|Child to killer
Reasons behind idolization of destructiveness
By Fatima Farideh Nedjat
February 15, 2002
Human behavior has been studied from a number of perspectives within the social
sciences in order to understand why people behave as they do. Some psychologist believe
that poor emotional health is responsible for individuals' incapacity to deal with
problems. Sociologists, on the other hand, argue that mental symptoms are more likely
the result -- rather than the cause of incapacity to achieve success. To define social
behavior, it is important to note that behaviors are not built-in, but worked out
in agreement with other participants.
The attacks on America at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has stunned the
world and especially the Americans. In order to build stronger community we must
understand in this multicultural society what is the core decay of a society that
produces suicide bombers and who are the direct and the indirect perpetrators. The
educators must first be able to make analysis for themselves about the event and
the conductors of this heinous act before they can intelligently make any kind of
references to the problem whether to our students who have perhaps left their oppressive
governments to start the new beginning in this land of opportunity or those who have
been fortunate long before to build up a democratic community.
I was raised for the first 20 years of my life in a society where the state and religion
were one power, under monarchy, and now under a theocratic regime the social rules
are strict and literal complying with the scripture. The relationship between the
status of women in the "constructed Islam" (different from what the holy
book prescribes) by the heads of some theocratic governments and the environmental
profile of being raised by some abused mothers in a religiously strict, ascetic household
lead us to the psychological, ideological, and sociological reasons why one can be
encouraged to idolize destructiveness in order to become a martyr. I describe a few
socially situated conditions among such populations. The lack of public and economic
benefits results in functional illiteracy. Women's oppression then flourishes under
these constructed Islamic traditions. This creates dominant psychological conditions
that promote fundamentalism.
The political aspect of suicide bombing among Muslim fundamentalists is the central
concept of this paper. We must understand the instigating forces that drive individuals
to become perpetrators of suicide bombing. These influences are divided into four
categorical segments: The psychological impact of family environment; the moral efficacy
of religion; hegemonic ideology; and a society of organized violence. All of these
forces are inculcated through women's oppression, the agent whose nurturing power
The backbone of such structure is a theocratic government ruled by hard-line fundamentalist
militants, whose outlook is determined by a literal interpretation of scripture.
This oppression produces fundamentalist households in which abused, narcissistic
mothers raise children. The current global violence perpetrated in the name of "God"
by the Islamism fundamentalists makes one wonder what encourages individuals to act
so violently. What is the ideology behind the phenomenon that enforces such behavior?
The viewpoint justifying the act of violence is defined as "retaliation and
retribution" in the classical Shari'a law. Muslim societies living under
this ideology must systematize such ideology within the government, in order to execute
punishments terrorizing the unbeliever, or the enemy of Islam. The violent act of
suicide bombing and the moral efficacy of religion are interlocking. The government
passively observes as the disease of intellectual deprivation is spread among lower
socio-economic groups that are functionally illiterate. The interrelation of martyrdom
and reprisal are positively reinforced within the social context as a pillar of Islam,
Jihad. The child growing up is conditioned to believe in martyrdom. For instance,
during the Iraq and Iran War, positive reinforcement for becoming shahid's
family (the family of a martyr) came in the form of extra coupons for food rationing
and monthly payments of an equal to $50 to families who lost a son in the war.
There are many environmentally oriented theories of aggressive behavior, including
frustration-aggression, narcissism-aggression, relative deprivation, authoritarianism,
and obedience to authority, and adolescent rebellion, as well as guilt, sadism, and
paranoia. The most systematic of these theories are set-forth in the "frustration-aggression"
and what may be termed the "narcissism-aggression" theories (Pearstein
6). Hence, anger, the sole drive exhorting violent actions, is transferred to the
child, within the family environment.
Why is Islamic culture uniquely violent when it is practiced in a constructed theocratic
society? The comparative moral efficacy between the three Ibrahimic religions of
Judaism, Christianity and Islam is useful in observing religion's moral teachings
within the social context. People within the Jewish community are raised believing
in Jewish philosophy. They do not accept as true the contingency described as life
after death. The emphasis on rejecting such ideology produces a diverse outlook,
in practice. It encourages people to believe in the virtue of heaven and the wickedness
of hell in this life. Within the social context, it encourages people to reach consensus,
to help one another. In Christianity, a humble character and unambitious philosophy
seeks compassion in the enemy. The popular morality encourages forgiveness.
