April 17, 2002
The motives for suicide terrorism do not appear to differ significantly from the general motives for terrorism, which include revenge, retaliation, and provocation of government over-reaction. These objectives may be tactical goals in the end of disrupting peace processes or acquiring political recognition and status. Although terrorism is often described in terms of pure emotionalism or "fanaticism," its instrumental or strategic dimensions should not be overlooked. Furthermore, an opposition movement is often compelled to avenge perceived injustices in order to maintain internal loyalty and cohesion as well as popular support.
The most distinctive characteristic of suicide terrorism, however, appears to be the motive of individual self-sacrifice and martyrdom. It is this willingness to die that makes it appear irrational to many observers. The phenomenon cannot be explained exclusively as the most efficient way of eluding the government's defenses in order to gain access to desirable targets, although this practical consideration is a factor. The individual terrorist's willingness to face not just high risk but certain death requires a psycho-cultural explanation.
The functions of martyrdom for a resistance movement are varied. It demonstrates the legitimacy and authenticity of the cause, for example. The truth of the cause is established by the individual's willingness to sacrifice everything in its behalf. The martyr self-consciously creates a model for future emulation and inspiration. He expects to impress an audience and to be remembered. For someone whose life otherwise has little significance, transcendent fame can be a powerful motive. The act also flatters all who follow, since they are identified with the heroism and glory of the act of self-sacrifice. The individual, whose identity might otherwise fade into obscurity, has now established a legend for all time. As in suicide bombings, anonymity is rejected.
Excerpt From Countering Suicide Terrorism
©2001, 2002 The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya and Anti-Defamation League