The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics is now available via subscription. Visit About to learn more, meet the editorial board, or learn how to subscribe.

Dismiss
Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS (politics.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 20 November 2017

Suicide Terrorism Theories

Summary and Keywords

Suicide terrorism has captured considerable attention since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Governments offered unprecedented support for scholars who were willing to research the phenomenon. One result has been a tremendous growth in the volume of research on terrorism. The research has also become more diverse. Until 2001, 84% of the articles appeared within the disciplines of political science and international relations. Since 2002, though, only 53% of articles belonged to these disciplines. Meanwhile, other areas (most notably economics) increased in prominence. Despite the growth in the volume and diversity of the research, important aspects of the phenomenon remain largely unexplored. This is particularly evident when it comes to studies of suicide terrorism. Two areas requiring further attention include the “theater of terrorism” and the role of culture. The case of ISIS demonstrates the significant roles of the mass media and culture in explaining contemporary suicide terrorism.

Keywords: suicide terrorism, terrorism, theater of terrorism, culture, ISIS, empirical international relations theory

Introduction

The attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 (known as 9/11 for short), sparked a significant increase in interest in the attributes and causes of terrorism in general, and suicide terrorism in particular. Desperate to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon, policymakers offered generous grants to those who were willing to study it. Scholars from various disciplines answered the call. Prima facie, this academic quest was successful. The number of scholarly articles and review articles (hereafter in this paper just called articles) on terrorism published after 2001 stands at greater than 9,000, in comparison to slightly less than 1,200 on the topic in the preceding years.1 The availability of funding seems to have been a contributing factor. More than 11% (1,029) of the studies that have appeared since 2002 relied on external funding, compared to 0.3% (only 4!) published as of 2001.2

Despite the more recent interest and investment in scholarship on terrorism, research on the subject prior to 9/11 suffered from a dubious reputation. For much of this time, it was treated as a “marginal subject” (Crenshaw, 2014, p. 556). Often, members of the academic community, especially in the liberal arts, perceived terrorists as members of repressed ethnic communities or freedom fighters who resorted to violence after they had exhausted all other tactics. These fighters included guerrillas using terror tactics while engaging in internal wars (Crenshaw, 2014). The study gained momentum in the 1970s, the era in which the foundational literature on terrorism began to appear. Then, as is true today, research on terrorism was largely “reactive” (Crenshaw, 2000, p. 411), with much of the work addressing issues of contemporary importance. Discussions of international terrorism figured prominently in research in these early years. Although suicide attacks—specifically suicide bombings—began increasing in the early 1980s, it was not until after the 9/11 attacks that suicide terrorism as a topic became a distinct focus within terrorism studies.

The analysis that follows includes an assessment of the extent to which the new wave of research has contributed to a general understanding of suicide terrorism. The text includes a description of concepts, as is necessary in any discussion of the subject. This is followed by an overview of the main theoretical perspectives that have guided researchers, a description of various contributions to the literature on suicide terrorism, and a discussion underscoring some of the gaps that still exist in this research. The concluding section includes suggestions for possible paths for the next generation of scholars in the field.

The Conceptual Quest

The conceptualization of suicide terrorism poses multiple challenges for those seeking to understand the phenomenon. These challenges are largely a result of definitional elements, which are key to distinguishing acts that are terrorism or suicide terrorism from those that are not.

Suicide terrorism is, first, a form of terrorism, which itself remains a contested concept that requires specifications with each reference. One widely used definition of terrorism includes references to acts of violence used or threatened by nonstate actors against nonstate or noncombatant targets outside the context of regular warfare, and for the purposes of influencing a larger audience and bringing about some form of political change (e.g., Hoffman, 2006; Weinberg, Pedahzur, & Hirsch-Hoefler, 2004). Applying this definition, the terrorism label may be withheld from attacks when they are aimed at military entities or carried out as part of wider-scale warfare (Martin & Weinberg, 2017). The same groups that attack noncombatants may also attack combatants within or outside war, and they may do so concurrently (Martin & Weinberg, 2017). Terrorist groups are identified by their use of terrorism; however, they need not rely solely on terrorist tactics (Martin & Perliger, 2012). Terrorist groups also may carry out attacks that do not match the definition of terrorism described here.

A second difficulty in defining suicide terrorism follows from varying interpretations regarding suicide, or the necessity of an attacker’s death and an attacker’s consent to die. There is a distinction between attacks during which death is practically certain and necessary for the success of an attack (a suicide bombing) and those for which a perpetrator’s death is a highly likely outcome (a mass shooting) (e.g., Moghadam, 2006a). There are also differences between attackers who are aware that they are taking part in a suicide attack and those who embark upon such missions unwillingly or unknowingly. These can be understood as “narrower” and “broader” designations, respectively, with implications for the comparability of cases (Moghadam, 2006a).

The issues affecting designations of attacks as terrorist attacks also apply to designations of attacks as suicide terrorist attacks. Suicide tactics may be used for the same purposes, even as part of a single strategy, whether they are aimed at civilian or military targets and whether they are used in times of war or peace. As such, many examples of suicide attacks, including those perpetrated by entities labeled as terrorist groups, will not match the definition of terrorism. Such attacks may be part of a terrorist group’s violence, but they are not necessarily terrorism.

Some examples help to elucidate the necessity of these distinctions. Hossein Fahmideh was an Iranian child and a soldier who is remembered for detonating the explosives that he carried in front of an approaching Iraqi tank. Fahmideh’s attack was a suicide bombing, but it was not terrorism. Lebanon’s Hezbollah—a group known for initiating and spreading the use of suicide tactics with some success in the early 1980s—attacked state and military targets in the context of Lebanon’s civil war. We could question whether these attacks should be labeled as terrorism. Owing to the frequent use of vehicle bombs in these attacks, however, we would not question that they were suicide attacks.

Given these issues, it may not be surprising that many scholars have abandoned references to suicide terrorism in favor of alternative concepts, such as suicide missions, suicide operations, and suicide attacks (Crenshaw, 2007; Moghadam, 2006a). Another concept, suicide bombings, refers to the subset of suicide attacks involving the presumed self-detonation of the explosives an attacker is wearing or carrying. With suicide bombings, one may presume (imperfectly) that attackers are aware of the nature of their missions and that they will die in the process of carrying them out, without concern for the type of target or context.2

As referenced here, suicide terrorism refers to the subset of suicide attacks meeting the definition of terrorism where there is a reasonable expectation that an attacker will die in the process of carrying out an attack. It is understood that groups engaging in suicide terrorism may also carry out suicide attacks that are not terrorism, as well as nonsuicide attacks, which may or may not meet the definitional criteria of terrorism.

The Different Perspectives To Studying Suicide Terrorism

The research on suicide terrorism is divided along disciplinary lines. Scholars from various disciplines approach the subject from distinct perspectives, with implications for the types of questions that are asked, the approaches that are used, and the explanatory factors and levels of analysis on which researchers focus.

Contributions from Various Disciplines

Much of the suicide terrorism literature has originated in political science, international relations, economics, and psychology, which includes social psychology, psychiatry, and related fields.3 There are also notable contributions to the literature from criminology. Research within each discipline tends to cluster around categories of explanatory factors, including, for instance, political, institutional, economic, and psychological factors. These influence the types of questions that are asked and the subjects of study. Various contributions to the literature draw attention to individual suicide attackers, the groups sending these attackers on suicide missions, the communities providing suicide attackers or supporting the groups employing these attackers, the contexts in which these individuals and groups operate, or some combination of these. Scholars engaging in discussions regarding individuals’ motivations to participate in suicide attacks will direct their attention to different levels of analysis and may draw on different approaches as compared to those seeking to understand the conditions under which suicide attacks are more likely to occur, what types of groups are more likely to use suicide tactics, or the communities from which individual suicide attackers are more likely to come.

