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Evolutionary Reasons for Suicide Bombings

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JP Rushton

Richard Lynn

L:inda Gottfredson


2700 words

With all of these suicide bombings in the news recently, I figured I’d talk about some evolutionary reasons for suicide bombings. While reading JP Rushton’s paper Ethnic nationalism, evolutionary psychology and Genetic Similarity Theory, I came across a small part of the paper where he talks about evolutionary reasons for suicide bombings: mainly that it increases inclusive fitness. I know that biology doesn’t tell the whole story, but it tells a lot of it. Today I will argue that mainly, suicide bombings are driven by genetic similarity, as argued by Rushton in his paper. The data is there that this is a possibility and a worthwhile hypothesis to take note of.

Due to how inbred Muslims (Arabs) are, (as well as other Muslim populations, which are also inbred, such as the Chechens), they are more genetically similar to themselves than they are to other groups. The brain hormone oxytocin is conjectured to increase ethnocentrism, seeing as oxytocin is shown to increase in-group cooperation, and at the same time out-group derogation. This is also the case when two genetically distinct cultures meet up and live together. Their biology is so dissimilar, ethnic strife arises due to the far genetic distance between the two groups. So due to this increased genetic similarity, this causes those who are more similar to themselves, to favor those phenotypically similar to themselves, because if the phenotype is similar, more often than not, the genotype is as well. This is the basis for all ethnocentrism. To quote Rushton from the paper mentioned above:

Political issues are especially explosive when survival and reproduction are at stake. Consider the growth of Middle Eastern suicide bombers. Polls conducted among Palestinian adults from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank show that about seventy-five per cent support suicidal attacks, whereas only about twelve per cent are opposed (Margalit 2003). Many families state that they are proud of their kin who become martyrs.

Most analyses of the motives of suicide bombings emphasise unique aspects such as the Palestinian or Iraqi political situation, the teachings of radical Islam, or a popular culture saturated with the glorification of martyrs.

Political issues are especially explosive when survival and reproduction are at stake. Consider the growth of Middle Eastern suicide bombers. Polls conducted among Palestinian adults from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank show that about seventy-five per cent support suicidal attacks, whereas only about twelve per cent are opposed (Margalit 2003). Many families state that they are proud of their kin who become martyrs.

Most analyses of the motives of suicide bombings emphasise unique aspects such as the Palestinian or Iraqi political situation, the teachings of radical Islam, or a popular culture saturated with the glorification of martyrs.

These political factors play an indispensable role but from an evolutionary perspective aspiring to universality, people have evolved a ‘cognitive module’ for altruistic self-sacrifice that benefits their gene pool. In an ultimate rather than proximate sense, suicide bombing can be viewed as a strategy to increase inclusive fitness.

There is “altruistic self-sacrifice” for what suicide bombers do. Rushton then posits, that the self-sacrifice then, in turn, benefits their gene pool and that suicide bombing can be looked at as a strategy to increase inclusive fitness. Many people in the field have come to this conclusion. There is a reason, a genetic reason, for a lot of these suicide bombings. How could suicide bombings increase inclusive fitness if the individual is committing suicide? As I have said numerous times on my blog, evolution selects for genes, not individuals. So with selecting for genes, individuals who share similar genes with others who sacrifice themselves for other, more genetically similar people to themselves are actually increasing the proliferation of their genes. This is, yet again, is another answer to the people who argue that genetic similarity theory, which is predicated on self-sacrifice for those genetically similar to yourself, would select for selfishness, and not ethnic altruism. This is the case because those genes are being preserved. Individuals are basically just organisms to proliferate copies of their genes in to the next generation and nothing more. 

Rushton then says:

What reasons do suicide bombers themselves give for their action? Many invoke the rhetoric of Islam while others appeal to political and economic grievances. Mahmoud Ahmed Marmash, a twenty-one-year-old bachelor from Tulkarm who blew himself up near Tel Aviv in May 2001 said in a videocassette recorded before he went on his mission (cited in Margalit, 2003):

I want to avenge the blood of the Palestinians, especially the blood of the women, of the elderly, and of the children, and in particular the blood of the baby girl Iman Hejjo, whose death shook me to the core. Many other national groups have produced suicide warriors. The term ‘zealot’ originates in a Jewish sect that existed for about 70 years in the first century CE. According to the classical historian Flavius Josephus (1981), an extreme revolutionary faction among them assassinated Romans and Jewish colla- borators with daggers; this likely reduced their chances of staying alive. A group of about 1,000 Zealots, including women and children, chose to commit suicide at the fortress of Masada rather than surrender to the Romans. Masada today is one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols. Israeli soldiers take an oath there: ‘Masada shall not fall again’. Soldier armies – the Japanese kamikaze, or the Iranian basaji – have carried out suicide attacks against enemy combatants. Winston Churchill contemplated the use of suicide bombers against the Germans if they invaded Britain (see Cornwell 2003). Some of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, who are Hindus, have killed themselves in attacks on politicians and army installa- tions, and they have done so with utter disregard for the lives of civilians who happened to be around.

