Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adam Lankford's "The Myth of Martyrdom"

Adam Lankford is a criminal justice professor at The University of Alabama. He has written for the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Wired, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and numerous peer-reviewed journals. His research has been featured by CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, BBC World Radio, CBS Radio, The Boston Globe, and many other national and international outlets.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers, and reported the following:
The test works! Like the rest of my book, page 99 is written in a very clear and accessible style, with no academic jargon or elitist language, because I believe good writers and good thinkers must be able to make sophisticated ideas easily comprehensible.

Both my book, and this page, tackle a fundamental question: are suicide attackers committing suicide or making a sacrifice? Are they driven by the desire to escape a debilitating psychological crisis, or by the duty to do whatever it takes to protect the people they care about?

Remarkably, terrorist leaders, Islamic scholars, and Western experts have spent decades agreeing with each other that there’s essentially no psychological difference between the sacrificial motives of a suicide bomber—on the one hand—and those of a Secret Service agent who takes a bullet for the president, or a soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his comrades—on the other. This is the myth of martyrdom, and simply by reading page 99, we can see it begin to unravel.

Tim McCarthy actually took a bullet to protect the president, and Ross McGinnis, Leroy Petry, and Matthew Croucher all jumped on grenades that were thrown in their direction, instead of running for cover. Because three of these men were lucky enough to survive, we can find out exactly what was going through their heads in those fateful moments—and precisely how they differed from suicide attackers, on a psychological level.

Ultimately, this knowledge leads to a new understanding of suicide bombers, rampage shooters, and other self-destructive killers—and will empower us to devise better and bolder strategies for preventing their attacks.

From page 99:
On the other hand, the sacrificial decisions made by McCarthy, McGinnis, Petry, and Croucher were in the heat of the moment. These individuals had no plans to throw themselves in harm’s way and potentially die that day. And unlike the suicide terrorists, they did not have days, weeks, months, or years to weigh the options and look for a better solution. These sacrificial acts were split-second responses to unexpected threats that suddenly appeared before them. As McCarthy recalls, he barely had the chance to think before jumping in front of Reagan: “Quite frankly, it probably had little to do with bravery and an awful lot to do with the reaction based upon the training,” he humbly insists.

Difference #2: Intention of dying.

Now think back to the definition of suicide from Chapter 1. For an act to constitute a completed suicide, it requires the (1) death of the actor, (2) intention of dying, and (3) self-orchestration of that death. It is the second and third factors that are most relevant here.

Suicide bombers who blow themselves up and suicide terrorists who deliberately crash hijacked jets into buildings clearly intend to die. Although some bomb vests malfunction and some suicide terrorists are arrested before they can strike, it’s not clear that any of those who attempt their attacks actually expect to survive. In fact, they often explicitly clarify their intention of dying in suicide notes and “martyrdom” videos.

Commentators often assume that the Secret Service agent who takes a bullet for the president or the soldier who jumps on a grenade similarly intends to die. But that’s actually not true. In fact, Secret Service agents specifically wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves in the extremely unlikely event that they do get shot.

And we know that Petry did not intend to die, because he tried to throw the grenade back. But things could have turned out very differently. If the insurgent had waited another second between pulling the pin and throwing the grenade, Petry would have taken the full blast with his body as he lunged toward it. He would have been killed in action—just like PFC Ross McGinnis.
Learn more about the book and author at Adam Lankford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue