Book Review: Adam Lankford (2013): The Myth of Martyrdom
Breaking News: Adam Lankford has finally debunked and demystified the idiocy, the claim that suicide bombers are martyrs for the greater cause. My colleague Joan Lachkar and I have for years been trying to show how early childhood development and its cultural child rearing practices directly influence the psychopathology and dynamic operative in the making of suicide bombers, mass murders and rampage shootings. While Lankford touches on some of the early childhood experiences of these cold blooded murderers, he masterfully critiques many of the proffered ridiculous, “out of touch” theories concerning these kinds of disavowed, enactments of highly dissociated aggression and rage.
Unfortunately in the case of Islamic suicide terrorism (although the book is not limited just to this crucial subject) what we have had is the naked emperor riding on top of the elephant which could hitherto-fore only be identified in bits and pieces, lumbering around the room destroying everything in its path for far too long a time.
I have always held that Adrian Raine’s classic text, The Psychopathology of Crime, published in 1993 is key to the argument because if you consider suicide bombing a crime, than you have psychopathology and it is not just a benign case of agoraphobia. It is hard core psychopathology – malignant narcissism, malignant borderline psychopathology with psychotic self states, severe problems in attachment etc.
Lankford stresses the important point that Islam is not exactly a religious culture in which one can talk about being unhappy, let alone suicidal because of shame, that most painful emotion. Ironically there is a stigma attached to committing suicide. The cultures of a large segment of the religious believers who are extremists have not modernized. Yet we also know that suicide bombing is more than just suicide as it involves the murder of the innocent other. Lankford does not buy into Pape’s idea that the problem arises from the alleged occupation. Instead he shows how cases in these instances were carried out by people who had significant mental problems. For example Wafa, the Palestinian suicide bomber, was completely abused by her father.
Few academics and policy makers have been willing to risk looking at the stark reality of the Islamic suicide attack which has been cloaked in the pseudo myth of martyrdom. Could it be that this is part of our counter transference to the seduction of suicide and murderous rage and a denied fascination with its sadomasochism? I think so.
Lankford relates his uphill battle and puts the truth on the table that these bombers, mass murderers and rampage shooters have significant psychopathology. He writes of his struggle:
[I] began with no grant funding no research assistants, no government connections, no security clearance, and no privileged access […]. The fact that it’s played out this way seems like a frightening condemnation of the systems we depend upon for knowledge. After all, these are the leaders we count on to keep us safe so we can sleep at night. I never anticipated that they could be so wrong, or worse yet, so closed-minded to the seemingly obvious possibility that suicide terrorists are suicidal.”
In deference to many experts and their theories as well as political leaders who blindly and willingly bought hook, line and sinker such espoused skewed findings whom Lankford debunks, I will not name names. However, the list is long so more importantly – buy the book, read it, tell others to buy it as well, invite Professor Lankford to be a scholar in residence for an evening and support his outstanding, brave much needed research. These alleged experts wanted a quick fix rather than thinking critically about what has been going on and they have taken the masses to be fools.
Ironically, academics and policy makers also operate in an unrecognized miniature shame honor culture which parallels Arab Muslim culture. This causes a series of blind spots. As an outsider, he was able to effectively deal with such a toxic environment. As a criminologist he conducted a labor intensive investigation of these crimes and found many patterns that others had failed to see.
Lankford’s exceptional writing style keeps us intrigued and the reader engaged along with a dry sense of humor while tearing down each argument and obstacle that has hindered seeing the stark reality of these murderers, be they suicide bombers, rampage shooters or mass murderers.
It was a relief to read of Lankford’s position concerning the short comings on the subject of prison interviews and interviews of others which counter terrorism venerates to a fault and upon which it has too heavily relied. Having conducted prison interviews myself, I completely concur with him. Many who conduct them are poorly trained in critical thinking and depth psychology. Lankford writes that you can’t believe everything you hear and even though:
Respondents [the interviewees] may give consistently unreliable answers for many reasons. They may be influenced by social and cultural biases. They may be lying, with ulterior motives. They may be in psychological denial [emphasis mine] because admitting the truth, even to themselves would be far too painful. Or they may simply lack the knowledge or information to provide accurate answers. If you asked ‘everyone’ in the 1400s whether the Earth orbited the Sun, or the Sun orbited the Earth, you would get a very consistent answer. And much like the answer researchers often receive when they simply ask about the motives of suicide terrorists, it would be consistently wrong.”
And then Lankford hits the nail on the head: “Sometimes the truth does not simply jump from the tips of respondents’ tongues to the pages of our articles and books, sometimes we have to dig for it.” And he does just that. He has put together a narrative which is coherently consistent and parses out the facts.
In his Appendix A Lankford offers a long list yet stresses it remains partial of suicide terrorists with risk factors for suicide. Here the obvious is apparent. I see Lankford putting the pseudo hysterical borderline bravado aside of the suicide bombers and their nefarious cronies. He proceeds to demonstrate how they are actually terrified of death. Elsewhere I have written that suicide bombers function like a death anxiety emollient for those who send them. They are all actually terrified of death and yet seek it because they cannot conceive of maturely facing their emotional problems.
Appendix B presents a list of different types of suicide attackers in the United States, 1990-2010 with appendix C noting the breakdown of types of suicide terrorists: conventional, coerced, escapist and indirect (the latter being suicide by cop which reminds me of the Filipino Moro, fight to the death in the tradition of classic jihad.)
The Myth of Martyrdom has entered the canon of studies in suicide terrorism at the top of the list. Anyone who comes close to dealing with the subject of terrorism must read it. It is crucial if we are to get a handle on the problem and stop suicide bombings insidious mushrooming which in turn also influences other types of mass murderer and rampage murders. These kinds of massacres do not occur in a vacuum – one influences the other. The next step that needs to be taken is factoring in the critical importance of early childhood development, the time frame during which children learn to hate and the time when the brain of the baby is made by his or her devalued female horribly abused mother with help from the father.
Lankford’s final caveat is that we must save them from themselves for the sake of our own selves. I agree. There is no question that they have degraded their own cultures. We must stop them before it further erodes ours. Aggression breeds aggression. Limits must be sent and boundaries observed. Education, education, education remains the key. This book makes a major contribution toward that end.
Guess what? Suicide bombers are actually suicidal. They are the elephants in the room with sheikhs riding on top yet cleverly disguised as alleged martyrs. Thanks to Lankford we can see what and whom we are dealing with and we come to know their “true colors.”
Adam Lankford (2013): The Myth of Martyrdom. Palgrave Macmillan, 272 pages, 18,95 Euro. Buy at Amazon.