Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Market for Martyrs

Our thanks go to Larry Iannaccone of Chapman University for his terrific guest lecture on religious extremism and suicide bombings. Students in the class can go to the class dropbox for access to his paper "The Market for Martyrs." He also mentioned the following books (obviously not required reading for the final exam):
Berman is an economist, and Sageman is a psychologist. Another book of interest is by a political scientist:


  1. It is interesting the perception of paradise the suicide bombers have. I am not trying to question the Islam faith, but I've read somewhere that the Prophet Mohammed is reported to have said that a suicide cannot go to paradise. Yet, these suicide bombers are told that they will be given many virgins in heaven and will reach eternal paradise. I watched a short film today on the bombings in Mumbai, and they caught a terrorist bomber from Pakistan involved in the killings, and they asked him why he did it. He said that he was told about the paradise in heaven and that Mohammed would welcome him with happiness. Then the bomber said that when he asked the "captain" if he had committed such acts, the captain said yes and thus influenced the assertion that it is righteous to do suicide and to kill people. The suicide bomber was shot I believe and then interviewed in the hospital. Islamic laws oppose the practice. So it seems that the manipulation of the religion comes in form of the training received as a youth and then eventually progressed to the extreme fundamentalist beliefs that the westerners are the enemy of Islam. I guess after a while of this training it would be rational for someone to commit suicide in the name of Islam. It would also seem that jihad, is not an attempt of suicide, but when going to war knowing that the outcome is death, then it is considered martyrdom, which is a much more praised form of self sacrifice in the name of God. Thus, Islamists find suicide for personal reasons abominable, and suicide for jihad admirable.

  2. Kirk Arihara 26573377December 4, 2009 at 2:42 AM

    The lecture was a different yet intriguing change of pace to finish off the year. When the attack of September 11 occurred I honestly shared no interest in what had happened. As an 8th grader at the time, to me it was just another fatal incident that the news gave light to. The theoretical statistics of the number of extremist that Larry made up in class was eye opening; and this was just a certain population of all religious groups. It goes to show how high ones religious capital is enough to sacrifice one of "God's greatest gifts"; the gift of life. Sacrificing in general is not just religious. This recaps on the usage of these tactics by the Japanese which they call “kamikaze” meaning “to kill others and inflict widespread damage, while the attacker intends to die as well in the process.” For the Japanese it was considered an honor to you and your family for laying your life down for the Emperor and country. Suicide bombings have predominantly been male sacrificing, which shows that some religions have distinct gender oriented ways of worshiping. However, since 1985 there have been an increasing number of suicide attacks made by female extremists. Some theorists have denounced that this increase in women suicide bombing have been a result in the rise of woman status in the Arab culture. What questions me is that if you cannot change the supply of terrorist acts, how can you change the demand? Larry briefly discussed this but I am still oblivious to how or if this can be obtainable.

  3. Alex, I think one hindrance to Americans understanding suicide bombers is that we call them "suicide" bombers. To us, suicide is something that depressed loners do out of guilt and lack of hope. We don't use the word suicide to refer to acts of courage by soldiers who do something knowing that it will lead to their death but will save others. And this is exactly how suicide bombers view their act: they are doing something that they think will have a positive impact on the well-being of others in their ethnic or national group.

    Kirk, The question about demand side is about who believes they benefit from violent acts and why. Suicide bombing is generally only used as a tactic by a group that is facing an opponent of much greater strength, often a foreign occupying power. Ending occupations is thus one way to decrease demand for violent acts. More generally, the idea is that there is an underlying population that values these violent acts and some extremist groups are positioned to provide them. But these settings also tend to have high religious regulations, which puts some groups in a better position than others to be capable of providing violence. Read Iannaccone's paper for more info.


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