Further to a post by Ken Lovell at Road to Surfdom, it’s worth considering where the various examples of suicide and sacrifice — the GI selflessly throwing himself on a grenade, high-school rampagers, suicide bombers — fit in the continuum of suicidal/homicidal behaviour.
Perhaps I am subject to ‘cognitive dissonance’, but I can’t help leaning to the view that the malevolent ‘lashing out’ aspect of suicide-bombers’ motivation is more akin to high-school gun rampagers.
Or, for a more elemental form of the phenomenon, consider the pengamok:
Amok, or mata galap
The phrase “running amok” comes from this syndrome. The victim, known as a pengamok, suddenly withdraws from family and friends, then bursts into a murderous rage, attacking the people around him with whatever weapon is available. He does not stop until he is overpowered or killed; if the former, he falls into a sleep or stupor, often awakening with no knowledge of his violent acts. The pengamok is almost always a man between the ages of 20 and 45; there is only one female pengamok on record.
There’s not much material on the pengamok phenomenon that I’ve been able to find on the web; however, some may recall reading the following in a newspaper article in 1996, in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre:
In 19th-century Malaya young men ran amok, butchering strangers with a sword, usually after suffering a massive blow to their self-esteem or prestige. At the turn of the century the British colonial government passed legislation ordering that the men (called pengamoks) not be killed but put in insane asylums.
That decision caused a dramatic decrease in the number of pengamoks, says Paul Mullen, a forensic psychiatrist at Monash University. Instead of finding glory in death, the man was humiliated by incarceration, and the popularity of the practice is said to have dwindled.
Despite great cultural differences, what the pengamoks and modern mass killers have in common is a desire to discharge some colossal grievance, and belief in a heroic death. …
- James Button, “Mass Destruction”
The Age, 30 April 1996
(No link available)
Note the words “the popularity of the practice is said to have dwindled”. I don’t know whether it was intended, but the implication seems to be that the pengamok-style of rampage was in some sense a cultural ‘norm’, by virtue of which the behaviour at some level received validation.
How all this informs our view of jihadist suicide-bombers may or may not become clearer.
As a footnote, however, I recall that the Antonio Banderas vehicle Desperado was released on video around the time Martin Bryant went amok at Port Arthur. I regarded with alarm the tag-line on the promotional posters:
He came back to settle the score with someone.
I never saw the film, but a user comment at the IMDB page for the film kind of confirms my impression:
Allow me to summarise the plot. A drifter (played by the impeccably sculptured [sic] Antonio Banderas) arrives in town in search of his girlfriend’s murderer and kills everyone he meets. Roll credits.
Interestingly, that commenter concludes that “in the end you leave the theatre feeling satisfied without really knowing why.”
Like I said, I never saw the film, but if anyone did, I’d be interested to know whether the Banderas character went out in a blaze of glory, like a good pengamok should.
Like the pengamok that’s latent in all of us???