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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
General Health Channel
Reported March 7, 2003

Preventing Terrorism

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Spending billions of dollars to protect airports and other high risk targets from terrorist attacks may not be the best way to prevent suicide terrorism, writes a University of Michigan terror expert in the current issue of Science.

Neither is improving the economic and cultural environment in which they live.

According to Scott Atran, an anthropologist and psychologist at the university’s Institute for Social Research, the key to preventing terrorist acts is to support moderate religious views in nations known to produce terrorists and strengthen connections between, and tolerance among, various religious groups in those countries.

“Suicide terrorists are not crazed cowards who thrive in poverty and ignorance. In fact, most ‘human bombs’ have no appreciable psychopathology and are at least as educated and economically well-off as surrounding populations,” says Atran.

He believes the roots of terrorism lie instead in long-standing religious beliefs that tap into natural human emotions that lead relatively ordinary people to commit themselves to certain acts in the name of supernatural powers. “In much the same way, fast food companies and purveyors of pornography capitalize on innate human inclinations toward sweet, fatty foods and sex, tricking people into doing things that have no personal advantage.”  Martyrdom, he continues, including suicide terrorism, is the extreme form of that phenomenon.

Atran suggests more research is needed to understand which configurations of psychological and cultural relationships are luring and binding thousands, possibly millions, of mostly ordinary people into the terrorist organization’s martyr-making web.

This article was reported by, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: /newsalert/.

SOURCE: Science, 2003;299:1534-1539

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