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Demographic Profile and Motivation of Suicide Bombers Essay

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Suicide Terrorism: Driven to Death


Who are the terrorists engaging in suicide bombings? What motivates them to act? These are some of the questions Merari (2010) tackles in Driven to Death. They are not entirely new questions, as other researchers have asked them as well—but Merari (2010) does provide new insight into the phenomenon of suicide bombing by conducting field work and independent research to uncover more information on this particular subject. This paper explores some of the findings of Merari (2010) and compares them with what other researchers have had to say, particularly on the subject of what motivates terrorists to act.


While many scholars argue that there is no demographic profile of the suicide bomber, Merari (2010) disagrees and presents his own demographic profile based on his own research. The argument of general scholarship is that anyone can be a suicide bomber, young or old, rich or poor, male or female. Merari (2010) states that a “rough profile” does exist and that the primary source material that he has been compiling in his database for decades supports his assertion (p. 61). Merari admits that his data is not complete and that it essentially consists of the facts he could gather from public reports of bombings in Israel and Lebanon from the 1970s onward—but that the data for the most part indicates a clear demographic trend.

Yet Merari has gone even beyond the published records of bombers—for example, the Israeli media may list a girl’s name, age and marital status, but to obtain information about the bomber’s socioeconomic status one must engage in investigative research and examine the subject’s friends, family and neighborhood. To know about the religiosity of the subject one must do the same. In short, it requires field work investigation—something that cannot be done from a library or one’s university office, which is where a great many scholars and researchers spend most if not all of their time. Merari has the advantage of getting out of the office and into the field, and thus is able to compile a more sensible demographic profile of the suicide bomber.

In terms of gener, Merari (2010) shows that of the nearly 3000 suicide bombings over the course of more than three decades (1974-2008), 95% of them were committed by males. However, there are qualifications to these numbers depending on the time or era in which they were committed as well as the region. For example, in Lebanon it is much more common to find female suicide bombers, as Merari (2010) claims that during the same timeframe “7 out of a total of 41 suicide bombers were women (17%), all sent by secular groups” (p. 62). Yet Hizballah also conducted suicide bombings in Lebanon and it recruited only males—so among secular groups, roughly 1 in 4 suicide bombers was actually a woman in Lebanon.


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…way because they feel that this helps to give them a sense of identity (Costello & Hawdon, 2018). The people who are looking for recruits know what to look for—young, impressionable individuals who are willing to die for a cause: they are passionate and positive and believe deeply in what they are being fed in terms of nationalistic or ideological policy (Koch, 2018).


Terrorism is not an activity that is ordinarily motivated by poverty in most situations. Merari (2010) has shown for example that the majority of individuals who engage in suicide bombings from Palestine (one of the poorest regions of the world) come from what could be considered middle class backgrounds. They are motivated not by the dire economic situations in which they live—at least not solely—but by ideological beliefs that tend to be religious, nationalistic, and secular in some cases. The point is that there is no one factor that can be identified as the primary motivating factor: groups, peers, media, education, culture, religious conviction, region, age and gender all play a part in determining who becomes a terrorist and whether one will end up becoming a suicide bomber. Other researchers have noted that the Internet is also increasingly playing a huge role in determining who becomes a terrorist because of the fact that it connects so many people together so easily and it ends up bringing like-minded people with violent beliefs together where they can support one another…

Sample Source(s) Used


Bandura, A. (2018). Toward a psychology of human agency: Pathways and reflections. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 130-136.

Chatfield, A. T., Reddick, C. G., & Brajawidagda, U. (2015, May). Tweeting propaganda, radicalization and recruitment: Islamic state supporters multi-sided twitter networks. In Proceedings of the 16th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (pp. 239-249).

Costello, M., & Hawdon, J. (2018). Who are the online extremists among us? Sociodemographic characteristics, social networking, and online experiences of those who produce online hate materials. Violence and gender, 5(1), 55-60.

DeCook, J. R. (2018). Memes and symbolic violence:# proudboys and the use of memes for propaganda and the construction of collective identity. Learning, Media and Technology, 43(4), 485-504.

Koch, A. (2018). Trends in Anti-Fascist and Anarchist Recruitment and Mobilization. Journal for Deradicalization, (14), 1-51.

Merari, A. (2010). Driven to death. Oxford University Press.

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