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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

‘Democracy Now!’ co-host considers nature of suicidal murder

Nermeen Shaikh, co-host of the independent news hour “Democracy Now!” and global lecturer, considered what motivates individuals to commit acts of violence in a lecture titled “On Suicidal Murder” delivered Thursday at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies. The event was organized by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Shaikh compared suicidal murder to other types of violence and considered why suicide bombing often evokes more horror, even though the acts can be equally deadly. She contemplated what characterizes a suicide bombing, searching for what attribute makes it more heinous than other forms of violence, asking the audience to consider techniques employed by militaries in the War on Terror.

“Might it be true that a suicide bombing is more brutal than decimating a body with machine gun fire, or suddenly incinerating it with a remote-controlled drone, or burning and lacerating it with a barrel bomb, or even simply letting it starve to death?”

While addressing the senselessness of suicide bombings, which often harm civilians, Shaikh noted modern militaries sometimes operate with similar rules regarding the loss of innocent lives in collateral deaths. Shaikh said she challenges casualties, despite militaries holding them as unintentional.

“That does not make them less dead, only less intentionally dead,” she said.

For Shaikh, both suicide bombings and other methods of counterterrorism are symptoms of a broader global issue. Citing the French West Indian intellectual Frantz Fanon, she lamented the use of violence for political gain.

“The contemporary world is steeped in an insidious and widespread violence,” she said. “Now there exists a state where violence is the only language anyone understands.”

Quoting the psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips, Shaikh said all humans have an innate desire to “be aggressive enough to be able to protect the people that [they] love.”

Shaikh suggested both suicide bombers and militaries act on this instinct when they commit acts of violence, but each does so in a markedly different way.

Not everyone has tanks or airplanes, but everybody feels the impulse to do something like what planes and airplanes would do, because they have to do something,” she said. 

Unable to match the tanks or airplanes, suicide bombers resort to using their bodies as a weapon, Shaikh said. She said what individuals often consider most appalling about suicide bombing is its deeply intimate nature.

“What does it say about the killer who can look his victims in the face and die alongside them, his body often entwined with theirs? What are we to make of his, and it is almost always his, willingness to die in the very act of murder?”