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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Follow-up Discussion

In my most recent post, I discussed both religion and suicide bombings. Both are subjects on which many people have quite strong opinions, so there were some responses to my post which I thought warranted some expansion. First and foremost is my discussion with Cornucrapia (conducted behind the internet's version of closed doors - a private chat. Therefore, if I make any mistakes in representing what he said, I apologize and hope he will set me straight). He made several points, the first of which was that he did not think my conclusion was as different from the article's as it appeared that I thought it was. Thus, I believe it is worth trying to more clearly elucidate just what conclusions I understood the article to have, and what my interpretation of the data entailed given my understanding and outlook on religion.

As Cornucrapia understood the article, it was saying that devotion to a religious institution is more indicative of suicide bombings than devotion to any particular god. In essence, I agree with that statement, but I interpreted the article more as saying that attendance and integration with a religious community was more indicative of suicide bombings than fervour of religious belief. Essentially, that is the same thing, just with a different emphasis. The way I read the article it seemed to be focusing on the community aspect irrespective of the beliefs held by the religion, whereas I thought that was an erroneous conclusion. To me, the dangers inherent in devotion to a religious community rest in the genuflection shown to those in charge of the community regardless of what they say or ask. As I tried to relate through my rambling discussion, in the vast majority of circumstances suicide bombings are a matter of manipulation, and religious organizations seem to be perfectly suited for recruitment into behavioural manipulation. Though I might have intellectual quibbles with personal spiritual beliefs, it is rare for an individually spiritual person to have drastic social ramifications for those around them. It is only when that person has others willing to rally to his call in some sort of organized religious opposition that one person's spiritual beliefs begin to have massive social ramifications. What I am basically trying to say is I think the increased support for suicide attacks following place of worship attendance rests primarily not in the increased social bonds, as the article seemed to suggest, but rather in the increased subservience to a small group of religious officials.

Which leads me to the second point which Cornucrapia mentioned which I full cede to him and should have mentioned myself. A far more powerful indicator of support for suicide bombings rests not in any test for religiosity, but rather in whether or not a region is occupied by a foreign military force. This then leads me to the other comment I wanted to address, which was Regan's. He thought my use of the words 'mentally unbalanced' was an unjustified value judgement, pointing out that the people who perform suicide attacks have usually led lives of terrible suffering.

There are two aspects to my response. The first is I just wanted to point out that though the way I said 'mentally unbalanced' was perhaps dismissive and marginalizing as it was within the bounds of a parentheses like an afterthought thrown out there, in that context it was not actually directed at suicide bombers in general. Instead, it was directed at those people who compose and enact suicide attacks on their own (sometimes with a friend, but the difference here is that they receive no external training or direct impetus driving them to perform their attack), for example the Columbine shooting. Despite the intention of the comment, however, I think that it is worth pointing out that anyone who perpetrates a suicide attack is mentally unbalanced. They might have good reason for being mentally unbalanced (such as having lived a horrifyingly awful life), but they are still deranged. A person driven insane by torture is still insane, and it should not be considered marginalizing to say so. It just happens that said person's insanity has a direct and understandable cause, but that does not mean that person does not most likely belongs in a mental health hospital. Regan makes an important point that is all too often unacknowledged in that one should be careful of falling into the trap of blaming the victim, but I think he oversteps the bounds of that point by objecting to any sort of assessment of suicide attackers' mental health based on the degree to which they have suffered prior to the attack. Much like war veterans who find they have difficulty returning to a nonviolent civilian existence and, as a result of their previous experiences, often end up commiting violent crimes against their fellow citizens, it is a messy issue. The people whose lives have been tragically and irrevocably disrupted by intense horror should not be dismissed out of hand, but so too should people not fear to assess their mental states. To deny that a person who is willing to blow himself up in order to kill others is mentally unbalanced out of pity for his past is dangerous both to him and those around him. To label him as mentally unbalanced should in no way be an attempt to marginalize him (though, like with all psychological problems, it will serve to do so for some people), but rather it should serve to acknowledge the horror of his prior experience and lead to future attempts to rectify that damage as much as possible.