Each discipline brings what may be described as a unique perspective to the study of suicide terrorism. A theme common within psychology and related fields is the focus on individual and collective motivations. Scholars working in these areas address the psychological and behavioral predictors of participation in suicide terrorism or of engagement with groups employing suicide attackers (e.g., Post et al., 2009; Moghaddam, 2009). Economists studying suicide terrorism have tended to emphasize instrumental rationality and strategy applied at the levels of individuals and groups. Strategic arguments rely on simplifying assumptions regarding the economic preferences of these actors, including assumptions about individual rationality and group unity. Scholars working within political science and international relations tend to observe issues relating to politics and political institutions. Institutionalist scholarship includes references to the influences that norms, rules, opportunities, and conditions may have on political outcomes.

There is also overlap between the disciplines. Contributions to the political science and international relations literatures build most notably on theories and methods used in psychology and economics. Discussions of political strategy draw on economic theories of rationality. Other borrowings from economics include applications of formal modeling and inferential statistical analysis. Examples include uses of formal modeling to explain why some individuals risk being chosen to carry out suicide missions (e.g., Ferrero, 2006), understand a group’s selection of suicide attackers (e.g., Bueno de Mesquita, 2005), and to inform counterterrorism strategies (Jacobson & Kaplan, 2007). Applications of econometric methods, including inferential statistics, help in the identification of patterns across large numbers of cases. Applications of experimental methods, more often used by experimental economists and social psychologists, also have a place, though a limited one, in the terrorism literature. The field of political psychology provides another bridge between disciplines, along with alternative understandings of individual and group motivations.

There are also limitations associated with the sharing of insights between disciplines. In studying a phenomenon that may be contingent on context, one limitation follows from a presumed lack of attention to context and the necessity of abstracting from reality, such as can be seen in formal modeling. Another potential limitation is the lack of theory informing inferential statistical analyses. There are also ongoing issues associated with accessing the types of data needed to answer relevant questions, such as psychological profiles and organizational structure, and carry out informed analyses. While data on terrorism and suicide attacks are available, data on the groups using suicide terrorism and individual suicide terrorists are limited. Another limitation is specific to the multidisciplinary nature of the literature. Although psychology and economics are two fields from which political scientists and international relations scholars frequently borrow, many of the contributions from these disciplines remain separate. Scholars from different disciplines publish in different outlets. Scholars use language specific to their discipline, which does not always translate across disciplines.4 Adding to these, collaborations tend to occur within disciplines rather than between them. The bodies of literature are largely separate.

The Suicide Terrorism Literature

An analysis of the expanded Web of Science database provides a starting point for a comparison of scholarly contributions to the study of suicide terrorism. The database offers several online tools for analysis. One tool is a topic search. A search of the term suicide terrorism allows the identification of articles on this topic that are stored in the database. Another tool is the sorting function. This tool allows the list of articles to be ordered in terms of the numbers of citations that each article has in the database. Appendix 1 includes a list of the 100 most-cited articles on the topic of suicide terrorism. Another tool allows the identification of subject categories for publications. Of the 100 most-cited articles, nearly two-thirds (n = 62) were published in journals of political science or international relations (see Table 1).5 Half of these articles are categorized as political science and international relations (n = 31). There is relatively little overlap between either of these two categories and other disciplines (e.g., psychology or economics).6

Table 1. Summary of Web of Science Subject Categories for the 100 Most Cited Articles and Reviews on Suicide Terrorism

Web of Science Subject Category

Count

Example

Political science

52

Pape, R. A. (2003). The strategic logic of suicide terrorism. American Political Science Review, 97(3), 343–361.

International relations

41

Horowitz, M. C. (2010). Nonstate actors and the diffusion of innovations: The case of suicide terrorism. International Organization, 64(1), 33–64.

Psychiatry; psychology (applied, multidisciplinary, psychoanalysis, social)

(combined)

19

Post, J. M., Ali, F., Henderson, S. W., Shanfield, S., Victoroff, J., & Weine, S. (2009). The psychology of suicide terrorism. Psychiatry-Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 72(1), 13–31.

Economics

9

Berman, E., & Laitin, D. D. (2008). Religion, terrorism, and public goods: Testing the club model. Journal of Public Economics, 92(10–11), 1942–1967.

Criminology and penology

7

Agnew, R. (2010). A general strain theory of terrorism. Theoretical Criminology, 14(2), 131–153.

Sociology

7

Snow, D. A., & Byrd, S. C. (2007). Ideology, framing processes, and Islamic terrorist movements. Mobilization, 12(2), 119–136.

Film, radio, and television

1

Morag, R. (2008). The living body and the corpse—Israeli documentary cinema and the intifadah. Journal of Film and Video, 60(3–4), 3–24.

Communication

1

Berkowitz, D. (2005). Suicide bombers as women warriors: Making news through mythical archetypes. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 82(3), 607–622.

Other categories:

Law (5), management (2), operations research and management science (2), women’s studies (2), anthropology (1), geography (1), health policy and services (1), social issues (1), multidisciplinary sciences (1)

(*) More than half the articles (n = 54) fall into two or more Web of Science subject categories.

The remaining articles in this list of most-cited publications belong to other disciplines. Psychology, psychiatry, and the various subfields within psychology account for close to one-fifth of the most-cited publications. The journal Political Psychology provides an outlet for publications that bridge the disciplines of political science and social psychology. Articles published in economics outlets add up to less than 10% of the most-cited articles and an even smaller percentage of the total number of articles on suicide terrorism.7 Two journals, Public Choice and Defence and Peace Economics, help to bridge the disciplinary gaps among economics, political science, and international relations. Fewer contributions to the study of suicide terrorism come from criminology and sociology.

Notably absent from the list are references to media studies. These are studies where one may expect to find discussions of the so-called theater of terrorism, including the theatrical nature of attempts to gain attention and maximize fear through suicide attacks. Only two articles in this list of most-cited publications fall broadly within this area of study. The media studies category is similarly represented within the full list of articles on suicide terrorism, with only 2% of the articles (mostly from the communications discipline) matching the search terms.

Comparisons between the most-cited publications and all publications on suicide terrorism reveal similar patterns in terms of representation across disciplines, with some notable exceptions. Articles in political science and international relations make up a larger proportion of most-cited articles (62%), and yet a smaller proportion of total articles (37.1%). This difference holds, to a slightly lesser extent, after accounting for the omission of articles within the Web of Science’s medical and health categories (45.5%).8 Articles in economics outlets also make up a slightly larger proportion of most-cited articles than of all articles on suicide terrorism (see Table 2).

Table 2. Summary and Comparison of Articles and Reviews on Suicide Terrorism

Web of Science Subject Category

Most-Cited (100)

Articles and Reviews (507)

Count (percent)

Count

(percent of total)

Political science

52 (52%)

159 (30.4%)

International relations

41 (41%)

132 (26.0%)

Psychiatry; psychology (applied, multidisciplinary, psychoanalysis, social)

(combined)

19 (19%)

98 (19.3%)

Economics

9 (9%)

34 (6.7%)

Criminology and penology

7 (7%)

25 (4.9%)

Sociology

7 (7%)

28 (5.5%)

Communication and film, radio, and television

2 (2%)

10 (2.0%)

Medical fields**

Omitted

94 (18.5%)

(***) Several of the articles included in this topic search were not specifically about suicide terrorism, and many others that addressed the phenomenon did not seek to explain it. Articles and review articles in the various medical sciences, for example, dealt with the repercussions of attacks. For these reasons, articles such as these were omitted from the list of 100 most-cited articles and reviews on suicide terrorism.

Approaches to Studying Suicide Terrorism

Given the influence of economics in the political science and international relations literatures, it may not be surprising that instrumental rationality and strategy dominate much of the discussion of suicide terrorism. Strategic arguments have found applications in understandings of group strategy, focusing primarily on the group level of analysis.

Scholars working with the strategic approach begin with the assumption that groups using suicide tactics are rational actors. As such, they use these tactics because they “think” (or at least their leadership thinks) that they will benefit from doing so. They may expect that suicide tactics will help the group to achieve some of its objectives or that the likely benefits of using these tactics will exceed the likely costs (Atran, 2003; Hafez, 2006b; Findley & Young, 2011).

