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Abstract

This article explores the relationship between the social psychology of the individual and the final abyss of suicide terrorism. The boy on the high dive is a metaphor for the fearful pause before the leap. For a young child, the dive is exciting and dangerous: the fearful pause is somewhat analogous to thoughts and feelings before the terrorist’s catastrophically destructive contemplated homicidal/suicidal behavior. If we think about the leap itself, there may be a better analogy. Is there any corollary to a specific group of suicide completers? What can be learned from others who have contemplated and undertaken perhaps the most public type of suicide—plunging from an extreme height? To what degree are those individuals fully committed compared with ambivalent? For those who are ambivalent and turn back, what is it that dissuades them? For those who appear committed and fail in their attempt, what is the likelihood of their returning again? Because suicidal jumping and suicide terrorism are both public acts, do these two groups on the pathway to fatal performance violence share similar motivations and ambivalence? If there are similarities among those who act publicly in fatal ways, are there policy-related means or measures that have been successful in decreasing public suicide that might also be applicable for decreasing the incidence of suicide terrorism?

Through an examination of the content and process of public suicide, this article focuses on those individuals whose behavior is essential to the actual terrorist violence, especially if that behavior results in expected death to the individual. Not all persons engaged in terrorist activities will engage in a final fatal personal drama. Even in situations where lone actors conceive and execute terrorist actions, research has shown that there are bystanders who may have some preliminary knowledge of the event long before the audience to terroristic performance violence will witness the destructive event.

 

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