The biblical verse further advises and metaphorically invites one toward peace by
saying: "When the enemy strikes the right cheek offer him the left."
Leaders like Gandhi advocated this kind of self-discipline
and morality. He invoked the biblical verse to encourage people to be willing to
take a blow without striking back, or surrendering, to the enemy. Gandhi said this
approach makes the enemy's hatred for you decrease, and his respect increase. Obviously,
this phenomenon in real life experience did not appear to be true during the horrific
episodes of the Holocaust. During the Hindu/Muslim conflict that occurred during
India's post-colonial civil war, a Muslim leader suggested "retaliation"
against street violence. Gandhi said, "If the theory of "eye for an eye"
is practiced the world would be blind."
In contrast, Muslim law advocates Qisas (retaliation), which is practiced
and taught in every aspect of life. It provokes individuals, centering their belief
in terms of resistance, revenge, and development of chronic hatred if revenge does
not occur. In Islam, sin is not forgiven by confession to God. The interpretation
of the Quranic verse suggests that, "A Muslim shall not suffer death for an
unbeliever." Retaliation is not inflicted against a father or a teacher who
kills a child in the course of correction. It is this latter provision that allows
a father or other male guardian to kill a female relative who, through an act of
unchastity, has marred the family or tribal honor (Lippman 50). It is also "interpreted"
through another verse, which argues that when you harm someone, God is not the one
to forgive you. Forgiveness must come from the person who was harmed. This interpretation
allows fundamentalists to psychologically embrace their right to exact revenge, because
God left it up to them to decide. Since forgiveness is symbolically at large, the
notion of hatred for retaliation is passed on to the next generation as their duty.
The word "Islam" means "submission." The government of a Muslim
state is explicitly an institution of "God." Moreover, the role of the
government is to expand Islam not merely by the example of the rulers, but by the
institution of Jihad. Jihad means to struggle, and can be used to describe
self-discipline. But it is most notoriously known as the fountainhead of the "holy
war" that enjoins Islam to expand its reach over the world. The Quranic verse
invites the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth analogy for Qisas. The ideology
behind Jihad actually legitimizes progressive physical and emotional harm
toward the enemies of Islam. The legislative branch interprets from the Quran, giving
legal credibility to the advocates of retaliation and retribution. Psychologically,
in order to punish the perpetrator (the enemy), one must propagate the public view
that forgiveness has no place within the law.
This process begins from the core, family environment. The behavior is derived from
intense, psychological training that begins in childhood. It teaches the role of
retaliation in life to the child growing up within the fundamentalist atmosphere.
The ascetic life is the norm for a fundamentalist. Intentional homicide, battery
or the infliction of bodily harm is subject to retaliation. The Quran states, "We
ordained therein for them life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear,
tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal "(Lippman 51). This process might
be difficult to comprehend when compared to a non-fundamentalist family structure,
where a child grows up learning fairy tales of Mickey Mouse and Little Red Riding
Hood and visiting a church, mosque or synagogue once a week. All children, as they
grow up, begin learning their code of ethics within the basic unit of family life.
A cross-cultural examination of the socialization of males and females has proven
that, due to our complexity and our social needs, the family structure and feminine
personality have an immediate impact on children, since children are born with natural
intimacy toward their mother. Therefore, the women's role is the first behavioral
model to be absorbed, and is then transferred to the larger, societal context. Michelle
Foucault, the late French philosopher, explored the history of madness, illness,
crime, and sexuality. He attempted to excavate the genealogy of various disciplines.
He showed that the prevailing definitions of rationality, perversion, appropriate
sexual behavior, and delinquency were all formulated through the subjugation of an
"other": E.I. the "mad," the "deviant," the "born
criminal," the "delinquent," or the "hermaphrodite" (Farson
30). In Muslim societies, among fundamentalists "dementia" and "apathy"
are words used to describe the state of mind of women. Publicly, males and females
are contrasted and asymmetrically valued in terms of several dichotomies: Mind/body,
active/passive, rational/irrational, reason/emotion, and self-control/lust. Men are
raised by mothers who are mentally incapacitated by lack of education and the inability
to perform in different social roles, or to understand the requirements of a healthy
Regarding the inferiority of wife to husband, the Quran, (sura 4, verse 38) states
that, "Men are the managers of the affairs of women - for that God has preferred
in bounty one of them over another ... and those you fear may be rebellious admonish;
banish them to their couches, and beat them." Then in sura 2, verse 228 the
Quran informs us "The husband is one degree higher than the wife, because he
earns by his strength and expands on his wife." The institutional implication
of this super ordination of the man over the woman, in practice, means that the only
time men and women socially interact is during copulation.