Robert Pape (2003) began the discussion of the “strategic logic of suicide terrorism” with the publication of a piece with the same title, which has become by far the most cited article on the subject. Approaching the topic from the perspective of an international relations scholar, he explained the increase in suicide attacks as a strategic response by weaker terrorist groups seeking to influence the foreign policies of occupying states, specifically those with democratic governments. Pape’s argument, later published in his 2005 book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, sparked a debate, not so much regarding whether groups act strategically, but rather whether they acted strategically for the reasons that Pape suggested (Atran, 2006; Moghadam, 2006b; Ashworth, Clinton, Meirowitz, & Ramsay, 2008).

Following Pape, scholars focusing on terrorist groups and their competitors have offered alternative strategic explanations for increases in suicide attacks. Among these are suggestions that groups employ suicide tactics to gain attention and differentiate themselves from local rivals, or to signal the group’s commitment to a people and their cause (Hoffman & McCormick, 2004, p. 256; Bloom, 2004).

Scholars drawing insights from the strategic approach also provide explanations for why some groups do not use suicide tactics at all, or why the groups that use these tactics do not use them at all times or in all places. Explanations along these lines draw, in part, on context and the ways in which institutions, the structure of competition, or local cultures may place constraints on the strategies that groups use, or the strategies that they may use while still anticipating that the benefits will outweigh the costs.

Organizational capabilities and associations may also constrain groups’ strategic choices. According to Horowitz (2010), adopting suicide tactics requires access to a type of knowledge (such as through associations with groups that have the desired expertise) and a capacity for change. The capacity to change reflects an organization’s flexibility in adopting new tactics, as well as its access to the resources necessary to facilitate training in the use of these tactics and acquire the equipment necessary for using these tactics. The presumption is that some groups have the connections and capabilities needed to adopt suicide tactics; others do not.

A group’s objectives and ideology will also have an impact on the group’s likelihood of using suicide tactics. For Piazza (2008), the distinction between the groups that use suicide tactics and those that do not is ideological: groups with uncompromising positions will be more likely to use suicide tactics. Piazza also suggests that because their targets tend to be foreign, groups using suicide tactics would be less concerned with losing local support. Focusing on Iraq, Hafez (2006c) argues that suicide tactics will be more common among groups seeking to change or replace a system and by those who do not wish to work within or legitimize an existing system. Hafez finds evidence for this in Iraq, where the militants carrying out suicide attacks are the disenfranchised Sunnis and Salafists attempting to destroy Iraq’s young democracy, largely by attacking local Shi’i.

Contextual factors also place constraints on groups’ strategies. Not all groups operate in places where suicide tactics are likely to pay off. Local institutions (i.e., rules, norms, guidelines, and customs) may structure incentives in ways that raise the costs or remove the potential payoffs of using suicide tactics. The presence or absence of democratic regimes (e.g., Eubank & Weinberg, 2001), media freedom (e.g., Savun & Phillips, 2009), and independent judiciaries (e.g., Findley & Young, 2011) is thought to affect the likelihood of terrorism in general. Similarly, local support for the use of suicide tactics (or the lack thereof) may also affect the strategies adopted by groups, especially when groups rely on this support to continue their operations (e.g., Horowitz, 2010). Adding to this are features of societies that may leave some more susceptible to the creation and acceptance of the types of narratives that have been used to frame suicide attacks as defensible or honorable, including those allowing the creation of a “culture of martyrdom” (Crenshaw, 1981; Hafez, 2006b). Militant groups acting strategically may construct a narrative, perhaps drawing on religious texts, shared customs, or a shared grievance, to legitimize their form of violence and to gain support.

If they are strategic actors, militant groups should also recognize that conditions change over time and strategies may need to be adjusted in response. Support for groups using suicide tactics will vary as conditions change. For example, Bloom (2004) argues that Palestinian groups may have expected to benefit from using suicide tactics at times when there was little optimism among the Palestinian people regarding the peace process with Israel. This logic presumably applies to all groups, regardless of their ideologies or objectives. Some of the Palestinian groups employing suicide attackers were secular nationalists; others were religious nationalists. Some groups among these had affiliations with political parties. The groups differed in terms of their visions of what form an ideal peace would take and their willingness to negotiate to achieve it.

Applications of the strategic approach go beyond explaining the frequency of suicide attacks. If terrorist groups are strategic actors, we may expect that the groups have incentives to employ attackers whom they can trust to complete their missions while also protecting the group (e.g., by avoiding detection). Bueno de Mesquita (2005) uses this logic when he suggests that terrorist groups will choose the most capable operatives among those available. If true, the implication seems to be that a group’s strategy matters more than individual motivations in terms of determining who becomes a suicide terrorist. It would not be enough for an individual to want to carry out a suicide mission. Rather, an individual’s participation would be constrained by the availability of a group willing to place the individual in this role. Ultimately, then, it would be the groups that make decisions regarding suicide attacks, not individuals.

The strategic approach is not without challenges, though many of these challenges relate to improving the application of the strategic logic. One issue follows from the conceptualization of “groups.” Terrorist groups may be more accurately treated as multiple, semi-independent, and even autonomous actors. The assumption that terrorist “groups” (e.g., terrorist cells) are strategic may hold, while the assumption that “groups” (i.e., the terrorist organization) are unitary may not. The debate regarding al Qaeda’s organizational structure is illustrative here (Hoffman, 2008; Sageman & Hoffman, 2008). If al Qaeda is a single group with a centralized leadership, then it can be treated as a unitary, strategic actor. If al Qaeda is a collection of largely autonomous entities, then it may be misleading to treat the group as a single strategic actor. Questions regarding the organizational structures of groups rose following observations of the increasingly decentralized and horizontal forms terrorist groups were taking (or the realization that these existed), along with assumptions that these groups were not “organized,” may not be leader-led, and therefore may not function as though they have single, strategic decision-makers (Sageman, 2008). Instead, a terrorist group may have multiple decision-makers, possibly with different understandings of short- and long-term objectives (or different objectives altogether) and different preferences regarding how best to achieve these. In other words, a group may have multiple strategies and objectives.

Another example is useful. The leadership of al Qaeda Central clashed early on with the leadership of its affiliate, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, later the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS). Long before AQI’s expulsion from the organization, al Qaeda questioned its affiliate’s brutality, especially the violence that AQI used against fellow Muslims. Questions should likely have been raised regarding AQI’s objectives and interests prior to the group’s expulsion from al Qaeda and its declaration of a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. Similarly, it may be that al Qaeda’s remaining affiliates (and ISIS’s presumed affiliates) have their own priorities and objectives.

Other limitations to the strategic approach are evident in the application of a “strategic logic” at the individual level of analysis. The reasons that individuals carry out suicide attacks necessarily differ from those of groups. Even if suicide attacks pay off for the groups employing them, individual suicide attackers cannot expect to enjoy the same earthly benefits enjoyed by their living comrades. Because of this, efforts to explain individual motivations must look beyond strict understanding of economic rationality. Some explanations place more emphasis on values or the influence of culture, conditions, or community. For instance, individuals may become involved with a protest movement or political group without anticipating becoming directly involved in violent activities. Specific knowledge of violent activities may be reserved for those who are more engaged in a movement or group, the by-product of a process of increasing involvement and indoctrination (Moghaddam, 2009). Alternatively, individuals may calculate that the benefits of group membership (belonging to a given community) exceed the relatively small probability of being called upon to carry out a suicide mission (Ferrero, 2006; Abrahms, 2008).

There are also reasons to believe that individual suicide attackers act rationally, but with a different set of priorities than are held by the average person or by the groups employing them. For their part, psychologists have questioned whether suicide attackers actually may be suicidal (Victoroff, 2005; Townsend, 2007; Lankford, 2011). If attackers are suicidal, then there may be conditions under which a suicide mission would provide a means to achieve a desired end (death) without some of the costs associated with suicide (e.g., loss of honor). Some scholars have noted a higher prevalence of predictors of suicidal tendencies among suicide attackers, including depression, posttraumatic stress, and hopelessness (e.g., Merari, Diamant, Bibi, Broshi, & Zakin, 2010). In another type of theorized quest, individual suicide attackers may be seeking celebrity or significance, something the attackers lack in life but can have, so to speak, in death (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, & Orehek, 2009).9 Financial incentives may also play a part in individuals’ decision-making—perhaps more likely so in combination with other factors, such as desperation or need to provide for others. Other proposed motivations of individual suicide attackers include altruism in the form of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the community or extended family (Pedahzur, Perliger, & Weinberg, 2003), something that could represent a biological imperative (Kruglanski et al., 2009) and the largely unexplored presence of a “combustible electrochemistry” (Victoroff, 2009, p. 400).

