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“A large part of the problem is, that young people are being born into the world and growing up without much hope. And so, they become murderers, they become suicide bombers.“ Arthur Hertzberg

“Some people are willing to be killed for beliefs for which the people from whom they got them are not even willing to be slapped.” Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“The weapon of suicide bombing is so desperate that you aren’t even left with the possibility of taking revenge or punishing anyone; the terrorist is killed along with his victims, his blood mixing with theirs.” A.B. Yehoshua

In light of so many things happening in the world today, especially the awkward withdrawal of the US/Allied troops from Afghanistan, I want to get back to some of the More than Meets the Eye fundamentals. I started More than Meets the Eye to help us gain a clear understanding of the global reach and impact of terrorism in the world today. It is not necessarily a fun topic to continuously write about, but I am convinced that it is a reality that will continue to hold many people as prisoners, at a minimum in their own minds, as the sophistication of terrorism continues to evolve.

I am starting a two to three-part series on terrorism this week, particularly as it relates to the terrorists themselves. I want to explore the why and how of the terrorist psyche, with a focus on suicide bombers in general. I think that it is just not enough to write them off as mentally ill psychopaths and discard their actions as simply those of madmen. There is more. So much more. I think that if we are to ever even remotely eradicate terrorism from our world we must begin to deal with the pathologies and not simply the symptoms. 

I want to begin this series by once again evaluating the definition of terrorism so that we are on the same sheet of music when I use specific words. The word “terrorism” is used carelessly and is now being used to define all sorts of violent behavior. It is important that we understand the legal definition and practical uses of that word. 

Though each agency in the United States, as well as the United Nations, uses a different definition of terrorism, the variables are very similar. There are currently numerous sitting heads of State who were once labeled as terrorists by the UN itself, the most recent example being that of the new leader of Afghanistan, SIRAJUDDIN HAQQANI. He is wanted by the FBI and has a $10,000,000 bounty on his head by the US government. Yet, he is the sitting head of the State of Afghanistan.

In part two of this series, I want to take a closer look at the pathologies (cause and effect) of the actual terrorists themselves. What drives them to sacrificially give their lives for what they believe and why is it worth dying for? As a young soldier goes off to war, he is pretty convinced that he will return from his tour of duty unscathed and will go on with his life. A suicide bomber engages his mission knowing the opposite. He will not return. So what is his incentive? This has the potential to turn into a multiple-part section as the subject is far more complicated than you or I could imagine and there is so much more than meets the eye in its interpretation.

For a more in-depth study of this subject read my research paper at: “The Unmaking of a Radical Islamic Jihadist”


First, let me refresh all of us on a definition of terrorism. If we don’t we will begin to believe that every egregious act of violence is an act of terrorism, and it is not. There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85). The word has a very specific definition, a definition with legal standing.

Second, I want to look at an interesting study from the United States Institute of Peace, entitled “Suicide Bombers in Iraq: Questions and Answers”. It provides a nice overview as to why terrorist organizations use terrorism as a means to accomplish their goals. By the way, I have a quick answer to this question. “It works!” Not everybody holds to that position, but from an incentive standpoint, it makes sense. It just works.

Here are some gleanings from that United States Institute of Peace article.

What are some of the critical advantages to suicide terrorism that explain its appeal across militant groups?

  1. Tactical effectiveness in comparison to conventional terrorism.
  2. Ability to communicate strategic messages to target audiences.
  3. Potent psychological impact on targeted countries.
  4. Ability to enhance the legitimacy of insurgent organizations among their constituent publics; and introduced in the Iraqi insurgency.
  5. Destruction of an emergent democratic government, sparking a sectarian civil war.

In summary, they are able to create more terror with less effort and cost. It focuses on a specific community creating fear and anxiety. It causes people to live in a state of fear. It demonstrates that they are more powerful than the local government and that they can strike at will and overthrow the government.

What are the tactical advantages of suicide bombings?

Suicide terrorism is one of the means for weak groups to coerce strong opponents into making concessions or changing their policies. Four tactical advantages to this strategy are:

  1. Kill Ratio: Suicide terrorism on average kills and injures more people with a single attack than any other form of terrorism.
  2. Smart Bombs: Suicide terrorists are “smart bombs” that can pinpoint their targets, walk into highly secured areas, make last-minute adjustments in their plans, and choose the time of detonation to inflict the greatest damage.
  3. Cost-Effectiveness: Suicide bombing is an attractive option for terrorist groups seeking a cost-effective way to inflict the greatest possible damage on their opponents with the least number of cadres.
  4. Group Security: Suicide terrorists are less likely to be captured and force to reveal their recruiters’ modus operandi.

