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Collectivism As a Cause for Suicide

ckosarek's picture

I came across an online book on Tripod entitled Suicide Bombers: The Psychological, Religious and Other Imperatives compiled by Mary Sharp. The book has an article in it by Ofed Grosbar called "The Drama of the Suicide Terrorist," which reads:

"On the television screen appears the suicide terrorist . . . he declares that the enemy has humiliated his people and violated their honor. He is going to retaliate and bring back their honor. The western viewer is struck by two things. First of all, the fact that this young fellow speaks about national feelings with a pain as if someone hurt him personally. Secondly, the importance he attributes to feelings like humiliation and honor . . . The westerner, who was directed all his life to independent thinking, who was encouraged to separate from his family and act as an individual, will have a hard time grasping this. His ancestors stopped thinking in that way a long time ago" (145).


In the final pages of The Path to Paradise, suicide bombing is called "a very private act . . . [that] has become common Palestinian property and has led to a cult of death and killing" (171). I think this plays into the western perception of suicide that Grosbar is getting at. Suicide in western culture is a solitary thing. Kurt Cobain killed himself over his own personal woes, declaring that "[i]t's better to burn out than fade away." Sylvia Plath's death followed a bad breakup and a history of emotional issues. Westerners view suicide as a "private act," one isolated from culture. We do not live in a collectivist society, thus we do not die for collectivism. Western suicides are a personal trauma.


Calling the suicide bombers' suicides a "private act" seems inaccurate. Grosbar paints the suicide bombers' deaths as a collectivist action brought on by a  culture of trauma. To understand their suicides, one must understand what it means to take group feelings as (or more) personally than one's own. Perhaps this is where the author had trouble in constructing her book. She seemed to buy into western individualism by looking at specific case histories, by searching for personal anecdotes that indicate why one individual chose to (try to) die. While I think she did acknowledge the power of collectivist feelings, she seemed to fracture the sterngth of that collectivism by breaking the suicide bombing operations into components (i.e. bombers, dispatchers). As a follow-up to this book, I ask what it feels like to be so invested in a culture, that its emotions become confused with one's own. How does it feel when a choice to die is not personal, but is rather personalized by means of being sociopolitical?




Roy Nelson's picture

This reminds me of a BBC programme

About China now genetically the 5-HTTLPR genes are more pre-dominant (80%) in the far east, and this makes you more susceptible to depression and suicide... BUT the culture seems to have evolved around this. The BBC story was about retold by a british journalist who used to live there... when a couple has a break up the close friends actually comes and sleeps in the one if the people who broke up's flat, to keep them company for a couple of weeks! as people feel so close. This gene in the west is around 50%... So it would look as it the society evolved to care more about other people than the self, this is a big nature/nuture argument... But I think all indications are that nature/nurture plays a very big role in us humans.

I think the suicide bomber is not someone who sees suicide as way out of their emotional turmoil... I think here we have more of a revenge factor, something that is easily manipulated by a figure of authority (or apparent authority) similar to the infamous Milgram experiment, and it is the seen as last option a final statement or the only weapon left, after all this is what is asked of each and ever soldier in the field of battle.


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