they're living away from the place they came from (often by their own choice, although the show doesn't mention that) and carried away by "group conformity." What used to be called bad company.
Islam? Jihad? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it, children.
The production ranged far and wide to locate a handful of talking empty heads to assure the viewer that chaps like the "London Four" who killed themselves and 52 others, and injured 700, in the Underground and bus bombings last July weren't under the spell of an aggressive Muslim politico-religious ideology. Barring a touch of "cultural estrangement" and a group hug that got a little out of hand, they were boring, salt-of-the-earth types, the selected experts said.
"People can do absolutely dreadful things, and yet be completely normal, completely ordinary, completely unremarkable," according to Dr. Andrew Silke of a British university. "You don't have to be evil, you don't have to be mad, you just have to be in the right context."
As the next of kin invariably say when the police arrest someone for walking into the office with a gun and wasting the boss, two salespeople, and a file clerk or two: such a nice man, very quiet, never caused any trouble. "I ask myself if there's anything I could have done, but how could I know he was becoming a group conformist and would fall into the wrong context?"
Another researcher spent years trying to find a common denominator among suicide bombers. No joy from the effort, except that many of these fellows with explosive tempers seemed to be caught between cultures. As the narrator put it, "It seemed that living away from home was significant."
The documentary put a cork in any notion about suicide bombing having a link with advancing Islam through terrorism.
"There's nothing in the Qur'an that justifies suicide bombing," said Professor Scott Atran of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. According to the narrator, "Atran concluded that suicide bombing has no direct grounding in any religion."
No, the mind of the suicide bomber is formed by group bonds, just like a crack military team. "These group bonds can grow surprisingly strong, resonating with our biological family unit," said the narrator. Or, in plain English, small groups of people who become suicide bombers think of their group like a family and will do anything for them.
As the program showed, the London bombers already had real families. Why should anyone be so invested in any of these alternative "bands of brothers" (as another expert described them) as to blow themselves up, not to mention any odd bods in the vicinity? Could it have something to do with ... Islam-centered terrorism? The program wouldn't go there.
The fourth London bomber was delayed for an hour after his three mates had sent themselves to Paradise, and he was late to the party. "What probably motivated him to blow himself up was that his buddies had already done it, and he couldn't let them down," said Atran. Don't ask; it's a pal thing, you wouldn't understand.
There's no reason to doubt that cultural dislocation and close personal ties enter into the chemistry of suicide bombing. But it's ridiculous to claim that such factors are the primary motivation. It's like claiming that the essential nature of a dog is that it has four legs.
May I, a recognized non-expert, offer a theory about the psychology of the producers in outfits like Discovery Channel and the Beeb? They are culturally dislocated, having cut themselves off more or less completely from the great majority of people in the United States and Britain, being in their own eyes an elite whose job it is to make sure that no politically incorrect thought ever travels through the air and cable into the homes of the rough masses, whose ineradicable prejudices against oppressed minorities can burst forth into murderous rage on the slightest excuse.
Moreover, TV producers' behavior must be understood in the light of group bonds that they form with one another. It's no secret that they represent an in-group that continually reinforces each others' adherence to the ideology of the Liberal Establishment. Their tightly knit set becomes like a substitute family to them, to the point that the cultural suicide of their respective countries is of no account compared with loyalty to their immediate group.
They can do absolutely dreadful things, and yet be completely normal, completely ordinary, completely unremarkable. In the right context.