Psychology Today; suicide bombers are trying to mate.

Tim Blair offers us a free kick at psychologists (for which I thank him); those people who earn a living by examining the psychological entrails of other people and offer entirely useless suggestions (e.g. perhaps all your problems are caused by some sort of suppressed sexual weirdness, or perhaps you would be happier if your father bought you a red tricycle, or if you hadn’t named your pet ferret “Theodora”).

Psychology Today reports:

It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings.


What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don’t get any wives at all.

Which is surprising because it is factually untrue, and its untruth is easily demonstrable. To begin with the rate of polygamy is very low in Muslim countries, well below the (unreferenced) 50% suggested in the article. The places where polygamy is highest (amongst Muslims AND Christians), Africa, has a low rate of suicide based warfare. In places such as Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, where polygamy is almost unheard of, there is a high incidence of suicide bombing. Clearly the prima facie argument here must be that in these areas, suicide bombing is a crude tactic of asymmetric warfare.

Suicide bombing in the modern era was perfected by secular Tamil nationalists of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The LTTE have committed hundreds of suicide bombings. In this article in Time magazine, the LTTE explain in great detail how they “build a suicide bomber”. Notably the reporters interviewed an all FEMALE suicide bombing crew. The following are quotes from the women themselves regarding their motivations

Samandi’s chances of a normal life were shaky from the day she was born in Tamil Tiger territory in northern Sri Lanka. But Samandi said it was the death of 125 friends and neighbors in the government’s carpet-bombing of her village that forced her to put aside thoughts of anything much but death. “I saw all that, all that blood and all those bodies and I thought, ‘Tomorrow, I will die like this too. So I will join the L.T.T.E. and die for a reason’.

Almost nothing in Samandi’s life was left to personal choice. The only jewelry the Tiger women can wear are three dog tags, around the wrist, neck and waist that ensure identification of even the most dismembered of bodies. The Tigers enforce a hairstyle of two plaits tied in loops across the back of the head to avoid, so they say, hair snagging on bushes during an attack. Music is limited to revolutionary songs

It is safe to assume that a secular Tamil nationalist woman from a Hindu background is not becoming a suicide bomber in order to fulfill an evolutionary reproductive urge with the Hoor ul-Ayn of Paradise. Nor indeed are the hundreds of other Tamil suicide bombers, both men and women who are also secular, and motivated largely by military and nationalist objectives.

It remains only to dissect the pedigree of this absurd and patently false thesis. Professor Diego Gambetta’s book Making Sense of Suicide Missions is quoted as the reference for this article. I have not read his book, so I cannot determine if the reference accurately reflects Professor Gambetta’s view.

A credible source in this area of scholarship is Robert Pape, on the same subject, who has carefully documented all suicide bombings in the modern era and believes much more plausibly that there is a strategic logic to this form of warfare.

Update: Professor Gambetta has written to Austrolabe to clarify that the Psychology Today article misrepresents his views. “I have never held such a view, never even discussed it in my book or elsewhere and I disagree with it entirely,” he writes.