Patriarchy and polygamy are practiced. Within the scripture's interpretation it is
noted that a male may use, as a legitimate criminal defense, the argument that he
was simply exercising his rights. For example, he may use force to correct his wife
or minor child. The performance of one's duty is also a common criminal defense (Lippman
56). The men are the ultimate power in the household and in the larger society. The
male from boyhood grows up believing he is the monarch of the household. The father
makes orders and rules within the household, disregarding his partner's wishes, asserting
that she must listen to her husbandís command.
The male child, under fundamentalist teachings grows up observing the powerless mother,
whose role is to serve the man. She remains silent; knowing there is no law to support
her if she disobeys her husband. While the man is on his throne, ignoring the feelings
and even the existence of his wife, the boy subconsciously learns behavior, which
renders him incapable of intimacy and mutual respect toward the partner he will one
day choose. The mother is constantly suppressing rage, which is passed on to the
children. This provides an inhospitable atmosphere for the teaching of solidarity.
To be united is to work toward solidarity, and such unity is almost never practiced
within Muslim fundamentalist families. Children grow up with resentment and hostility
in their environment. The family environment is the first society where the child
must learn of solidarity. Instead, they directly learn about conflict, because of
contradictions between the many wives and different types of children gathered in
one family. This is an arrangement with its share of bickering and quarrels, for
however well disposed the wives pretend to be toward each other, their respective
children are rivals and the wives are partisan to their own children.
Group pressure and action against a person, as a model of punishment is the prime
factor in psychologically preparing individuals to obey. The politics of intimidation
and casting out of dissidents are the primary weapons used in most Muslim communities,
in order to enforce obedience among women. If the woman dares to rise up against
a man and transgress his laws, she is punished in various degrees, legally within
the social context, and privately within the household. All Muslim societies, in
interpreting the Qisas, have adopted bills of Retribution. Article 23 passed
by the Iranian parliament, regarding adultery, states: "Murder requires Qisas
- provided the victim does not religiously deserve to be killed - e.g., someone
who swears at the great prophet and the saints or someone who violates one's harim
(bounds) and could not be repulsed but by murder; or that the husband should see
someone committing adultery with his wife, in which case it is only permissible for
the husband to kill both of them. In all of the above cases it is not admissible
to carry out Qisas on the murderer" (Mohanty 261).
Article 237 of the Egyptian penal code states that, as specified in the Quran, unlawful
intercourse (zina) will require stoning her to death in public. A man who
kills his adulterous wife and/or her partner - catching them in the act - is subject
to the maximum punishment of a six-month prison sentence. If a woman surprises her
husband in like circumstances and kills him, she will be charged with murder. The
reasoning for this discrepancy refers back to Islamic law. Since a husband can marry
a second wife, a wife should not be unduly upset if she discovers him in adultery,
as he has an inherent right to relations with another woman. However, the husband
has exclusive right to his wife's body (Bowen 41).
Husbands do not recognize their wives as individuals. For instance, when in public,
the husband does not call his wife by her first name. She is referred to as "the
mother of..." (The name of the son is pronounced). The image of motherhood is
taught to supersede the image of womanhood. The woman's image as mother's divinity
in the social sphere is endowed with a paradisiacal quality, evidenced by popular
expressions such as, "Heaven is under the feet of mothers." Quran is used
as the prime model for both the daughter and the son. Gender consciousness is raised
and referred to as sisterhood and brotherhood, not boy ness and girl ness.
The relationships within fundamentalist families, observed through the lens of anthropology,
psychology, and sociology, are a microcosm of the violent relations existing in the
larger social context. Studying the relationship between mother and son, and between
father and son, reveals much about the Islamic fundamentalist tradition. The son,
modeling his father, grows up observing the relationship between his parents. The
boy sees only the separate roles of fatherhood and motherhood encouraged not a spousal
partnership. Further, the mother's qualitative characteristic is that of caregiver.
