The Myth of Martyrdom by Adam Lankford

The Myth of Martyrdom by Adam Lankford – What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers – is a book I read in 2017 for the first time. I read it again and I found it just as interesting this time. The idea he comes up with goes against the “norm” when it comes to explaining why suicide bombers blow themselves up. He is a Criminal Justice professor at The University of Alabama, so he sees suicide bombers from a different perspective. Lankford looked at many individual cases and described their suicidal tendencies before they are committing terror attacks.

The Myth of Martyrdom by Adam Lankford

He explained this point of view very clearly and using a lot of primary and secondary sources. I think his views should be talked about more because they are so different than the “religiously motivated” line we are accustomed with. In the book he says that there are 4 kinds of suicide terrorists:
– conventional (suicidal);
– coerced (forced, remote detonations)
– escapist (so they are not captured)
– indirect (suicide “by cop”)

His approach and ideas bring a nuance and complexity that some of the other views lack. I don’t think all the suicide bombers are suicidal, but I don’t think none are either. So, in dealing with the threat posed by terrorism, taking into account what made these people blow themselves up or wanting to blow themselves up should be high on the agenda.

Another important aspect is that these people are presented as they’re willing to die for the sake of their cause, like it is something a courageous soldier might do in battle to protect innocent people or his fellow soldiers. There is a chapter in the book that deals with this sort of assessment and that was fascinating and thought-provoking. He even talks about Japanese kamikaze in WWII, which I didn’t know much about.
I highly recommend the book.

The Myth of Martyrdom by Adam Lankford

Details about the picture: picture from 2017
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Year it was published: 2013
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): Psychology
Pages: 272

About the author: Adam Lankford is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at The University of Alabama, USA. His research has been featured by media outlets such as Foreign Policy, The Daily Beast, CNN, NPR, The Atlantic, and The Boston Globe. From 2003 to 2008, he helped coordinate anti-terrorism efforts in conjunction with the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. Lankford has written for The Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, and is the author of Human Killing Machines. He lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Website & Social Media Links: –

2 thoughts on “The Myth of Martyrdom by Adam Lankford”

  • I know you don’t usually re-read books, so are you using this for one of your classes this term? It sounds like a very interesting book. With “coerced”, I always think about those poor folks who are clad in explosives and forced to enter a building or whatever, totally against their will.
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    • I am thinking of that, but I need to chat with the Professor about it. I had to go to the library and started reading it and finished it on the day.
      The ones that are coerced is heartbreaking this is happening to them. The book is mostly about the ones that want to kill themselves and that’s what he is saying that they are suicidal to begin with and this is offering them a way out that is acceptable from a social and religious point of view too. I remembered the book vividly because it was so different than what the others were saying.

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