By Fawad Kaiser
The Old Testament describes how Samson in a single act of vengeance caused the death of about 3000 Philistines, knowing that he himself would die with his victims. Samson used his extraordinary power to bring down the two pillars that supported the temple, crushing his enemies, in the name of God. In a tragically similar act, at least seven people were killed and dozens more wounded, including 21 who remained in critical condition, as the men sped across London Bridge in a white van, ramming numerous pedestrians before emerging with large hunting knives for a rampage in the capital's Borough Market, an atrocity in which the number of casualties and the manner of their death eerily recall Samson's act of revenge 33 centuries earlier.
On May 22, children were among the 22 people killed and 59 injured at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. On March 23, an attack on West minister Bridge near the House of Parliament left five people dead, including the terrorist, and dozens injured. Once again news agency linked to the Islamic State said the attacker was responding to its calls to kill citizens of countries that oppose their caliph.
Murder and suicide may be inseparable. Both assert power over death. Individual terrorists or individuals working in groups may seek the death penalty for themselves by committing suicide or getting killed within hours of the act of killing. Some terrorists may also die in acts of simultaneous murder and suicide. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Simultaneous homicide and suicide has been employed as act of warfare since ancient times, and it has now become a hallmark of terrorism.
This is a motivated violent attack, perpetrated by a self-aware individual or individuals who actively and purposely kill themselves along with their chosen targets. The individual is carefully selected, well trained, and is willing and able to execute the attack in a state of almost hypnotic transformation. The perpetrator believes that death is a precondition for the success of the mission, bestowing immortal honour. These terrorists write wills, undertake purification ceremonies, and sometimes leave taped messages asking their families not to mourn them because they are not dead but rather transformed to another life. The terrorist's death is also certain even if the mission fails. For the terrorist to survive the attack is unexpected - probably unthinkable both by him and his leaders.
Modern homicide- suicide terrorism is aimed at causing devastating physical damage, through which it inflicts profound fear and anxiety. Its goal is to produce a negative psychological effect on an entire population rather than just on the victims of the actual attack. The large number of casualties guaranteed in such attacks ensures dramatic and spectacular media coverage. Methods of homicide- suicide terrorism now include the use as missiles of ordinary moving objects such as motor cars, boats, wagons, trucks, aircraft, motorcycles, bicycles, animals, and young men and women.
The terrorist mind is dark but not unfathomable. Homicide-suicide terrorism refers to the beliefs and personality of the leader, the social structure of the group, and makes references to irrationality, brainwashing and morbid psychology. The powerful hold that the leader has over the group members, generally referred to as 'charisma', and the leader's patience and goal-directedness are the most common factors in all homicide-suicide terrorist groups. Homicide-suicide terrorists who execute acts such as the attack on the London Bridge may be people who are not necessarily violent but who embark on violent actions and are prepared to die for what they believe to be the greater good. The homicide- suicide terrorists see themselves as soldiers willing to sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose and are convinced of an eternal reward through their action. Two main motivations can be identified in the vast majority of homicide-suicide terrorist acts: first is anger and a sense of revenge and the second is a deep religious belief that a better life awaits in paradise.
Alien thoughts and irrational beliefs cannot be controlled by merely eradicating the individuals who harbour or spread such beliefs
Behaviour based on beliefs induced by powerful suggestion in circumstances where a state of religious fanaticism or practices are potent and relevant factors is difficult to shift similar to the shared delusional beliefs such as occur in folie à deux. The beliefs of the 'inducer' or 'principal' are transferred to close companions, who share and help sustain such beliefs. This is not dissimilar to the structure of IS which exploits the young minds as its principal and inducer.
Attempts to defeat terrorism with military might can be more dangerous to the governments concerned than to the terrorists. Alien thoughts and irrational beliefs cannot be controlled by eradication of the individuals who harbour or spread such beliefs, especially those who are willing to die for them. Ideas know no boundaries and will always find homes in receptive minds in a climate of chronic conflict, hopelessness, anger, sense of injustice, poverty and fanaticism. Receptive and vulnerable minds must be protected and strengthened in the face of the deadly persuasion of pseudo-religious leaders. What is required is a serious and sustained commitment to combat terrorism.
Fawad Kaiser is a professor of Psychiatry and consultant Forensic Psychiatrist in the UK.