Daily Archives: 15 January 2006

What Motivates Suicide Bombers in China?

The upcoming issue of The New Republic has a long review by David Bromwich of two books about suicide terrorism: Terry Eagleton’s Holy Terror (Oxford U. Press, 2005) and Robert Pape’s Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005).

The motives for suicide terror may be roughly divided into (1) religious fulfillment; (2) revenge; (3) founding a state; and (4) resistance to occupation. Holy Terror, when one looks at the details, is concerned rather narrowly with (1) and (2). Dying to Win suggests that the terrorism of the past two decades, and especially the suicide bombings, has emerged saliently as instances of (4), with (3) often a discernible secondary motive. (1) and (2) in Pape’s view are possible and always exacerbating causes, but as he reads the evidence, they have not excited vengeful or ecstatic persons to the length of killing others by killing themselves.

Meanwhile, the January 2006 issue of Scientific American has a column by Michael Shermer (“Mr. Skeptic“) about how to counter what he calls “murdercide” (ugh!).

The belief that suicide bombers are poor, uneducated, disaffected or disturbed is contradicted by science. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, found in a study of 400 Al Qaeda members that three quarters of his sample came from the upper or middle class. Moreover, he noted, “the vast majority–90 percent–came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.” Nor were they sans employment and familial duties. “Far from having no family or job responsibilities, 73 percent were married and the vast majority had children…. Three quarters were professionals or semiprofessionals. They are engineers, architects and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion.” …

One method to attenuate murdercide, then, is to target dangerous groups that influence individuals, such as Al Qaeda. Another method, says Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger, is to increase the civil liberties of the countries that breed terrorist groups. In an analysis of State Department data on terrorism, Krueger discovered that “countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have spawned relatively many terrorists, are economically well off yet lacking in civil liberties. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn suicide terrorists. Evidently, the freedom to assemble and protest peacefully without interference from the government goes a long way to providing an alternative to terrorism.”

The recent spate of suicide bombings in China seems to underline Mr. Skeptic’s point about despair in the face of oppressive and unresponsive governments.

Discontented or disturbed attackers in China have used mining explosives or fertilizer devices in previous bombings.

In August, a farmer with lung cancer set off a bomb on a bus in Fuzhou in southeastern Fujian province, wounding 31 people, and in July a murder suspect set off a bomb in a shopping mall in northeastern China, injuring 47 people.

A man set off a bomb on a bus in the western Xinjiang region in January 2005, killing 11 people.

On Saturday, Xinhua reported an explosion in a coal mine in Xinjiang in November was set off deliberately in the Beitaishan Coal Mine, killing 11 people.

Perhaps there are other bombings we haven’t heard about, and religious nationalism cannot be ruled out in the case of Xinjiang (or East Turkestan), but it seems that suicide bombing in China is driven as much by individuals bent on revenge as by religion, nationalism, or occupation. Some of these Chinese suicide bombers seem to be aiming their Propaganda of the Deed at international news media in order to exact personal revenge on their otherwise unresponsive government–and, of course, on many of its innocent citizens.

UPDATE: It’s not even clear how many of these bombings are suicidal. Here’s a crime report from 4 January.

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese police have detained the suspected architect of a bus bombing designed to kill his wife and in which 11 people died, Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

The suspect was believed to have given a man from his hometown explosives to plant on the long-distance bus in Yanling county, central Henan province, and to have killed the man after the attack to cover his tracks, Xinhua said.

The December 23 blast triggered a fire that swept through the bus, killing 11 passengers and seriously injuring three, the report said. It did not say if the man’s wife was on the bus or whether or not she survived.

Investigators believed the suspect wanted to get rid of his wife so he could marry his mistress, the report said.

This perp sounds like a nasty piece of work, no matter who else he might want to blame for his criminality.

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Coxinga’s African Bodyguards

Swordsmanship was a vital component in the young Coxinga’s education, not purely as a skill that a gentleman warranted, but also as a means of self-defence. [His father Nicholas] Iquan had many enemies, among the Dutch, Chinese and Japanese, and China was still reeling from the after-effects of drought and famine. As the son and heir of China’s richest man, Coxinga was a valuable prize for kidnappers, and he was assigned minders hand-picked from Iquan’s own personal battalion, the Black Guard. When the boy asked his father where he had found such fearsome warriors, Iquan simply replied that they had come from ‘beyond the sea’.

Experience had taught Iquan that he could trust nobody; though he may never have known, his own mother had even conspired against him with [Dutch commander] Pieter Nuijts, so his paranoia was wholly justified. His Chinese associates were former pirates whose allegiance was unsure, his family were often out to get whatever they could, and he had long since learned never to trust the barbarians of Europe. Consequently, Iquan recruited the Black Guard from a place that had no relationship to any other country or associate: Africa.

The Black Guard, approximately 500-strong, had once been Negro slaves in the service of the Portuguese, but were now all freed men. Iquan had somehow acquired them in Macao, and had turned them into his own imposing private army. Perhaps some of them were among the slaves who fought so bravely to defend Macao from the Dutch in 1622, freed in the aftermath only to find themselves thousands of miles from home, with no hope of getting back. Others may have defected from the service of the Dutch, though Chinese sources imply that Iquan bought them in Macao and freed them himself. With many of its members unable to speak any language but Portuguese, the Black Guard was Iquan’s most trusted unit, and he ‘confided more in them than in the Chinese, and always kept them near his person’. Their mere appearance struck fear into his enemies, and rumours spread that even devils had joined Iquan’s forces at Anhai: black-skinned giants with strangely curly hair, whose imposing forms were bulked out still further by hefty armour under gaudy silks. Fortunately, the Black Guard did not get to hear of such tales, as they were all devout Catholics, whose war-cry was a blood-curdling scream of Santiago, in praise of their patron St James.

SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 79-80


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