Suicide bombings have become a favorite tactic of Pakistani militants due to the influence of the Afghan war, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is stepping up suicide attacks, especially in the capital of Kabul, aiming to top the 140 bombings it orchestrated last year. Just who are the perpetrators? Dawn asked:
The average age of a suicide bomber — out of the ones who have so far blown themselves up — ranges from 18 to 24 years. None of them undergo thorough religious studies, but in fact get very basic and incomplete religious education. Such madressah students generally come from extremely poor backgrounds. Often they harbour inferiority complexes and are not able to witness any charm in life.
“During interrogation [of captured bombers] we often start by asking the reason for their involvement. They simply answer that they are working for the cause of Islam and targeting those who are damaging the religion,” [a security forces] officer quoted one of the suspects as saying. “We have caught suspects who were brainwashed to such an extent that during their arrest and detention period their resolve did not weaken,” the official remarked.
But many studies have rejected this “brainwashed teenaged rednecks” profile for suicide bombers.
“Afghan officials continually told stories of lower-class people who had been seduced, bribed, tricked, manipulated or coerced into blowing themselves up as ‘weapons of God’ or ‘[Taliban leader] Mullah Omar’s missiles,’” Asia Times reported. “Afghan NDS officials also spoke of apprehended bombers who were deranged, retarded, mentally unstable or on drugs.”
Such claims should, of course, be accepted with caution, for two reasons. First, the targets of suicide bombings are prone to speak in disparaging tones regarding the mental state and motives of those who carry out bombing attacks against them. They tend to describe them as mindless, insane, fanatical, drugged or brainwashed.Second, in his groundbreaking work Understanding Terror Networks, Marc Sageman has refuted the long-held notion that suicide bombers are impoverished, voiceless dupes tricked into killing themselves. Rather, he has shown them to be politically and religiously motivated. They are conscious actors who, like the multilingual and educated team that carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001, do not need to be brainwashed.
Historians grapple with the same questions. Were Japanese Kamikaze pilots in World War II — most of whom were between 18 and 24 — brainwashed and drugged or were they simply true believers in a political and religious cause? One Russian scholar leans towards “true believers”:
Many of these [future Kamikaze] were from prestigious colleges such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Keio, and Waseda Universities. These students from college tended to have more liberal ideas, not having been educated in military schools, and also were more aware of the world outside of Japan.Since the Kamikaze attacks were to be made only if the pilots had volunteered, and could not be “commanded,” there were two methods to collect volunteers. One was for all pilots in general, and another was for the Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet (college graduates) only.The former was an application form, and the latter was a survey. The survey asked: “Do you desire earnestly/wish/do not wish/to be involved in the Kamikaze attacks?” They had to circle one of the three choices, or leave the paper blank. The important fact is that the pilots were required to sign their names. When the military had the absolute power, and the whole atmosphere of Japan expected men to die for the country, there was great psychological pressure to circle “earnestly desire” or “wish.”
There are several factors which made so many young pilots volunteer for such a mission. Extreme patriotism must have been one factor for sure. Added to that, there was the reverence for the Emperor, a god. Some say that it was generally believed that if one died for the emperor, and was praised in Yasukuni Shrine, they would become happy forever.
Most pilots mention in letters that they were happy, and proud of being given such an honorable mission. It is true also that they believed that if they took part in the mission, it might improve the war situation for Japan.