Explaining Suicide Terrorism: What Are We Missing??

Much as in other scientific communities, scholars of terrorism tend to shift their interests from time to time. Questions and perspectives that once drew attention give way to new ideas and approaches in a cyclical fashion (Kuhn, 1996). Although it is endemic to the scientific process, this tendency often diverts scholarly attention from important topics or sets the research on a path that yields diminishing returns. Two areas that seem to be central to the study of suicide terrorism have not received appropriate attention in the post-9/11 era: media and culture.

The Theater of Terror

Unlike other manifestations of political violence, terrorist campaigns cannot endure and terrorists cannot attain their goals without extensive media coverage (Hoffman, 2006; Jenkins & Johnson, 1975; Weimann, 1983, 2005, 2008). Terrorism differs from guerilla tactics and political assassinations by the randomness of the targets and the symbolic nature of the attacks.10 These characteristics have not changed with the rise of suicide terrorism. In fact, they have become more apparent.

The attacks on 9/11 could be as attention-grabbing and devastating as they were in large part because the attackers intended to die in their acts. The planners of the attacks did not have to consider escape routes or ways to manage any risks associated with capture. There were no negotiations, no need to smuggle guns or bombs. The attackers used civilian airliners as guided missiles as they struck at symbols of the economic, political, and military power of the United States—something that they could not have done had they expected to survive. By using the element of surprise, spacing out the attacks, and maximizing the scale of destruction, al Qaeda hijacked the attention of the Western media and its viewers, who could watch the terror unfold in real time during the attacks and repeatedly revisit these filmed images afterward.

In contrast to the prevalent images associated with suicide terrorism, not all suicide attackers have relied on explosive devices. Attacks have also been carried out by terrorists who have embarked upon deadly rampages, often with firearms. Presumably following the instructions of their handlers, these attackers were able to extend the duration of their attacks and the resultant fear over a period of hours or days, until their capture or death. The gun attacks in Paris in 2015, beginning at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, demonstrate the prolonging of terror over several days. In the case of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, the terrorists’ dispatchers monitored the media and instructed the terrorists where to attack next based on the locations of television crews.

It is not a coincidence that the most media-savvy terrorist group is ISIS. ISIS’s predecessors focused on an expensive and risky strategy. Knowing the limited attention span of most viewers, they constantly escalated the sensational elements of their attacks in their efforts to gain and maintain attention. Their shorter-term goal was to prevent the media from directing attention to other news. Some groups harnessed the power of media by establishing their own means of production and dissemination. For example, Lebanon’s Hezbollah controls the al-Manar television station. Others, both before and after the introduction of television, have produced print propaganda, including bulletins and magazines. Much of this is now disseminated via the Internet.

ISIS chose a cheaper and more effective approach. Rather than hijacking airtime, they hijacked the entire media. The group, which has become known for its recruitment efforts via social media, used the same platform to disseminate its messages of terror. In fact, since they released the footage of the beheading of James Foley in the summer of 2014, ISIS has controlled almost every aspect of its media operations. They produced their violent videos in the territories that they have held, so they were not constrained by the presence or absence of media representatives. They used professional equipment at the filming and editing stages of media production. They then released video clips with strategic timing, thus maximizing their ability to captivate the attention of the mainstream media.

On the ground, in the territories that ISIS more or less controls, the group can manage the stories that it chooses to tell. The dialogue that sells the group to foreign recruits may be one of good living rather than local devastation. The stories that help ISIS to market itself to potential affiliates (including some former al-Qaeda affiliates) are about brutality, action, and results. The group portrays itself as more powerful and more capable than al Qaeda and, not by coincidence, as a stronger ally for like-minded militants. Moreover, the group and its affiliates have been able to create terror through their video demonstrations, including what equate to public executions of prisoners, which the group carries out in some of the most barbaric ways. Even though these videotaped executions do not show images of large numbers of deaths in a single instance, they have the ability to spread fear.

Even though ISIS is less well known for its theatrical use of suicide attacks in the territories that it holds in Iraq and Syria, where it has media control, the group has been associated with suicide attacks elsewhere.11 These have included mass shootings. The death tolls of these attacks have been comparatively high, as with other suicide attacks, and they have captured media attention and amplified public fears. ISIS’s ability to inspire followers in Western states, including the independent actors who carry out some of these attacks, is in no small part a by-product of the group’s effective use of media.

Nonetheless, despite what should be widespread interest in the theater of suicide terrorism, of 507 articles identified through the topic search for suicide terrorism, only 10 fall within the category of media studies.12 As for references to ISIS’s media strategy, the number of articles stands at 9 (e.g., Golan & Lim, 2016; Zelizer, 2016; Zhang & Hellmueller, 2016).13 There is no overlap between the articles referencing ISIS and those referencing suicide terrorism. In fact, only 2 of the 9 articles on ISIS are also found in a search for articles on terrorism. The absence of references to ISIS’s media strategy is noteworthy. It is also problematic in terms of understanding the group’s appeal and finding ways to counter it.

The Exclusion of Culture as an Independent Variable

Sociologists who studied group processes, rituals, and totalistic institutions made some of the most significant contributions to the understanding of organized violence, including violence carried out by militaries and street gangs (Juergensmeyer, 2000; Sageman, 2004; Smelser, 2011). The significance of these contributions stemmed from their understanding of the effects of human interaction on behavior (Oetting & Beauvais, 1987; Salmivalli, 2010).

People live in communities that provide them with the language, values, rituals, and beliefs that shape their identities and worldviews (Griswold, 2013). Individuals may move from one community to another and may belong to different communities at the same time. Thus, they learn to accommodate to different subcultures (Perliger & Pedahzur, 2014). Cultures are also dynamic and adaptable, changing in response to their surrounding environments (Griswold, 2013). For example, military cultures that in the past tended to be totalistic have changed over time, allowing their members more freedom and the opportunity to maintain other identities so that an individual who enlists for military service nowadays does not have to leave behind previous communal attachments (Dunivin, 1994).

The dynamic nature of human beings and the environments in which they operate captured the attention of the first group of scholars who studied suicide terrorism (e.g., Bloom, 2004; Hafez, 2006a; Moghadam, 2003; Tobeña & Atran, 2004). However, subsequent studies have paid less attention to culture. Two explanations can account for much of the demise of culture as an explanatory variable in the context of suicide terrorism.

The first was the scientific turn discussed earlier. As data became more available, sophisticated quantitative analyses drew more attention than their qualitative predecessors. Publishers and editors who looked for powerful and succinct explanations preferred data-driven, cross-national studies over more modest studies that emphasized the importance of context. To some extent, the research of suicide terrorism encompasses broader trends in the social sciences. The acceptance of economics as the preeminent social science is perhaps most notable. Deductive economists, who specialize in game theory, consider human beings to be utility maximizers. According to the extreme version of this perspective, people make similar decisions regardless of contextual and cultural variables (Kahneman &Tversky, 1979). Even econometricians who do not reject the existence of such differences often ignore them due to the complexities associated with addressing the relevance of cultural characteristics and the differences that exist across a wide range of cases (Krueger & Malečková, 2003).

The second is the misguided reductionism of the term culture (Abu-Lughod, 2002). For more than a century, sociologists and anthropologists have been developing this term as an analytical construct. However, after 9/11, much of this progress has diminished. In the public discourse, the word culture became a euphemism. Politicians and pundits rejected the academic tradition of cultural relativism (Spiro, 1986). Rather, they conflated the terms culture and religion, most notably with regard to Islam (Israeli, 2003). The rise of activism in academic circles, and especially within departments of cultural studies, complicated the use of the concept even further, and its clarity has gradually eroded. The aversion among researchers to using a politically laden term has helped to create a void in attempts to explain individual, group, and communal processes. It does not make sense to ignore the ways that culture, in its various manifestations, may help to inform a better understanding of suicide terrorism.

