There have been many attempts to explain the phenomenon of the Islamic suicide assassin: theological, sociological, economical and psychological. Most of the definitions can explain certain patterns in the behavior of terrorists in Israel and the Palestinian territories, for example, but they fail suddenly in the face of others such as the death pilots of September 11, 2001.
Theological arguments are based on the Koran since jihad – also in the sense of an armed war against unbelievers – is required there, and specifically death in this war is the only guaranteed path to Paradise, as the Islamicist Mark A. Gabriel has demonstrated in detail, not to mention the worthlessness of this earthly life, which accentuates the material melioration in Paradise, according to the sociologist Manfred Kleine-Hartlage. In contrast to all of this stands (apparently) the Koranic prohibition against suicide as well as the proscription against killing [other] Muslims.
Studies also show that socio-economic reasons can hardly play a role in self-sacrifice because the perpetrators come mostly from well-to-do, intact families, in addition to the sociological explanation of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who holds the “narcissistic disease” of the Muslim man as the loser of world history to be the cause. In light of the high level of education of many suicide assassins, a massive brainwashing through Islamic organizations would also have to be present besides.
However, yet [other studies show] that the self-destructive behavior of Muslim men is marked by deeply rooted psychological components that overshadow the other behavioral patterns. At least that is the interpretation provided by the book “The Banality of Suicide Terrorism” by the American psychoanalyst Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, who sees gender roles in Islam and the mother-son relationship of the Islamic family as decisive. In the final analysis, she views Islamic suicide terrorism as an extension of domestic violence, even in the form of a military and political tool of radical Muslim organizations.
Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin claims that the problem results primarily from the position of the Muslim woman. On the one hand, they become mothers at a very young age, usually when they are still children themselves, and are therefore devalued as a person and abused. On the other hand, it is absolutely taboo in Islamic societies for a son to separate himself in any way from his mother. Even man’s wife – or all of his wives – are worth less [than his own mother]. The man’s identification with this (from a Western perspective) completely devalued and psychologically destroyed female imago is ultimately catastrophic.
The author uses the 9/11 death pilots as well as Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda as examples. According to Kobrin, bin Laden is still in a psychological war against his father, a building engineer who renovated the famous mosques in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. The author bases this conclusion on the code names for the al-Qaida terror attack in Kenya, “holy Qa’aba” (Mecca), and in Tanzania, “al Aqsa” (Jerusalem), among other things.
In the last chapter of her book, Kobrin suggests how Islamic suicide terrorism could be stopped. First, societies that support suicide attacks would have to be brought to court. Also, institutions and clerics who provoke hatred of other cultures (that is, unbelievers) would have to be prosecuted.
But of primary importance for this psychoanalyst is early intervention in Muslim cultures to strengthen the position of young girls, to allow them an education, and to protect them from religious-cultural indoctrination. This includes banning the burqa, protecting them from genital mutilation, and combating the culture of shame in Islam. Here the author stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who also believes that the suppression of women is the greatest obstacle toward the modernization and integration of Islam.
Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin finds a special explanatory model for this situation from her own field, psychoanalysis. She thinks that Muslim women often suffer from a massive “Stockholm syndrome.” This refers to the behavior of hostages who eventually defend their kidnappers and even characterize their captors as protectors. Highly educated women in Islamic families act similarly by not reporting abuse even when it is committed by a family member, or by covering up the abuse, or even actively participating in it, such as through honor killings or genital mutilation.
Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin: The Banality of Suicide Terrorism. The Naked Truth About the Psychology of Islamic Suicide Bombing, Washington, DC: Potomac Books 2010, 192 pages, 21.99 Euro.
Dr. Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin is a psychoanalyst specializing in trauma. She has studied the phenomenon of the suicide terrorist and the truck bombers in Lebanon since the early 1980s. She taught courses for many years in the sheriff’s office in Hennepin County, Minnesota. She has also studied Somali émigrés in Minnesota.
This is a translation of the German review by Dr. David van Dyke.