The Moral Infrastructure of Chief Perpetrators of Suicidal Terrorism

Folks, this is an article which summarized the results of a study aimed at shedding some light on chief terrorists’ moral judgment.

The study focused on the moral infrastructure of chief perpetrators of Palestinian suicide terrorism, who recruit suicide bombers and send them on their deadly missions. The participants were 17 Arab prisoners: Five chief perpetrators, five ‘non-terrorist’ murderers and seven petty offenders. Each participant was individually interviewed twice by a professional criminologist. Life stories were collected in the first session. An attempt to temper the participants’ moral approach toward victims of terrorism was made in the second session. Various aspects of moral judgment were recorded before and after the conversation. The results expose a unique moral framework upheld by the chief perpetrators, comprised of two facets– normative (regarding their own human environment) and deadly (regarding Israeli Jews), unusually isolated from each other. Practical implications are suggested, based on the Functional Theory of Cognition and the Hypothesis of Modular Morality.

Views can be found among some groups of orthodox Muslims today who believe that the devout person has a task to serve God a task that can be achieved through the believer’s death if not in life (see Israeli, 1997, on ‘Islamikaza’; Tantawi, 1996, on ‘Fatwa’; Ajami, 2001). This manner of death is considered holy (‘astashad’) rather than suicidal (‘intahar’), and it is a product of unwavering faith that leads the individual towards self mortification (Forman, 1988). This approach may embody the essence of the chief-perpetrators’ (those who recruit volunteers, equip them and send them to commit terrorist attacks) message to all suicide terrorists (see Merari, 1993 on the definition of terrorism).

Some explanations for suicide terrorism focus on the personal characteristics of the perpetrators or on motivations such as finding a legitimate means of clearing their name – “redemption through the gutter” (Shoham, 1980). But that’s obviously not the whole story. A recent review of the“Genesis of suicide terrorism” (Atram, 2003) confirms what has already been reiterated in the literature, i.e., that “Contemporary suicide terrorists from the Middle East…have no appreciable psychopathology and are as educated and well-off as surrounding populations.” (p. 1534).

Terrorists need compelling motives for suicide attacks, but the actual bomber is at the end of a chain that starts with the recruiter. One can only wonder about the moral considerations that allows the recruiter to send somebody to die while killing other people who are neither known to him nor responsible for any action against him. By Western and many other standards, this is a very serious crime (see Friedlander, 1986; Iviansky, 1967; Israeli, 1997).

This in turn raises questions about the moral underpinnings of the recruiter. What kind of moral world does he live in? Does he have moral dilemmas? If so, in what ways are these dilemmas different from those of people considered normative and similar to habitual criminals? Based on the convention that an individual’ moral infrastructure is reflected in his or her moral judgment, the present study is aimed at shading some light on chief terrorists’ moral judgment.

Read the rest of the study and the results here: The Moral Infrastructure of Chief Perpetrators of Suicidal Terrorism

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