Concluding Remarks

Research focusing on suicide terrorism is one part of a growing and increasingly diverse literature on terrorism. Scholars contributing to this literature face many challenges, including limited access to the types of information needed to answer many questions of contemporary interest. In addition, the literature remains multidisciplinary, or divided, with scholars from various areas of study contributing to what amounts in many cases to separate strains within the literature. Those wishing to build the suicide terrorism literature should consider opportunities to contribute to interdisciplinary research, drawing upon existing tools, insights, and approaches and seeking ways to integrate them in efforts to provide a better understanding of this phenomenon.

In the process of bridging disciplines, further attention should be given to areas that those contributing to this literature on suicide terrorism have largely ignored thus far. In combination, the limited influence of media studies and discussions of culture in research on suicide terrorism impedes our understanding of this phenomenon. Ignoring the role of media leaves out what we may presume to be one of the most important aspects of strategies involving suicide terrorism. Likewise, omitting culture from discussions of suicide terrorism may have the effect of ignoring relevant contextual factors associated with suicide terrorism, as well as cultural constraints on the uses of these tactics. Scholars seeking to offer meaningful contributions to the growing literature would do well to consider these important areas.

Appendix

100 Most-Cited Articles on Suicide Terrorism

Source

Web of Science Category

Subject Category

Times Cited Total/

Average per Year*

1

Pape, R. A. (2003). The strategic logic of suicide terrorism. American Political Science Review, 97(3), 343–361 [article].

Political science

Government and law

318/22.7

2

Atran, S. (2003). Genesis of suicide terrorism. Science, 299(5612), 1534–1539 [review].

Multidisciplinary sciences

Science and technology—other topics

227/16.2

3

Victoroff, J. (2005). The mind of the terrorist—A review and critique of psychological approaches. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49(1), 3–42 [review].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

169/14.1

4

Buena de Mesquita, E. (2005). The quality of terror. American Journal of Political Science, 49(3), 515–530 [article].

Political science

Government and law

117/9.8

5

Ginges, J., Hansen, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2009). Religion and support for suicide attacks. Psychological Science, 20(2), 224–230 [article].

Psychology, multidisciplinary

Psychology

111/9.3

6

Berman, E., & Laitin, D. D. (2008). Religion, terrorism, and public goods: Testing the club model. Journal of Public Economics, 92(10–11), 1942–1967 [article].

Economics

Business and economics

96/8.7

7

Hoffman, B., & McCormick, G. H. (2004). Terrorism, signaling, and suicide attack. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 27(4), 243–281 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

92/7.1

8

Kruglanski, A. W., Chen, X. Y., Dechesne, M., Fishman, S., & Orehek, E. (2009). Fully committed: Suicide bombers’ motivation and the quest for personal significance. Political Psychology, 30(3), 331–357 [article].

Political science; psychology, social

Government and law; psychology

70/8.8

9

Atran, S. (2006). The moral logic and growth of suicide terrorism. Washington Quarterly, 29(2), 127–147 [article].

International relations; law

International relations; government and law

62/5.6

10

Hannah, M. (2006). Torture and the ticking bomb: The war on terrorism as a geographical imagination of power/knowledge. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 96(3), 622–640 [review].

Geography

Geography

59/5.4

11

Chenoweth, E. (2010). Democratic competition and terrorist activity. Journal of Politics, 72(1), 16–30 [article].

Political science

Government and law

57/8.1

12

Iannaccone, L. R., & Berman, E. (2006). Religious extremism: The good, the bad, and the deadly. Public Choice, 128(1–2), 109–129 [article; proceedings paper].

Economics; political science

Business and economics; government and law

54/4.9

13

Moghadam, A. (2006). Suicide terrorism, occupation, and the globalization of martyrdom: A critique of Dying to win. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(8), 707–729 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

51/4.6

14

Pedahzur, A., Perliger, A., & Weinberg, L. (2003). Altruism and fatalism: The characteristics of Palestinian suicide terrorists. Deviant Behavior, 24(4), 405–423 [article].

Criminology and penology; psychology, social; sociology

Criminology and penology; psychology; sociology

51/3.6

15

Savun, B., & Phillips, B. J. (2009). Democracy, foreign policy, and terrorism. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 53(6), 878–904 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

50/6.3

16

Kaplan, E. H., Mintz, A., Mishal, S., & Samban, C. (2005). What happened to suicide bombings in Israel? Insights from a terror stock model. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 28(3), 225–235 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

50/4.2

17

Horowitz, M. C. (2010). Nonstate actors and the diffusion of innovations: The case of suicide terrorism. International Organization, 64(1), 33–64 [article].

International relations

International relations

48/6.9

18

Walsh, J. I., & Piazza, J. A. (2010). Why respecting physical integrity rights reduces terrorism. Comparative Political Studies, 43(5), 551–577 [article].

Political science

Government and law

47/6.7

19

Benmelech, E., & Berrebi, C. (2007). Human capital and the productivity of suicide bombers. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(3), 223–238 [article].

Economics

Business and economics

47/4.7

20

Wade, S. J., & Reiter, D. (2007). Does democracy matter? Regime type and suicide terrorism. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 51(2), 329–348 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

47/4.7

21

Speckhard, A., & Ahkmedova, K. (2006). The making of a martyr: Chechen suicide terrorism. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(5), 429–492 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

44/4

22

Azam, J. P. (2005). Suicide-bombing as inter-generational investment. Public Choice, 122(1–2), 177–198 [article].

Economics; political science

Business and economics; government and law

44/3.7

23

Ginges, J., Atran, S., Sachdeva, S., & Medin, D. (2011). Psychology out of the laboratory: The challenge of violent extremism. American Psychologist, 66(6), 507–519 [article].

Psychology, multidisciplinary

Psychology

43/7.2

24

Krieger, T., & Meierrieks, D. (2011). What causes terrorism? Public Choice, 147(1–2), 3–27 [article].

Economics; political science

Business and economics; government and law

43/7.2

25

Atran, S. (2004). Mishandling suicide terrorism. Washington Quarterly, 27(3), 67–90 [article].

International relations; law

International relations; government and law

42/3.2

26

Snow, D. A., & Byrd, S. C. (2007). Ideology, framing processes, and Islamic terrorist movements. Mobilization, 12(2), 119–136 [article; proceedings paper].

Sociology

Sociology

37/3.7

27

Brym, R. J., & Araj, B. (2006). Suicide bombing as strategy and interaction: The case of the second Intifada. Social Forces, 84(4), 1969–1986 [article].

Sociology

Sociology

37/3.4

28

Crenshaw, M. (2007). Explaining suicide terrorism: A review essay. Security Studies, 16(1), 133–162 [review].

International relations

International relations

35/3.5

29

Gupta, D. K., & Mundra, K. (2005). Suicide bombing as a strategic weapon: An empirical investigation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Terrorism and Political Violence, 17(4), 573–598 [article].

International relations; Political science

International relations; government and law

33/2.8

30

LaFree, G., & Ackerman, G. (2009). The empirical study of terrorism: Social and legal research. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 5, 347–374 [review; book chapter].

Law; sociology

Government and law; sociology

32/4

31

Kimhi, S., & Even, S. (2004). Who are the Palestinian suicide bombers? Terrorism and Political Violence, 16(4), 815–840 [review].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

32/2.5

32

Lyall, J. (2010). Do democracies make inferior counterinsurgents? Reassessing democracy’s impact on war outcomes and duration. International Organization, 64(1), 167–192 [review].

International relations

International relations

31/4.4

33

Piazza, J. A. (2008). A supply-side view of suicide terrorism: A cross-national study. Journal of Politics, 70(1), 28–39 [article].

Political science

Government and law

30/3.3

34

Hafez, M. M. (2007). Martyrdom mythology in Iraq: How jihadists frame suicide terrorism in videos and biographies. Terrorism and Political Violence, 19(1), 95–115 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

30/3

35

Wintrobe, R. (2006). Extremism, suicide terror, and authoritarianism. Public Choice, 128(1–2), 169–195 [article; proceedings paper].

Economics; political science

Business and economics; government and law

30/2.7

36

Abrahms, M. (2012). The political effectiveness of terrorism revisited. Comparative Political Studies, 45(3), 366–393 [article].

