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Understanding Suicide Bombing With The Theory Of Symbolic Interactionism Essay

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The term, “symbolic interactionism,” was coined by Blumer (1969), who described the three fundamental assumptions of the theory thus: (1) “Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things;” (2) “The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society;” and (3) “These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters.

” Burke (1968) would confirm this hypothesis by claiming that man is essentially a “symbol-using animal” who uses language nevertheless to get a vague sense of reality. Nevertheless, man would not consider himself stupid as he construes the world by way of the meanings he attaches to his social interactions. Other people may simply convey their own language and/or symbols to him. Even so, it is for the individual or the self to ultimately decide how to interpret the language and/or symbols that are conveyed to him.

When describing the meaning of names that are associated with different weapons, Kauffman (1989) writes that the names are actually the definers and describers of conditions that call for the use of the weapons. The term, suicide bombing, has been coined in the West. The suicide bombers themselves have considered their weapon of war – the act of deliberately killing themselves while killing their enemies – as an act of martyrdom. Margalit (2003) writes that their motive is mainly revenge.

Thus, the Palestinian suicide bombers would like to kill the Israelites as the latter have destroyed their homes and families. Moreover, suicide bombing is considered “‘defensive’ holy war” by the bombers (Margalit). According to the author: …[A] defensive holy war… takes place when what is perceived as the domain of Islam is threatened by invaders. From a radical Islamic point of view, Israel itself, as a Jewish state, is an invasion of the domain of Islam. Worse, according to the platform of Hamas, Israel is a

state composed of heretics established on land that has been divenly granted to Islam (waqf). Battling Israel is one of the most urgent tasks of the defensive jihad (Margalit). Their social interaction with the Israelites has allowed the Palestinians to interpret the situation as one that calls for war. Because their land has been occupied by hostile invaders, individual Palestinians who turn into suicide bombers seem to have believed that their martyrdom would, at least in part, be helpful in the ongoing struggle against the invaders.

If the families of the suicide bombers have been killed by the Israelites, and if their homes have been destroyed – revenge is, once again, a clear motive for suicide bombing. But, why would these individuals choose to kill themselves in the name of martyrdom? According to a new study on the causes of terrorism, ordinary people can be easily “influenced into violence (“New Research,” 2007). ” Furthermore, interactions with comrades who provide “an emotional haven” in addition to a “clear focus for turbulent energies” may very well serve as a cause of suicide bombing (“New Research”).

In order to root out this cause of suicide bombing, the new study suggests that it is essential for a group that believes in suicide bombing to have interactions with people who do not consider violence as a way to achieve immortality – such as the people of the West and other parts of the world where suicide bombing is not considered martyrdom, including the moderate Muslims (“New Research”).

Also according to the findings of the new research, Palestinian individuals who are turning into suicide bombers may have believed that they could “attain symbolic immortality” or “symbolic permanance” by killing themselves before the Israelites killed them (“New Research”). The samurai of Japan had similarly considered it braver to kill himself before being killed by his enemy. In addition, social interactions must have enabled the suicide bombers to feel that they form a part of something more meaningful than themselves.

This is the reason why suicide bombing must offer to the combatants not only a sense of identity but also a place in the history of their communities, as life is exchanged for a sense of being something important to the community. The suicide bombers would like to be remembered by their people for their self-sacrifice. Also according to the author of the report on the new research, self-sacrificial practices are present in various cultures around the world. A self-sacrificial act is an assertion that one would “survive as an identity” even if the survival of the physical form is impossible beyond a certain length of time (“New Research”).

At the same time, however, the suicide bombers have failed to realize that there are other ways of achieving “symbolic permanence (“New Research”). ” In the West, and other regions of the world that have collectively condemned suicide bombing, pro-social means of attaining “symbolic immortality,” such as staring a school or company, are preferred (“New Research”). A PBS report claims that suicide bombing must be a “symbolic tool” that proves that Muslims are superior to the non-Muslims because they are purer (“Suicide Bombers,” 2007).

” By showing that they are more self-sacrificial than the others, the Palestinians are trying to prove the supremacy of their religion. This is based on their interaction with the Western world that does not always appreciate the values of religion, be it Judaism or Islam. Nevertheless, the Western world has focused on the concept of universal or shared values that the United Nations discusses in its constitution, and the president of the United States has often referred to. This concept of shared or universal values is based on the fact that there are multiple cultures and religions in the world that nonetheless share their basic teachings.

The truth that pro-social behavior to attain “symbolic immortality” is good, while killing oneself is abnormal, is part of the universal values of humanity (“New Research”). All the same, the group that leads its members to kill themselves in the name of martyrdom has not appreciated that its essential values are the same as those of other people around the globe. Interaction with the Western world and other regions that do not believe in suicide bombing is, therefore, essential for the group that is inspiring its members to turn into suicide bombers.

The best method of interaction is, no doubt, education of the diversity of cultures and experience of the people of the world. The United Nations and other international organizations that are not related to specific nations must be imparting an education of universal values to the people who may otherwise turn into suicide bombers. Certainly, this form of education would provide a platform for to-be-suicide-bombers to gather new meanings from their social interactions.


Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Burke, K. (1968). Definition of Man.In Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature and Method. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Kauffman, C. (1989, Sep). Names and Weapons. Communication Monographs, vol. 56. Margalit, A. (2003, Jan 16). The Suicide Bombers. The New York Review of Books, vol. 50, no. 1. New Research Into Causes Of Terrorism Reveals People Turn To Suicide Bombing To Preserve Identity. (2007, May 12). Medical News Today. Retrieved Nov 7, 2007, from http://www. medicalnewstoday. com/articles/70717. php. Suicide Bombers. (2007). PBS. Retrieved Nov 7, 2007, from http://www. pbs. org/wnet/wideangle/shows/suicide/briefing. html.

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