Monday, September 08, 2008

Suicide bombings and the Taliban in Pakistan


The Magazine section of NYT has a long piece on the Taliban movement in Pakistan. The article, as expected, paints a scary picture of the frontier parts of Pakistan. To his credit, the author interviewed Taliban leaders in places where not many journalists venture. Full disclosure here: even in peaceful times, I thought Peshawar was scary and I never visited there. However, more relevant for this site, the article brought up the issue of suicide bombings (Pakistan had 60 in 2007 alone). Sam Harris has often argued that religion provides the primary motivation. However, usually there are other more relevant reasons (also see this post on motivations for female suicide bombers). Here is a segment from the article about an 18-year old suicide bomber and his brother:
Mudasar and Abu Omar were both part of the tide of young Pakistani men that has been surging across the Afghan border to fight the Americans. Abu Omar described his brother as intensely religious, without hobbies — unlike Abu Omar himself, whose passion was playing fullback on the soccer field. “Mudasar would lie awake at night crying for the martyred people in Afghanistan,” Abu Omar said.

What finally drove Mudasar to want to kill Americans was a single spectacular event. In January 2006, the Americans maneuvered a Predator drone across the border into Pakistan and fired a missile at a building they thought contained Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s deputy leader. The missile reportedly missed Zawahiri by a couple of hours, but it killed his son-in-law and several other senior Al Qaeda members. A number of civilians died as well, including women and children. Television footage from the scene, showing corpses lying amid the rubble, sparked protests across Pakistan.

“My brother saw that and resolved to become a martyr,” Abu Omar told me.

We have to realize how locals view these attacks and the steep price of collateral damage. The recruitment of suicide bombers is driven by these stories and pictures more than any thing else. Read the full (depressing) article here.

3 comments:

Tom Rees said...

There's a psychologist at the University of Liverpool in the UK who's done a case-analysis of 49 failed suicide bombers in India. He presented it at the British Association Science Festival a few days ago:

"Many, said Canter, were young men with a political and religious ideology who wanted to do something significant with their lives. He said they had a mentality analogous to the men who fought in the Spanish Civil War. Others drifted into Islamism simply because their friends had."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2008/sep/09/faithschools

Also, there was that study a while back showing that the one thing that links all suicide bombings is a feeling that your 'territory' had been invaded and occupied by another group.

Salman Hameed said...

hi Tom,

Thanks for the link. Its great that there was a talk the science festival on the topic. There are also couple of excellent articles by Scott Atran on the topic.

How was the BAS festival? Did you get a chance to attend it? Also, you have an interesting blog at British Humanist Association Science Group.

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