NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 3, 2006

Police have an expression for people who put themselves into circumstances that force officers to shoot them: "suicide by cop." Following this lingo, suicide bombers commit "suicide by murder." Michael Shermer of Scientific American proposes we call such acts "murdercide": the killing of a human or humans with malice aforethought by means of self-murder.

Scientists have found that suicide is a product of two conditions: ineffectiveness and disconnectedness, but these factors are not related to murdercide; and neither is the belief that suicide bombers are poor, uneducated, disaffected or disturbed, says Shermer. In fact, a majority are wealthy and educated.

According to a study of 400 al-Qaida members:

  • Nearly three-fourths of the sample came from the upper or middle class and 90 percent came from caring, intact families.
  • An estimated 63 percent had gone to college, as compared with the five or six percent that's usual for the Third World.
  • About 73 percent were married, a vast majority had children and three-fourths were professional or semiprofessionals -- they are engineers, architects and civil engineers, mostly scientists.
  • However, very few humanities were represented, and quite surprisingly, very few had any background in religion.

One way terrorist organizations train new members to not fear the pain involved in suicide bombings, says Shermer, is through psychological reinforcement. A more popular method is group dynamics; in 65 percent of all cases, preexisting friendship bonds play an important part in terrorist acts.

Therefore, to ease murdercide, influential terrorist groups, like al-Qaida, must be targeted and civil liberties in countries that breed terrorist groups must be increased, since the freedom to assemble goes a long way to providing an alternative to terrorism, says Shermer.

Source: Michael Shermer, "Murdercide," Scientific American, January 2006.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues