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Child to killer
Reasons behind idolization of destructiveness

By Fatima Farideh Nedjat
February 15, 2002
The Iranian

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 becomes dysfunctional.

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 society.

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 from infancy.

Amazon Honor SystemThe 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 her progeny.

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.

Works cited

-- 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, Delaware. 1991.

-- 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, 1995.

-- Wulff, David M. Psychology of Religion. John Wiley and Sons. New York, 1991.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Fatima Farideh Nejat


... following the
September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks


What happened?
Why did the Googoosh generation turn fundamentalist?
Asghar Massombagi

Leave me out of it
The most potent weapon in our arsenal is our belief in democracy
By Brad Hernlem

Please reconsider
U.S. mindset bears almost no resemblance to the Iran of today
By Alan Hale

Yes. "Axis of Evil"
Let's call it what it is
By Ali Sarshar

I just felt the urge
I can't say if many Americans agree with me, but
By Dave Marshall

Not our friend
Iran's oppressive autocracy cannot be America's ally
By Ramin Ahmadi

Give me a break
When countries act like schoolyard bullies
By Sepehr Haddad

Iran next?
U.S. military attack would prolong the reign of Iran's despotic rulers
By Shahriar Zangeneh


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