The child growing up does not truly conceptualize or develop a schema of a husband
and wife relationship. He learns about the feminine figure only as mother, not as
wife. Her female quality is denied within the context of the family. Therefore, the
wife is alienated from her true nature. "Alienation, defined as a profound sense
of separation, arouses "hostility," which in turn leads to "fear"
and finally to "enmity" (Tong 99).
The oppression experienced by the mother, the inferior, is transferred to her son.
In this process his obsession for death prevails as soft-core altruism. This is demonstrated
when he rescues his community from perceived predators. He interprets his mother's
patience, her tolerance for psychological and sometimes physical pain and punishment,
as an act of virtuous martyrdom. The child's continuous exposure to the mother's
complaints of suffering throughout his nurturing years leaves him fixated on the
idea of exacerbating his own pain and struggle. The evil of aggression indeed cradles
suicide bomber proclaims his action to be a punishment of outsiders, the external
alienating force. He remains suspicious of others. He did not grow up learning about
the schema of an internal oppression, since he constructs the environment based on
his own expectancies. He learns to blame external powers as the source of his unhappiness.
Julian Rotter, the social learning theorist, describes such a belief system as one
that believes in an "external locus of control" (Schultz 416). In Muslim
fundamentalist teaching, children usually grow up with a strong belief in abstract
forces such as destiny, and luck. They become convinced that they are powerless with
respect to outside forces in general, even those with human qualities. Those who
are brainwashed to pursue the act of suicide bombing are satisfied when the authority
they trust authorizes them to defend their cause, and thus save Islam.
The oppression perpetuated by the father within the family environment plants the
seed of a violent act in the mind of his offspring. Organized violence is a multi-dimensional
occurrence. To begin, you must have a rightful, loyal and devoted body of force as
the perpetrators. These constituents are provoked by environmental and peer competition
to gain power. The perpetrators of violence are usually easy to recognize. They grow
up with pathological symptoms confused in their minds. They do not relate to their
surroundings, but instead remain isolated. They are mentally prepared and motivated
by an ideology to justify the act of killing through the belief of an "eye for
an eye." The methods by which Islamism fundamentalists groups compete for political
legitimacy are borrowed from early Islamic history, called takfir, "meaning
to declare the infidelity of adversaries. This is an Islamic sect believing that
all other Muslims are non-believers that can be killed without sin (Abukhalil, 678).
I believe that the moral efficacy of religion must be questioned to determine the
relationship between belief and psychological inclination toward violence. Studies
have been done by Western scientists to distinguish different features of evolutionary
psychology among the perpetrators of violence. It has been suggested that the human
mind have been designed to adjust to social circumstances. The developmental programs
that convert social experiences into personality were created by natural selection,
which means those programs, lie in our genes. Early social rejection made people
insecure, and then people who faced such rejection realized their chances of survival
and reproduction were endangered unless they become vigilantes.
The contrast of universal human nature with the power of environmental, familial,
cultural and social influences is used to explain variations in human nature. Social
scientists have come to question whether human behavior from person to person or
from group to group lies in genetic variation. The subject of violence has been examined
under a variety of psychological and environmental circumstances. In reference to
my debate of organized violence, male domination is particularly acute within Muslim
societies. From a biological perspective, there is likely to be extensive violence
in such a male-dominated society. "From an evolutionary point of view, the leading
cause of violence is maleness. Men have evolved the morphological, psychological
and physiological means to be effective users of violence" (Wright 71-2).
The dilemma of obedience among women in Muslim societies, the tolerance of spousal
and social oppression, is a process that can be compared with the travesty of the
Holocaust. The Holocaust occurred only after extensive anti-Jewish propaganda, which
systematically prepared the German population to accept the destruction of the Jews.
Ordinary people were prepared, and step-by-step, the Jews were excluded from the
category of citizen and national, and finally were denied the status of human beings.
"Systematic devaluation of the victim provides a measure of psychological justification
for brutal treatment of the victim and has been the constant accompaniment of massacres,
pogroms, and wars" (Milgram 9). Violence in the form of "unspoken threat"
in Muslim societies takes a similar path, in psychologically preparing the woman
to obey her husband. The end goal is not to kill off the oppressed group - as in
the Holocaust - but to deprive them of basic human rights.
