This probably isn’t what most people mean when they say their doctor is a real pain.
News of the failed terror plot in the United Kingdom has by now passed its shock value stage and entered the reflective one. Almost six years after 9/11 brought home the message that violence and terrorism knows no boundaries, we’re all getting pretty good at asking ourselves some questions.
Who did it, how did it happen, why and when was it planned? You’ll find all those details splashed across the web.
But it seems to me that we’ve asked those same questions so many times that by now they’ve acquired a bit of rote about them: a bunch of Muslims tried to blow stuff up because they hate our way of life and, with al Qaeda and the internet serving as guides, they found it all pretty easy. Case closed.
None of those things is untrue. The doctors who carried out the bombings in Britain this past week were all Muslim; they did try to blow things up because of grievances against the West and Britain in particular; the location of one of the failed bombs (parked outside a nightclub called Tiger Tiger) echoes sentiments expressed in the now infamous surveillance tapes of the 2005 bombers who felt sinners of the club going variety, especially women, deserved to die; and police are probing just how connected these guys are to al Qaeda and just how much help they got off the internet.
But I’m still stuck on one particular question. What makes a person want, not just to kill him/herself, but to kill people whilst killing themselves? The suicide bomber. It just doesn’t compute.
A lot of people seem to think Islam is the answer. Quite apart from the issue of bigotry represented by such thinking, I find it both an inadequate and ignorant answer. Not only have suicide attacks been carried out by a wide variety of people throughout human history (including recent human history), but if Islam has the power to turn ordinary people into willing bombs then maybe we all ought to think about conversion because there’s no way in hell we can stand against something that can override the human will to such an extent that it obliterates that most basic human instinct of all: survival.
I’m no psychologist but I do have an interest (an unhealthy obsession some may term it) in finding out what makes people tick and I can’t understand this. I get why terror groups, from Chechnya to Sri Lanka, find suicide bombers a practical solution to many of the challenges thrown up by modern security measures, whether civilian or military. I understand the psychological message that is sent out by such acts.
But what makes people like Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed, two men just a couple of years older than I, get up one morning and drive a car packed full of explosives into an airport? Force of conviction, be it political or religious? Personality type? Brainwashing? A combination of all those?
In a weird way this made me wonder about myself.
While I do not fit the profile of a suicide bomber in terms of political stability or freedom, I don’t exhibit any signs of psychopathology either. But what would I be willing to die for? In my considered opinion? Quite a number of things, actually. What would I be willing to kill for? I don’t know yet but it would depend on the situation, I think. Count me as one of those people who believe that every one of us is capable of murder depending on the circumstances.
But mass murder? I can’t think of a single thing that would make me want to go out and obliterate an entire section of a city. There is right and there is wrong: sometimes we do wrong things when we can rationalize it away. You shouldn’t cheat on your spouse but you figure what they don’t know won’t hurt them. You shouldn’t kill your fellow man but it was either him or you.
However, driving a car full of explosives into the side of a building? How do you square that away in your head, in your conscience?
Given that estimates suggest about 48% of all terror attacks are now being carried out by suicide bombers, this is a question to which we really need to find the answer. Fast.