The ongoing and increasing incidence of terrorism attacks by young Muslim males is unique not just in global scope and frequency but especially in the indiscriminate nature of the targets and the apparent preference of a suicidal outcome. This lack of discrimination often includes other member of the same faith and the suicidal preference maintains even where it seems obviously possible for the perpetrator to have had a good possibility of escape or to have otherwise achieved an attack in a non-suicidal manner.
Historically, suicide attacks have generally been limited to desperate circumstances and were aimed at inflicting maximal damage on an enemy. Their employment as a routine tactic aimed at random soft targets poses a question: why such extreme sacrifice for so little effective result? Something other than tactical or strategic objectives must be involved.
Studies of both human and animal behaviour have found that if strong instinctive drives are blocked, quite aberrant behaviour often results. In our own species the sexual drive is an especially strong one. With females in ongoing oestrus, sexuality underlies much of our social structure. Where heterosexual relations are prohibited or inaccessible, as in prisons, boy’s schools, celibate clergy and some military situations, the result tends to be a significant increase in homosexual or other non-heterosexual behaviour.
Islam is the most restrictive of all major religions in regard to sexual behaviour, with strict prohibitions on all sexual activity outside marriage. This is often enforced by severe penalties and tight limits on contact between sexes outside the family. With the only approved option being marriage, even that is reduced by widespread polygamy which is enjoyed chiefly by older, higher status males.
Unsurprisingly, the result of all this has been a high level of homosexual activity which has been obscured by simply not speaking about or acknowledging it. Various accounts indicate sexual relations between older men and young boys to be a common practice. Before the recent acceptance of homosexuality in Western culture the unacknowledged tolerance and common practice of gay relations made some Muslim nations attractive holiday destinations for Western gays.
For young male Muslims growing up in this regard is not unlike being sent to a boy’s boarding school. Where the big difference occurs is that the Western boys graduate and enter into a society where other options are available. Then, whatever happened in school imposes no great guilt. However, for young Muslim males there is no graduation and their only acceptable option is to marry. Their faith promises only an afterlife of eternity in Hell for any such transgressions, and public exposure in this life would result in severe dishonour and possibly harsh punishment or even death.
For many, martyrdom must seem the only escape from insufferable guilt. It guarantees absolution of all sin, an assured posthumous promotion to revered status and instant transport to Paradise, plus a surplus of virgins with whom to pleasure oneself forever. Certainly, it’s a much better deal than anything they can hope for in this life. It also affords a satisfying retaliation against all society. Depending on one’s level of guilt, strength of belief and social status this seems to be an offer which a worrying number can’t refuse.
Recent profiles of suicide attackers fit such a pattern, including indications of a confused bisexuality in some of the most devastating ones. Responding with fear and curtailment of freedom only means success and encouragement for a terrorism equipped with an endless supply of volunteers for martyrdom. If it came to be generally recognised that such attacks are a sad guilt-riven coming out and the public affirmation of a deep cultural malaise, it might do more to dull the appeal of martyrdom than any effort to further heighten security and restrict freedom.