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When Death Comes to Breakfast

Some thoughts about psychological explanations for homicide bombings 

by Sue Vogel

2006/01/12

We are human beings.   Who among us has not been horrified at the turn of events in July last?  

I write as someone who experienced a sinking sense of déjà vu as the news came rolling in. I should have been in London , at King's Cross, on that day, but merciful chance meant that I was delayed and could not leave my town at all.  My initial disbelief that it could be happening here was slowly replaced by the wish to understand why it was happening.  This is a defence, to help me to combat the churning of my stomach, but I also think it is necessary if we are to combat, and one day end, this lunacy.  

Let me make myself quite clear – by "understand" I do not mean "condone" or "forgive." I lived in Israel for a while, and quickly came to realise that no amount of condoning or forgiveness on the part of the bombed can make a homicide bomber desist from fulfilling his or her objective.  

I felt betrayed when, in a rush to convince the Moslem communities that British people do not hold them responsible, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, linked the terrorism in London to Moslem sympathies with their Palestinian brothers and to British involvement in Iraq .  He understood, he said, why young men who feel powerless can be convinced to turn their bodies into bombs.  Conspicuously absent from his speech was any apprehension that these bombings might be part of a wider plan, and anyone who wants further information about this is at liberty to contact me.  There is a vast literature, written by the fundamentalists themselves, about their plans for Israel and the West.  

We are only just beginning to apprehend what might drive young men and women towards homicide bombing, and comparatively little has been written about the psychology of it.  One key text – one might argue a vital pre-requisite for the psychotherapist who is interested what might contribute to the homicide bomber's mindset, is by Dr Phyllis Chesler.   In her article for Front Page Magazine on 3 May 2004, Dr Chesler writes about the psychoanalytic roots of Islamic terrorism, and refers particularly to research by Dr Nancy Kobrin, a Minnesota-based psychoanalyst. Kobrin writes of a culture where the debasement of women is paramount, and where barbarous family and clan dynamics result in systemic oral and anal rape of children.   Kobrin writes, "The little girl lives her life under a communal death threat -- the honor killing."  

Kobrin describes how both male and female infants and children are brought up by mothers who are debased and traumatized women. As such, all children are forever psychologically "contaminated" by the humiliated yet all-powerful mother. Arab and Muslim boys must dissociate themselves from her in spectacularly savage ways. But, on a deep unconscious level, they may also wish to remain merged with the source of contamination--a conflict that suicide bombers both act out and resolve when they manfully kill but also merge their blood eternally with that of their presumably most hated enemies, the Israeli Jews. In Kobrin's view, the Israeli Jews may actually function as substitutes or scapegoats for an even more primal, hated/loved enemy: Woman.   

Chesler's article then sets out the substance of her conversation with Walid Shoebat, an ex-PLO terrorist who renounced terrorism and embraced Christianity.  Shoebat confirmed the widespread sexual abuse of both boys and girls. Shoebat explained that homosexuality is forbidden if one is penetrated but not if one is the penetrator, and went on to describe how once, when he was on a hiking trip, he saw a line of shepherd boys waiting their turn to sodomise a five year old boy.  

Chesler goes on to suggest that the male sexual abuse of female children exists everywhere and that it is the main way of traumatising and shaming women into obedience and rendering them incapable of resistance and rebellion.  She argues, however, that male sexual abuse of male children – always denied, never admitted – may work differently and turn boys into angry, paedophilic, predatory men.  This may be one explanation for the ease by which such young Palestinian men are recruited into the suicide squads. They feel debased and humiliated and are easy prey for the extremists who convince them that the only way to redeem themselves is by murdering themselves and Israelis.  Another explanation is intense tribal loyalty, by which family and family history supersedes individual needs or wishes.  Extremist Islam is predicated upon an external locus of control and evaluation, and that locus is in the hands of religious leaders.  

But why is this happening here?   The clues lie in the readiness on the part of the "handlers" of homicide bombers to link the Palestinian Moslems' perceived experience of oppression with the Iraq war, which again and again is said to have been waged against Islam, to the godlessness and blameworthiness of America and the West.  The Western media, aided and abetted by tactless politicians, has unwittingly bedded in this erroneous idea.  Do not forget that, in fundamentalist Islam, we are dealing with a sophisticated machine whose sole aim is to spread the banner of its own malignant and repressive version of Islam throughout the world, by terror if necessary.   One of my friends, who had been in the centre of London on 7th July, said that she felt violated, raped by the terrorist attacks.  I refer you to Kobrin's statement above, about the systematic debasement and traumatisation of Palestinian women. This seems to be extremist Islam's stock in trade so as to weaken and make compliant, and my friend's experience is, I believe, a significant if chilling experience of a parallel process.   

By contrast, there is stoicism and in a strange way hopefulness, in an email, received shortly after 7th July, from a friend:  

i have just returned from a family wedding in tel aviv

i visited the holocaust museum as well as attending the wedding

in every restaurant entrance to the beach, shop etc there are security personnel checking my bag for bombs.

people are turned away if they dont look appropriately dressed for the hot weather.

this is sadly how the uk is going to have to become now that the terror war is here big time

the buildings in tel aviv are crumbling......there is little investment.......but the people are proud, their heads held high.

they feel for us in the uk but know it only too well and have become philosophical about it."  

What can we do about it?   The most obvious antidote to extremism is education and open-mindedness, rather than knee-jerk reaction. I do not expect you to take on trust what I have written above, but I have researched it, and you can, too.  And, please, continue to live your lives!   Fear weakens the psychological immune system, to the extent that the twin opportunistic infections of extremism and susceptibility to hate propaganda can move in and take over.  Do not let them.  Be philosophical and strong and aware and know your own minds!  

Web page references: 
http://www.unite-against-terror.com/
 

http://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org/english/english.html
(Note:  This page was extremely anti-Semitic before the Government announced its intention to legislate against religious hatred and incitement to terrorism.  The current page is fairly anodyne by comparison, although it talks of the establishment of a world-wide Caliphate by force if necessary).

http://www.sullivan-county.com/w/cul_death.htm
This page is about honour killings of women in Islam.  It is very detailed and may be upsetting to read.

http://www.pmw.org.il/
How the rights of Palestinian children are eroded in the Middle Eastern conflict.

http://www.secularislam.org/   
A web page dedicated to secular Islam

Reuter, Christoph (2004).  My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing.  Princeton University Press

Chesler, Phyllis (2004).  The Psychoanalytic Roots of Islamic Terrorism.  Front Page Magazine, 3 May 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

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