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Inside the Minds of Suicide Bombers
Two Experts Discuss the Mysterious Motives Behind the Attacks

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April 9, 2002 -- Many in the West think of suicide bombers as insane, or motivated by pure religious fervor. The reality may not be quite so simple.

"There is an inverse relationship between suicide bombing and hope."

Eyad Sarraj

According to two psychologists who recently talked at length with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon, the motivations of the Palestinian suicide bombers are at least as complex as the conflict itself. The reasons are rooted in culture and fleeting social attitudes.

"All in all, we are not dealing here with personal psychopathology," says Ariel Merari, professor of psychology at Tel Aviv University. Merari is an expert on suicide bombers who performs "psychological autopsies" on them after the attacks.

Likewise, Eyad Sarraj of the Independent Commission for Citizens Rights says he's examined many people identified as potential suicide bombers, and has generally found no psychological problems among them.

So, why do they do it? A host of interrelated reasons, both men say. Psychology is a factor, but only one of many. Some of it has to do with Arab culture. Also, the times dictate whether someone who is prone to commit such acts actually follows through. There is, says Sarraj, "an inverse relationship between suicide bombing and hope."

Additional Resources

More on Eyed Saraj  View a list of articles published by Dr. Eyad Sarraj.

More on Ariel Merari Read the essay "Terrorism as a Strategy of Insurgency" by Ariel Merari.