In socializing with most women of Muslim societies under these constructed Islamic
interpretations, comparing their attitudes to an individualistic approach to personality,
it is obvious that most Muslim women under these regimes have adopted the role of
survivors. The psychic numbing of a diminishing capacity to feel is evident in their
behavior (Dimsdale 120). In dealing with pejorative remarks or even direct insults
it seems that they are simply unable to experience ordinary emotional responses and
psychic functions. Their passive acceptance of mistreatment can be studied through
the lens of the psychology of the nervous system and psychopathology. These psychological
approaches are ways to understand the phenomenon of self inflicted pain, which begins
with the acceptance of the self as "victim." This is the basis for becoming
oppressed. How do these victims experience and interpret their suffering? How do
ordinary women come to accept and justify theocracy and the violent actions of the
regime, such as flogging and stoning them? Their mental symptoms are more likely
the result - rather than the cause - of incapacity to achieve success in pursuing
a goal or in having a voice. A collectivist mentality requires women to have developed
a non-person characteristic in them. She has become an object relation, equated with
The culture and the phenomenon of political Islamic ideology are a cry of revolt
against living conditions that are experienced as intolerable. It is a quest for
social justice. Religious teaching predominant in these states equates children and
women as having the same mental capacity. Fundamentalist males are raised under the
mental capacity of such women. Many of the country's human resources empower the
abstraction of the "state" and its political representatives, instead of
the people. One of the ways in which the government is successful in coercing women
is by limiting the education they receive. This way, it is believed that women's
expectations will remain unchallenged. As a parallel to such socially constructed
attitudes, Piaget suggested that people are predisposed toward a morality of obedience.
He further argued that when children are taught unilateral respect for adults - particularly
those with authority and prestige - they become followers. On the other hand, when the attitude is one of mutual respect,
founded on equality and reciprocity, an entire society and its educational system
may be inclined in one direction or the other (Wulf 28).
The psychological factors involved in becoming a fundamentalist are a result of being
raised by mentally incapacitated mothers, the inferior agents. The men most distressed
by women's quest for rights are whose superior position is due to the inferior circumstance
of females. The instinctive response to this loss of power and position is the angry
male outbursts witnessed today in Muslim societies. The direction in which anger
is directed is of primary importance. Anger is a universal human emotion, and its
expression is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. It becomes a sadistic force
only when it is unjustly channeled against people who have been irrationally stigmatized.
The obsessive-compulsive disorder of those who become suicide bombers is an example
of such irrationalism at work. Wicked leaders transform their anger into a political
tool with little regard for humanity.
-- Abukhalil, As'ad. "The Incoherence of Islamic Fundamentalism: Arab Islamic
thoughts At The End Of The 20th Century" Middle East Journal. Volume 48, No.
4, autumn 1994.
-- Bowen, Donna Lee. "Islamic Law and the Position of Women" Diss., World
Bank, EMENA/EMPTH, 1992.
-- Dimsdale, Joel, ed. Survivors, Victims, and Perpetrators. Essays on the Nazi Holocaust.
Hemisphere Publishing, 1980.
-- Farsoun, K. Samih; Mashayekhi, Mehrdad. Iran: Political Culture in the Islamic
Republic. London and New York. 1992.
-- Lippman, Matthew, McConville, Sean, and Yerushalmi, Mordechai. Islamic Criminal
Law and Procedure. Greenwood Press, Inc. Westport, Connecticut. 1988.
-- Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to Authority. Harper and Now. New York. 1970. Mohanty,
Chandra Talpade; Russo, Ann; Torres, Loudes. Third World Women and the Politics of
Feminism. Indiana University Press, Indianapolis. 1991.
-- Pearlstein, Richard. The Mind of the Political Terrorist. SR Books. Wilmington,
-- Schultz, Duane; Schultz, Sydney Ellen. Theories of Personality. Brooks /Cole Publishing
Company. California, U.S.A. 1994.
-- Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought. Westview Press. San Francisco, U.S.A. 1989.
-- Wright, Robert. "The Biology Of Violence." The New Yorker. March 10,
-- Wulff, David M. Psychology of Religion. John Wiley and Sons. New York, 1991.