Boy Meets Girl, Not Bombs

March 22, 2010

Baylor researcher finds promise of sexual gratification in the afterlife is a powerful method to recruit suicide terrorists

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When a martyr for Allah takes his place in Paradise, he will "marry beautiful-eyed young women, will be spared the torments of the tomb, will not submit to the Day of Judgment and will have one of the world's best precious stones adorn his crown," according to promises made in the Quran.

Those are heady prospects for a man who, in his time on earth, was unattractive, poor, low on the social rung -- or all three.

Some Islamic extremists use those promises as a recruiting tool when seeking suicide terrorists. Those scriptures -- besides condoning suicide in the name of righteousness -- can be a powerful lure by offering sexual gratification for a person with slim chances of marriage, writes Dr. Bradley Thayer, a professor of political science at Baylor University, in an article published in the spring 2010 issue of International Security.

Those seeking to stamp out suicide terrorism might do well to consider "defeating by domesticating" - making husbands and fathers of men who would be likely candidates for suicide terrorism, according to the article Sex and the Shaheed, co-authored by Dr. Valerie Hudson, professor of political science at Brigham Young University.

While military force and homeland security measures are traditional weapons against terrorism, "this is a new arrow in the quiver," Thayer said.

Islamic terrorists traditionally have defended their actions as necessary to rid themselves of U.S. military forces in the Islamic world and to destroy the alliance of the United States with former Islamic nations which have rejected the religion's tenets.

While many Islamic scholars dispute the terrorists' interpretation of Islam, fundamentalist terrorists and their sympathizers use their religion for inspiration and justification for suicide terrorism. But Thayer and Hudson contend that motivation goes beyond politics, power, territory, economy or even religion.

In Islamic culture, a man is expected to be financially able to support a family, so a man with limited means loses some of his appeal as a mate. In Egypt from 2000 to 2004, wedding costs rose 25 percent. Families of young men save five to seven years to pay for the marriages. And in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, wedding costs for young men average $12,000 to $20,000, the article notes.

In Islamic cultures, young men who cannot afford to marry feel ashamed and emasculated, Thayer said.

Being unattractive or deformed narrows a man's chances of marriage further, he said. And in countries where polygyny -- the practice of having more than one wife -- is accepted, wealthier men are "alpha males" more likely to have multiple wives. That leaves a smaller pool of women for men in society's lower rungs.

One study cited in the article shows that among Islamic suicide terrorists, 97 percent are single and 84 percent are male, with most from lower socioeconomic levels. A study of Iraqi suicide bombers done by the U.S. military concluded they were almost always single men ages 18 to 31, with no children, and most are alienated young men from large families who are eager to distinguish themselves.

Thayer and Hudson's article includes statements from failed suicide bombers and other young Muslims. A 16-year-old captured at an Israeli checkpoint in Gaza told intelligence officials that he was ridiculed at school because of his dwarfism, and he was tempted by the scriptural promise of 72 virgins for a martyr in the afterlife.

Another captured would-be suicide terrorist, a Moroccan man age 26, was facially disfigured. And a 16-year-old Muslim youth leader quoted in the article told a terrorism scholar, "Most boys cannot stop thinking about the virgins."

Family status also may be a motivator for suicide terrorists, Thayer said. While many cultures view suicide as selfish and may blame or stigmatize the family, the opposite is true for an Islamic family whose relative has been martyred in battle.

"The siblings of suicide terrorists are seen as more attractive mates. Their status has jumped," Thayer said. In the Western culture, that might be comparable to having a successful athlete, a celebrity or an extremely wealthy individual in the family, he said.

While men are more likely to be suicide terrorists than women, family also may play a role in a woman's decision to commit suicide for Allah, Thayer said.

"Some women who recruit terrorists may lure other women to be raped, because women who are raped are seen as dishonoring themselves and bringing dishonor to their families," Thayer said. "Becoming a suicide terrorist can be an avenue out of that." Islamic religious authorities do not address whether a woman suicide terrorist can have children in the afterlife, according to the article.

The concept of "domesticating" potential terrorists may seem simplistic to critics, but Thayer points out that the Palestinian Liberation Organization served as a matchmaker to successfully fight growth of the rival group Black September, an offshoot of PLO that was infamous for killing Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

PLO leaders recruited about 100 attractive young women volunteers to Beirut, telling them they would be part of an important mission, and introduced them to men at a PLO version of a "mixer" in hopes that romance would bloom. An additional incentive: Black September members were told that if they married, they would be paid $3,000; given a Beirut apartment with a gas stove, a refrigerator, and a television; and employed by the PLO in a nonviolent capacity. A couple that had a baby within a year would be rewarded with an additional $5,000, according to Sex and War, a book by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden.

"It is exceedingly difficult to convince a married Muslim man with at least one healthy young son still in need of his protection to commit suicide," Thayer said.

The authors made several recommendations for new ways to research and combat suicide terrorism, suggesting changes must come from within the Islamic world with assistance from the international community.

Among the recommendations:

• Muslim Middle Eastern nation must control dowry costs, perhaps through payment of wedding costs or government provision of low-cost housing for newlyweds.

• Combat the attractiveness of the terrorists' messages by introducing counter-messages. One such message is that terrorists seduce individuals away from family obligations, which is un-Islamic and not honorable.

• Introduce negative messages about male suicide bombers, such as the idea that they must have been mentally ill or bestial or disfigured; otherwise they would have chosen the path of true manhood and family. "The implication could be that only young men who are not good looking or attractive to women -- sexual losers -- choose to become suicide terrorists," Thayer and Hudson wrote.

• Governments worldwide should put pressure on their media not to lionize suicide terrorists or provide their survivors the opportunity to praise their actions.

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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