Political science

Government and law

29/5.8

37

Ashworth, S., Clinton, J. D., Meirowitz, A., & Ramsay, K. W. (2008). Design, inference, and the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. American Political Science Review, 102(2), 269–273 [article].

Political science

Government and law

29/3.2

38

Young, J. K., & Findley, M. G. (2011). Promise and pitfalls of terrorism research. International Studies Review, 13(3), 411–431 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

27/4.5

39

Agnew, R. (2010). A general strain theory of terrorism. Theoretical Criminology, 14(2), 131–153 [article].

Criminology and penology

Criminology and penology

27/3.9

40

Post, J. M., Ali, F., Henderson, S. W., Shanfield, S., Victoroff, J., & Weine, S. (2009). The psychology of suicide terrorism. Psychiatry-Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 72(1), 13–31 [article].

Psychiatry

Psychiatry

26/3.25

41

Jarvis, L. (2009). The spaces and faces of critical terrorism studies. Security Dialogue, 40(1), 5–27 [review].

International relations

International relations

25/3.1

42

Israeli, R. (1997). Islamikaze and their significance. Terrorism and Political Violence, 9(3), 96–121 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

25/1.3

43

Benmelech, E., Berrebi, C., & Klor, E. F. (2012). Economic conditions and the quality of suicide terrorism. Journal of Politics, 74(1), 113–128 [article].

Political science

Government and law

24/4.8

44

Findley, M. G., & Young, J. K. (2011). Terrorism, democracy, and credible commitments. International Studies Quarterly, 55(2), 357–378 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

24/4

45

Merari, A., Diamant, I., Bibi, A., Broshi, Y., & Zakin, G. (2010). Personality characteristics of “self martyrs”/“suicide bombers” and organizers of suicide attacks. Terrorism and Political Violence, 22(1), 87–101 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

24/3.4

46

Grimland, M., Apter, A., & Kerkhof, A. (2006). The phenomenon of suicide bombing—A review of psychological and nonpsychological factors. Crisis—the Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 27(3), 107–118 [article].

Psychiatry; psychology, multidisciplinary

Psychiatry; psychology

24/2.2

47

Jacobson, D., & Kaplan, E. H. (2007). Suicide bombings and targeted killings in (counter-) terror games. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 51(5), 772–792 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

23/2.3

48

Townsend, E. (2007). Suicide terrorists: Are they suicidal? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 37(1), 35–49 [article].

Psychiatry; psychology, multidisciplinary

Psychiatry; psychology

22/2.2

49

Ferrero, M. (2006). Martyrdom contracts. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(6), 855–877 [article; proceedings paper].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

21/1.9

50

Dale, S. F. (1988). Religious suicide in Islamic Asia—Anticolonial terrorism in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 32(1), 37–59 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

20/0.7

51

Barnes, C. D., Brown, R. P., & Osterman, L. L. (2012). Don’t tread on me: Masculine honor ideology in the U.S. and militant responses to terrorism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(8), 1018–1029 [article].

Psychology, social

Psychology

19/3.8

52

Dugan, L., & Chenoweth, E. (2012). Moving beyond deterrence: The effectiveness of raising the expected utility of abstaining from terrorism in Israel. American Sociological Review, 77(4), 597–624 [article].

Sociology

Sociology

19/3.8

53

Saucier, G., Akers, L. G., Shen-Miller, S., Knezevic, G., & Stankov, L. (2009). Patterns of thinking in militant extremism. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(3), 256–271 [article].

Psychology, multidisciplinary

Psychology

19/2.4

54

Kaplan, E. H. (2010). Terror queues. Operations Research, 58(4), 773–784 [article].

Management; operations research and management science

Business and economics; operations research and management science

17/2.4

55

Andriolo, K. (2002). Murder by suicide: Episodes from Muslim history. American Anthropologist, 104(3), 7356–742 [article].

Anthropology

Anthropology

17/3.4

56

Stein, R. (2002). Evil as love and as liberation. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12(3), 393–420 [article].

Psychology, psychoanalysis

Psychology

17/3.4

57

Brunner, C. (2007). Occidentalism meets the female suicide bomber: A critical reflection on recent terrorism debates; A review essay. Signs, 32(4), 957–971 [article].

Women’s studies

Women’s studies

16/1.6

58

Aksoy, D., Carter, D. B., & Wright, J. (2012). Terrorism in dictatorships. Journal of Politics, 74(3), 810–826 [article].

Political science

Government and law

15/3

59

Monahan, J. (2012). The individual risk assessment of terrorism. Psychology Public Policy and Law, 18(2), 167–205 [article].

Health policy and services; law; psychology, multidisciplinary

Health care sciences and services; government and law; psychology

15/3

60

Hatemi, P. K., & McDermott, R. (2012). A neurobiological approach to foreign policy analysis: Identifying individual differences in political violence. Foreign Policy Analysis, 8(2), 111–129 [article].

International relations

International relations

15/3

61

Lankford, A., & Hakim, N. (2011). From Columbine to Palestine: A comparative analysis of rampage shooters in the United States and volunteer suicide bombers in the Middle East. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16(2), 98–107 [article].

Criminology and penology; psychology, multidisciplinary

Criminology and penology; psychology

15/2.5

62

Taylor, M. (2010). Is terrorism a group phenomenon? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(2), 121–129 [article].

Criminology and penology; psychology, multidisciplinary

Criminology and penology; psychology

15/2.1

63

Shafiq, M. N., & Sinno, A. H. (2010). Education, income, and support for suicide bombings: Evidence from six Muslim countries. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 54(1), 146–178 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

15/2.1

64

Kaplan, E. H., Mintz, A., & Mishal, S. (2006). Tactical prevention of suicide bombings in Israel. Interfaces, 36(6), 553–561 [article].

Management; operations research and management science

Business and economics; operations research and management science

15/1.4

65

Berkowitz, D. (2005). Suicide bombers as women warriors: Making news through mythical archetypes. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 82(3), 607–622 [article].

Communication

Communication

15/1.3

66

Krueger, A. B., & Maleckova, J. (2002). Does poverty cause terrorism? The economics and the education of suicide bombers. New Republic, 226(24), 27–33 [article].

Political science

Government and law

15/3

67

Lankford, A. (2010). Do suicide terrorists exhibit clinically suicidal risk factors? A review of initial evidence and call for future research. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(5), 334–340 [review].

Criminology and penology; psychology, multidisciplinary

Criminology and penology; psychology

14/2

68

Neumayer, E., & Plumper, T. (2009). International terrorism and the clash of civilizations. British Journal of Political Science, 39, 711–734 [article].

Political science

Government and law

14/1.8

69

Miller, L. (2006). The terrorist mind—I. A psychological and political analysis. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 50(2), 121–138 [article].

Criminology and penology; psychology, applied

Criminology and penology; psychology

14/1.3

70

Taylor, M., & Ryan, H. (1988). Fanaticism, political suicide, and terrorism. Terrorism, 11(2), 91–111 [article].

Political science

Government and law

14/0.5

71

Piazza, J. A. (2012). The opium trade and patterns of terrorism in the provinces of Afghanistan: An empirical analysis. Terrorism and Political Violence, 24(2), 213–234 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

13/2.6

72

Thayer, B. A., & Hudson, V. M. (2010). Sex and the shaheed: Insights from the life sciences on Islamic suicide terrorism. International Security, 34(4), 37–62 [article].

International relations

International relations

13/1.9

73

Rogers, M. B., Loewenthal, K. M., Lewis, C. A., Amlot, R., Cinnirella, M., & Ansari, H. (2007). The role of religious fundamentalism in terrorist violence: A social psychological analysis. International Review of Psychiatry, 19(3), 253–262 [article].

Psychiatry

Psychiatry

13/1.3

74

Bloom, M. (2005). Women are increasingly taking a leading role in conflicts by becoming terrorists—Specifically by becoming suicide bombers. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 61(6), 54–62 [article].

International relations; social issues

International relations; social issues

13/1.1

75

Findley, M. G., & Young, J. K. (2012). More combatant groups, more terror? Empirical tests of an outbidding logic. Terrorism and Political Violence, 24(5), 706–721 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

12/2.4

76

Moghadam, A. (2009). Motives for martyrdom Al-Qaida, Salafi jihad, and the spread of suicide attacks. International Security, 33(3), 46–78 [article].