How do suicide attacks heighten expectations of future attacks?

  1. Suicide terrorists often issue prerecorded statements that they are part of an ever-growing pool of “living martyrs” awaiting the opportunity to serve their cause.
  2. By breaching social taboos and international norms on the use of violence, they make threats of escalation appear credible.
  3. Groups that send suicide bombers are under internal organizational pressure to continue such attacks, so that the deaths of initial “martyrs” are not in vain.

This is simply to remind us of the genuine nature of terrorism: terror. Fear and apprehension are the reasons for their attacks. They want you and I to believe that they are better able to provide the security that we so long for, creating a divide between the masses and the government. Ultimately, terror is about the ousting of the current government, replacing it with a new and better government, or in the anarchist’s world, replacing it with no government. The goal is to make people so filled with fear that they no longer trust the government to protect them.

So many are driven by fear today. They are fearful of the coronavirus, fearful to go out in public. It is not as prevalent in the west yet, but their ultimate aim is that all public venues will shut down, that public gatherings of any kind, except those to support their ideology, will cease to exist completely. Terrorism is designed to create and foment fear. The goal is that fear will lead to dissatisfaction and that dissatisfaction will lead to change and hunger for change will create an environment for the terrorists to come in and offer that security. People in the West today are so afraid, they will gladly trade their liberty for security, all due to their fear. Westerners have concluded nothing is worth dying for.

What elements make suicide terrorism a powerful tool of psychological warfare?

  1. Suicide attacks rarely distinguish between combatants and civilians. In this respect, they are not different from other forms of terrorism. However, unlike conventional bombs, which often cannot distinguish between the old and the young, men and women, soldiers and civilians, human bombs can make these distinctions because they walk among their victims, hear their voices, and look into their faces. The intimate nature of suicide terrorism is psychologically damaging because the killers appear to be callous and exceptionally cruel.
  2. Suicide attacks are not new in history, but the general public views them as an unprecedented threat to its security because of their relatively recent revival. Moreover, suicide terrorism is not easily comprehensible; indeed, it appears illogical or downright “crazy” to the general public.

There is a very powerful psychological effect caused by suicide bombers. It could be anybody. Some will go to great lengths to protect themselves from strangers. Fear will cause many to not reach out and help those who are different from them. This psychological turmoil is a powerful divider. It creates suspicion, anxiety, and apprehension between humans. Why do terrorist networks use suicide bombers? It works!


One of the reasons that I continue to write about terrorism is the simple point above. Terrorism is designed to destroy lives and divide people. There is a greater power at play here. Its impact is greater than any of us can imagine. It is critical for us to think these things through and decide from the beginning how we will respond. Madame Curie is noted as saying, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” I couldn’t agree more. It is our lack of understanding which creates fertile soil for our fears to grow. William Wallace from the movie Braveheart said, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” This feels like a commentary on the lives of many people in our world today. Let that not be said of us.

Let’s understand several things together.

  1. Let’s not vilify any particular person because of their nationality, religion, or ethnicity. This has created many more problems than it has ever solved.
  2. Terrorists are not behind every rock and bush. When one begins to be driven by fear, one begins to see only wickedness in people and often misses that there are good people out there just trying to raise their family and live a peaceful life. 
  3. William James once said, “The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.” Good advice. What are you spending your life on? Will it outlast life itself? If not? You might want to find a better way to spend your days.

Next week will look closer at the incentives that are used to get people to throw their lives away by killing themselves as they kill others. I may deal briefly next week with an interesting field of study. It is a field that you have probably never even heard of. I think it will enlighten your perspective regarding some of the things we are talking about. It is called “Stupidity Theory.” Yes, that is actually an academic field of study. This may open a whole pandora’s box of clarity for you as to why so many things happen around you. There is definitely more than meets the eye. 


Read my article from April 11, 2018 entitled… “Are you kidding me?”  This will show you how irrational we can become when we are driven by fear and anger. You too will find yourself asking yourself… are you kidding me?

The follow-up.

Houthi missile attack on a mosque, religious school kills and injures 29 civilians in Yemen…


The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


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