Publication Date

January 2017


More than fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, Americans still lack an understanding of what motivates people to commit an act that causes such horror and devastation. This article attempts to explain suicide bombing by considering some deep underlying cultural dimensions of this act. It focuses on the type of society that supports suicide bombers and the conditions that lead communities to condone such attacks. Social support is one of the strongest constraints on the use of suicide bombing. The article argues that members of a collectivist society are more willing to support extreme measures when they are threatened by foreign attack or occupation of their land. But absent this outside pressure, their support wanes. The complex phenomenon of suicide bombing is a global threat that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.