International relations

International relations

12/1.5

77

Goodwin, J. (2006). What do we really know about (suicide) terrorism? Sociological Forum, 21(2), 315–330 [review].

Sociology

Sociology

12/1.1

78

Speckhard, A., Tarabrina, N., Krasnov, V., & Akhmedova, K. (2004). Research note: Observations of suicidal terrorists in action. Terrorism and Political Violence, 16(2), 305–327 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

12/0.9

79

Israeli, R. (2002). A manual of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 14(4), 23–40 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

12/0.8

80

Sandler, T. (2014). The analytical study of terrorism: Taking stock. Journal of Peace Research, 51(2), 257–271 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

11/3.7

81

Clauset, A., & Wiegel, F. W. (2010). A generalized aggregation-disintegration model for the frequency of severe terrorist attacks. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 54(1), 179–197 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

11/1.6

82

Jacques, K., & Taylor, P. J. (2008). Male and female suicide bombers: Different sexes, different reasons? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 31(4), 304–326 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

11/1.2

83

Phillips, B. J. (2014). Terrorist group cooperation and longevity. International Studies Quarterly, 58(2), 336–347 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

10/3.3

84

Chenoweth, E. (2013). Terrorism and democracy. In M. Levi (Ed.), Annual review of political science, (Vol. 16, pp. 355–378). Palo Alto: Annual Reviews [article; book chapter].

Political science

Government and law

10/2.5

85

Henne, P. S. (2012). The ancient fire: Religion and suicide terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 24(1), 38–60 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

10/2

86

Clauset, A., Heger, L., Young, M., & Gleditsch, K. S. (2010). The strategic calculus of terrorism: Substitution and competition in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Cooperation and Conflict, 45(1), 6–33 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

10/1.4

87

Gentry, C. E. (2009). Twisted maternalism: From peace to violence. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 11(2), 235–252 [article].

Political science; women’s studies

Government and law; women’s studies

10/1.3

88

Hoffman, B. (2009). Radicalization and subversion: Al Qaeda and the 7 July 2005 bombings and the 2006 airline bombing plot. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 32(12), 1100–1116 [article].

International relations; Political science

International relations; government and law

10/1.3

89

Jaeger, D. A., & Paserman, M. D. (2009). The shape of things to come? On the dynamics of suicide attacks and targeted killings. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 4(4), 315–342 [article].

Political science

Government and law

10/1.3

90

Morag, R. (2008). The living body and the corpse—Israeli documentary cinema and the Intifadah. Journal of Film and Video, 60(3–4), 3–24 [article].

Film, radio, and television

Film, radio, and television

10/1.1

91

Pape, R. A. (2008). Methods and findings in the study of suicide terrorism. American Political Science Review, 102(2), 275–277 [article].

Political science

Government and law

10/1.1

92

Palmer, I. (2007). Terrorism, suicide bombing, fear and mental health. International Review of Psychiatry, 19(3), 289–296 [article].

Psychiatry

Psychiatry

10/1

93

Miller, L. (2006). The terrorist mind II. Typologies, psychopathologies, and practical guidelines for investigation. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 50(3), 255–268 [article].

Criminology and penology; psychology, applied

Criminology and penology; psychology

10/1

94

Silke, A. (2006). The role of suicide in politics, conflict, and terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 18(1), 35–46 [article; proceedings paper].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

10/0.9

95

Arena, M. P., & Arrigo, B. A. (2005). Social psychology, terrorism, and identity: A preliminary re-examination of theory, culture, self, and society. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 23(4), 485–506 [review].

Psychology, applied; law

Psychology; government and law

10/0.8

96

Eglin, P., & Hester, S. (1999). “You’re all a bunch of feminists”: Categorization and the politics of terror in the Montreal Massacre. Human Studies, 22(2–4), 253–272 [article; proceedings paper].

Ethics; sociology

Social sciences—other topics; sociology

10/0.6

97

Santifort-Jordan, C., & Sandler, T. (2014). An empirical study of suicide terrorism: A global analysis. Southern Economic Journal, 80(4), 981–1001 [article].

Economics

Business and economics

9/3

98

Caruso, R., & Schneider, F. (2013). Brutality of Jihadist terrorism. A contest theory perspective and empirical evidence in the period 2002–2010. Journal of Policy Modeling, 35(5), 685–696 [article].

Economics

Business and economics

9/2.3

99

Abrahms, M. (2011). Does terrorism really work? Evolution in the conventional wisdom since 9/11. Defence and Peace Economics, 22(6), 583–594 [article].

Economics

Business and economics

9/1.5

100

Lankford, A. (2011). Could suicide terrorists actually be suicidal? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34(4), 337–366 [article].

International relations; political science

International relations; government and law

9/1.5

(**) The average per year is calculated by dividing the total number of citations by the number of years between the year of the article’s publication and 2016.

References

Abrahms, M. (2008). What terrorists really want: Terrorist motives and counterterrorism strategy. International Security, 32, 78–105.Find this resource:

Abu-Lughod, L. (2002). Do Muslim women really need saving? Anthropological reflections on cultural relativism and its others. American Anthropologist, 104(3), 783–790.Find this resource:

Ashworth, S., Clinton, J. D., Meirowitz, A., & Ramsay, K. W. (2008). Design, inference, and the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. American Political Science Review, 102, 269–273.Find this resource:

Atran, S. (2003). Genesis of suicide terrorism. Science, 299, 1534–1539.Find this resource:

Atran, S. (2006). The moral logic and growth of suicide terrorism. Washington Quarterly, 29, 127–147.Find this resource:

Bloom, M. M. (2004). Palestinian suicide bombing: Public support, market share, and outbidding. Political Science Quarterly, 119(1), 61–88.Find this resource:

Bueno de Mesquita, E. (2005). The quality of terror. American Journal of Political Science, 49, 515–530.Find this resource:

Crenshaw, M. (1981). The Causes of Terrorism. Comparative Politics, 13, 379–399.Find this resource:

Crenshaw, M. (2000). The psychology of terrorism: An agenda for the 21st century. Political Psychology, 21, 405–420.Find this resource:

Crenshaw, M. (2007). Explaining suicide terrorism: A review essay. Security Studies, 16, 133–162.Find this resource:

Crenshaw, M. (2014). Terrorism research: The record. International Interactions, 40, 556–567.Find this resource:

Dunivin, K. O. (1994). Military culture: Change and continuity. Armed Forces and Society, 20(4), 531–547.Find this resource:

Eubank, W., & Weinberg, L. (2001). Terrorism and democracy: Perpetrators and victims. Terrorism and Political Violence, 13, 155–164.Find this resource:

Ferrero, M. (2006). Martyrdom contracts. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(6), 855–877.Find this resource:

Golan, G. J., & Lim, J. S. (2016). Third-person effect of ISIS’s recruitment propaganda: Online political self-efficacy and social media activism. International Journal of Communication Systems, 10, 4681–4701.Find this resource:

Griswold, W. (2013). Cultures and societies in a changing world. Los Angeles: SAGE.Find this resource:

Findley, M. G., & Young, J. K. (2011) Terrorism, democracy, and credible commitments. International Studies Quarterly, 55, 357–378.Find this resource:

Hafez, M. M. (2006a). Manufacturing human bombs: The making of Palestinian suicide bombers. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.Find this resource:

Hafez, M. M. (2006b). Rationality, culture, and structure in the making of suicide bombers: A preliminary theoretical synthesis and illustrative case study. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29, 165–185.Find this resource:

Hafez, M. M. (2006c). Suicide terrorism in Iraq: A preliminary assessment of the quantitative data and documentary evidence. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29, 531–559.Find this resource:

Hafez, M. M. (2006d). “Dying to be martyrs: The symbolic dimension of suicide terrorism.” In A. Pedahzur (Ed.), Root causes of suicide terrorism (pp. 54–80). Hoboken, NJ: Routledge.Find this resource:

Hoffman, B. (2006). Inside terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press.Find this resource:

Hoffman, B. (2008). The myth of grass-roots terrorism: Why Osama Bin Laden still matters. Foreign Affairs, 87, 160–165.Find this resource:

