Dr. Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, has set out to debunk that it is religion or bravery that causes terrorists to go on suicide missions.

Dr. Lankford spoke last week at the Arlington campus for an event hosted by Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

The lecture provided a forum of discussion between professors, scholars and some of the most influential minds in national security to share their thoughts and gain insight on Dr. Lankford’s new book, “The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self Destructive Killers.”



Dr. Lankford’s book notes that there are variables to review and apply to the Islamic world and the U.S. that are directly related to the role of organizations and social approval that affect suicide bombers, rampage shooters and self-destructive killers.

These variables can change the landscape and through his research he provides analysis of what it would take to change the occurrence of suicide attacks.

“To merely dismiss these individuals as ‘crazy’ or ‘monsters’ wrongly behests the root of what makes them suicidal,” Lankford said.

Dr. Lankford has written for The New York Times, Foreign Policy, Wired, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, along with numerous peer-reviewed journals. His research has been featured by several media outlets including: CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

According to Dr. Lankford, the psychology behind suicide bombers is that many terrorists are envious. This results from a myriad of reasons, but a common theme is lack of sexual satisfaction, which leads them to act out with anger and violence due to jealousy.

In addition, foreign occupation, such as the U.S.’s most recent occupation in the Middle East, has a strong correlation with suicide attacks. However, he states that this correlation is more indirect than conceived. As “foreign occupation does indeed lead to anger; and angry people do carry out suicide attacks in that sense.”

Cohesion and defeating the will of young children and adults comprises the ranks of a majority of militant groups. The role of women in extremist attacks is rapidly growing.

Dr. Lankford detailed instances where women in the Islamic culture are raped with the malicious intent of shaming them to become suicide bombers. The ravaged women feel so embarrassed that terrorist leaders convince them that the only way to gain entrance to heaven is to carry out a suicide attack.

According to Dr. Lankford, this tends to be an easier sell in the Islamic world, where females are prayed on due to gender stereotypes and inequalities.The average age of suicide terrorists are between the ages of 18 and 25 and their motivations differ from the role of religion to the impact of psychological factors.

Pockets of this violence and extreme behavior are prevalent in Afghanistan and Pakistan where cohesion is used more than in any other geographic region.

In some cases the people who carry out these suicide missions are victims of these attacks who never intended to carry out these missions, such as in the recent case of a driver being handcuffed to a steering wheel in a vehicle strapped with explosives or even those individuals stricken with mental illness.