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How to make a suicide bomber


After the London bombings many people were moved to ask: "What makes a suicide bomber - especially one who would blow up his own fellow citizens?"

For most of us the idea of killing hundreds of people and ourselves at the same time is simply unimaginable.

How could person get themselves into a state of mind to carry out such an

Whenever I'm asked these questions, my mind drifts backto a conversation had in the bar ofthe MAC some years ago.

I got chatting to a chap who knew one of my mates and I asked him what he did.

He was a bit reticent but eventually he said that he was doing his PhD at Birmingham University on (I kid you not) Nazi war atrocities in Eastern Europe.

Essentially he was setting out to answer this question; how can ordinary people commit wholesale slaughter.

(There is a long tradition of research into this topic in psychology. Stanley Milgram showed, in the 1960s that most of us would torture others if we are ordered to do so by someone in authority so long as a goodenough reason is given.)

Anyway,back to the bloke in the bar of the MAC.

He said that when the SS started killing people on a mass scale in Eastern Europe they couldn't maintain it because thousands of soldiers got burnt out and became ill with "shell shock", or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as it is called now.

So, they thought about this problem and developed a clever and horrific strategy, which would condition ordinary people to commit atrocities without becoming mentally ill.

This strategy was complex but had two essential components.

Firstly, the decision to kill had to be internally driven not externally driven ("I did it because it was the right thing to do"rather than "I did it because I was following orders".)

So the cliched excuse that Nazis were simply automatons doing what they were told isn't actually true.

Most German soldiers did think, at the time, that they were doing the right thing.

Secondly, the troops had to be systematically desensitised.

So, a new recruit was carefully indoctrinated about the scientific and ideological need for eliminating certain races or types of people (note the language here - people were "eliminated" not "killed" which would have run the risk of humanising them)

Then, as a first stage in the desensitization process, they would man a road block to a village that was to be burned.

When the soldiers got bored with doing this, they would get to round people up but not see the atrocities.

After a period of weeks, they would witness the killing.

Only when this process was complete - and it took months - was the soldier expected to directly take part.

Remember these were conscripts, not career soldiers. Before the war they were the plumbers, bus drivers and civil servants - the kind of peoplewe meet every day.

Now, however, they had become Nazis who could take life without feeling.

The Nazis actually wrote a manual about this process, which was usedby the IRA in its training.

Last night I wondered how this applied to those people who were responsible for 9/11 and 7/7.

I could easily understand how the process could be started.

Britain and America's foreign policy in the Middle East is brutal and shameful.

Given the suffering of the ordinary people, who are Muslim, in Iraq and Lebanon, it isn't difficult to see how the process of turning an ordinary British Muslim into a suicide bomber could begin.

Dr Mike Drayton is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Opus Psychology Practice. Mike works with people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, personality disorders and work related stress.
Mike is particularly interested in the interface between psychology and work. Mike worked for 20 years in the NHS before setting up Opus.


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