Hoffman, B., & McCormick, G. H. (2004). Terrorism, signaling, and suicide attack. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 27, 243–281.Find this resource:

Horowitz, M. C. (2010). Nonstate actors and the diffusion of innovations: The case of suicide terrorism. International Organization, 64, 33–64.Find this resource:

Israeli, R. (2003). Islamikaze: Manifestations of Islamic martyrology. Portland, OR: Frank Cass.Find this resource:

Jacobson, D., & Kaplan, E. H. (2007). Suicide bombings and targeted killings in (counter-) terror games. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 51(5), 772–792.Find this resource:

Jenkins, B. M., & Johnson, J. J. (1975). International terrorism: A Chronology, 1968–1974. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Find this resource:

Juergensmeyer, M. (2000). Terror in the mind of God: The global rise of religious violence. Berkeley: University of California Press.Find this resource:

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society, 47(2), 263–291.Find this resource:

Krueger, A. B., & Malečková, J. (2003). Education, poverty and terrorism: Is there a causal connection? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 17(4), 119–144.Find this resource:

Kruglanski, A. W., Chen, X. Y., Dechesne, M., Fishman, S., & Orehek, E. (2009). Fully committed: Suicide bombers’ motivation and the quest for personal significance. Political Psychology, 30, 331–357.Find this resource:

Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Lankford, A. (2011). Could suicide terrorists actually be suicidal? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34, 337–366.Find this resource:

Martin, S., & Perliger, A. (2012). Turning to and from terror: Deciphering the conditions under which political groups choose violent and nonviolent tactics. Perspectives on Terrorism, 6(4–5), 21–45.Find this resource:

Martin, S., & Weinberg, L. (2017). The role of terrorism in 21st-century warfare. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press.Find this resource:

Merari, A., Diamant, I., Bibi, A., Broshi, Y., & Zakin, G. (2010). Personality characteristics of “self martyrs”/“suicide bombers” and organizers of suicide attacks. Terrorism and Political Violence, 22, 87–101.Find this resource:

Moghadam, A. (2003). Palestinian suicide terrorism in the Second Intifada: Motivations and organizational aspects. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 26, 65–92.Find this resource:

Moghadam, A. (2006a). Defining suicide terrorism. In A. Pedahzur (Ed.), Root causes of suicide terrorism (pp. 13–24). Hoboken, NJ: Routledge.Find this resource:

Moghadam, A. (2006b). Suicide terrorism, occupation, and the globalization of martyrdom: A critique of Dying to win. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29, 707–729.Find this resource:

Moghaddam, F. M. (2009). The new global American dilemma and terrorism. Political Psychology, 30, 373–380.Find this resource:

Oetting, E. R., & Beauvais, F. (1987). Peer cluster theory, socialization characteristics, and adolescent drug use: A path analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 34(2), 205.Find this resource:

Pape, R. A. (2003). The strategic logic of suicide terrorism. American Political Science Review, 97(3), 343–361.Find this resource:

Pape, R. A. (2005). Dying to win: The strategic logic of suicide terrorism. New York: Random House.Find this resource:

Pedahzur, A., Perliger, A., & Weinberg, L. (2003). Altruism and fatalism: The characteristics of Palestinian suicide terrorists. Deviant Behavior, 24, 405–423.Find this resource:

Perliger, A., & Pedahzur, A. (2014). Counter cultures, group dynamics, and religious terrorism. Political Studies, 64, 297–314.Find this resource:

Piazza, J. A. (2008). A supply-side view of suicide terrorism: A cross-national study. Journal of Politics, 70, 28–39.Find this resource:

Post, J. M., Ali, F., Henderson, S. W., Shanfield, S., Victoroff, J., & Weine, S. (2009). The psychology of suicide terrorism. Psychiatry-Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 72, 13–31.Find this resource:

Sageman, M. (2004). Understanding terror networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Find this resource:

Sageman, M. (2008). Leaderless jihad: Terror networks in the twenty-first century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Find this resource:

Sageman, M., & Hoffman, B. (2008). Does Osama still call the shots? [with reply]. Foreign Affairs, 87, 163–166.Find this resource:

Salmivalli, C. (2010). Bullying and the peer group: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(2), 112–120.Find this resource:

Savun, B., & Phillips, B. J. (2009). Democracy, foreign policy, and terrorism. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 53, 878–904.Find this resource:

Smelser, N. J. (2011). Theory of collective behavior. New Orleans, LA: Quid Pro Books.Find this resource:

Spiro, M. E. (1986). Cultural relativism and the future of anthropology. Journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology, 1(3), 259–286.Find this resource:

Tobeña, A., & Atran, S. (2004). Individual factors in suicide terrorism. Science, 304(5667), 47–49.Find this resource:

Townsend, E. (2007). Suicide terrorists: Are they suicidal? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 37, 35–49.Find this resource:

Victoroff, J. (2005). The mind of the terrorist—A review and critique of psychological approaches. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49, 3–42.Find this resource:

Victoroff, J. (2009). Suicide terrorism and the biology of significance. Political Psychology, 30(3), 397–400.Find this resource:

Weimann, G. (1983). The theater of terror: Effects of press coverage. Journal of Communication, 33(1), 38–45.Find this resource:

Weimann, G. (2005). The theater of terror: The psychology of terrorism and the mass media. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, 9(3–4), 379–390.Find this resource:

Weimann, G. (2008). The psychology of mass-mediated terrorism. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(1), 69–86.Find this resource:

Weinberg, L., Pedahzur, A., & Hirsch-Hoefler, S. (2004). The challenges of conceptualizing terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 16, 777–794.Find this resource:

Zelizer, B. (2016). Journalism’s deep memory: Cold War mindedness and coverage of Islamic State. International Journal of Communication Systems, 10, 6060–6089.Find this resource:

Zhang, X., & Hellmueller, L. (2016). Transnational media coverage of the ISIS threat: A global perspective? International Journal of Communication Systems, 10, 766–785.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) Using the “Analyze Results” function in the Web of Science, we identified the number of articles and reviews that listed data for funding agencies (1,029), as well as the total number of grants listed by these articles and reviews (1,853). This search was last updated on February 26, 2017.

(2.) It is possible that some of the individuals who become labeled as suicide attackers are forced to carry out suicide attacks or are “duped” into carrying out these attacks by remote detonation (see Moghadam, 2006a). In many cases, it may be impossible to distinguish knowing and willing attackers from unknowing and unwitting ones.

(3.) International relations is a field of study within political science, as well as an independent discipline. As such, contributions from political science and international relations may be considered as belonging to a single literature.

(4.) For example, social psychologists may explain extremism as a by-product of uncertainty—a term that is practically foreign within political science.

(5.) Of the 100 most cited articles, 62 are either in political science (n = 21), international relations (n = 10), or both (n = 31).

(6.) Among the most cited articles, only one article is categorized as both political science and social psychology. Three articles are categorized as political science and economics.

(7.) A total of 9 articles of the most-cited 100 are published in economics journals; 6 articles and 1 review are published in journals in each of the fields of sociology and criminology.

(8.) This calculation is based on the combination of articles within the disciplines of political science and international relations (n = 188) and the exclusion of the 94 articles falling within the medical sciences and health policy category, leaving a total of 413 articles.

(9.) There is some irony here. Celebrity and personal benefits are worldly desires and are inconsistent with understanding altruism (acting for the benefit of the community) and martyrdom (prioritizing the community over oneself, including one’s self-interest). See, for instance, Lankford (2011, p. 338).

(10.) Political assassinations are frequently categorized as terrorist attacks; however, there are notable differences between targeted attacks on political leaders and random attacks on civilians.

(11.) This is not to suggest that ISIS does not use suicide tactics; rather, this is not necessarily the tactic that they advertise to their potential recruits.

(12.) This includes nine articles that have Web of Science categories listed as “Communication” and two that are categorized as “Film, Radio, and Television” (one article has both categorizations).

(13.) This count comes from a separate search of Islamic State (and ISIL or ISIS) references within the Communication and Film, Radio, and Television categories in the Web of Science without the topic filter of suicide terrorism.