It’s clear that ethnic genetic interests were a main motivator for this attack. He also cites the Zealots, a Jewish sect from around 70 Ad, who committed suicide so that the Romans wouldn’t kill them. He cites the Japanese Kamikaze and the Iranian basaji, as well as saying that Churchill contemplated using suicide bombers against Germany if they invaded Britain, all of these examples serve as examples for genetic interests and altruistic self-sacrifice for you kin/co-ethnics. Rushton ends the paper as follows:

Genetic similarity, of course, is only one of many possible influences operating on political alliances. Causation is complex and there is no value in reducing relationships between ethnic groups to a single factor. Fellow ethnics will not always stick together, nor is conflict inevitable between groups any more than it is between genetically distinct individuals. In addition to reproductive success, individuals also work for motives such as economic success. However, as van den Berghe (1981) pointed out, from an evolutionary perspective, the ultimate measure of human success is not production but reproduction. Behavioural outcomes are always mediated by multiple causes. Nonetheless, genetic similarity can be expected to play a clear role in the social behaviour of small groups and even of large ones, both national and international. The hypothesis presented here is that because fellow ethnics carry copies of the same genes, ethnic consciousness is rooted in the biology of altruism and mutual reciprocity. Thus ethnic nationalism, xenophobia and genocide can become the ‘dark side’ of altruism. Moreover, shared genes can govern the degree to which an ideology is adopted (e.g. Rushton 1986 and 1989a). Some genes will replicate better in some cultures than in others. Religious, political and class conflicts become heated because they affect genetic fitness. Karl Marx did not take his analysis far enough: ideology may be the servant of economic interest, but genes influence both. Since individuals have a greater concentration of genetic interest (inclusive fitness) in their own ethnic group than they do in other ethnic groups, they can be expected to adopt ideas that proliferate their genes.

GST is a great argument that suicide bombers want to proliferate the genes of those genetically similar to themselves while at the same time getting rid of genes who didn’t pass kin on to the next generation, as well as getting rid of one individual who takes up resources without copulating kin to the next generation, by doing so this increases the fitness of his or her co-ethnics, and therefore, through altruistic self-sacrifice, spread on their genes in that manner. Because evolution is about reproduction, not production.

In this short paper, Suicide Bombers: Does an Evolutionary Perspective Make a Difference?which is a review of a book called The Myth of Martyrdom, the author argues that suicide bombers have similarities to others who commit suicide as well as murder-suicide, he ends up positing that there is no altruistic self-sacrifice and that suicide bombings are a result of mental health issues and individual crisis. The linked paper expands the author of the book’s idea that suicide bombers are increasing the inclusive fitness of their people. Those who behave in ways to promote the reproductive success of close kin (kin selection), in turn, enhance their inclusive fitness. There is also evolutionary evidence that we humans have been programmed evolutionary history to promote reproductive success of their kin as well as those closely related to them (their co-ethnics). 

Parents who sacrifice themselves for their children are doing so because of evolution. In saving their child, who shares 50 percent of their own genes, they are increasing the evolutionary success of their genes to continue to reproduce other generations. This is because the average similarity between people within a single population is on the magnitude of half-siblings. So co-ethnics are share 25 percent of their genes, on average. This is a cause for ethnocentrism, as I have argued many times here.

If an individual’s reproductive prospects are low, and they are not contributing to the welfare of those genetically similar to themselves, then removing their genes through suicide will not remove genes that already weren’t going to be removed due to not having any kin. The authors of the paper also argue that if the individual is taking up resources that could be better used by other kin to promote their best (ethnic) interests, then prolonging that individuals existence may diminish, rather than enhance, inclusive fitness for that group. Suicide is more common in those who are elderly as well as terminally ill, because those who are elderly or terminally ill have less of a chance of proliferating their genes, so they care less about their individual fitness, and in turn, care about inclusive fitness instead.

In the ASID (Adult Suicide Ideation Questionnaire), which is a 25 question self-report to measure suicide ideation and behavior in adults (Reynolds, 1991 b), those who participated in the study ranked feelings of suicide on a scale of zero to seven which include: “0 = Never had this thought; 1 = I had this thought before, but not in the last month; 2 = About once a month; 3 = Couple of times a month; 4 = About once a week; 5 = Couple of times a week; 6 = Almost every day). The ASIQ has extremely high, almost perfect correlations, .96, .96 and .97 in a sample of college students, community college students and a psychiatric sample using Cronbach’s Alpha Coefficients. Overall, the ASID correlates with depression (r=.60) and with hopelessness (r= .53) in a sample of college students (Reynolds, 1991 a).

There is also a positive correlation between suicide ideation and perceived burden to kin. The relationship was strengthened when participants were added for those with poor health as well as low interpersonal satisfaction, both of which indicate low inclusive fitness.

These reasons also show why Japanese Kamikaze Fighters did their suicide attacks: to protect their kin in their homeland as to better protect those genetically similar to themselves.

Many suicide bombers come from middle-class backgrounds, which further proves the case for genetic interests being the cause for this. The majority of Al-Qaeda members come from educated, middle-class backgroundsEven for Palestinian suicide bombers, none of them were poor, uneducated, simple minded nor depressed. The myth of the suicide bomber being poor and destitute and, therefore, chooses to kill himself for the myth of 72 virgins, which a majority of Muslims don’t believe in and is pushed by the Jews, is just that, a myth. Most are driven for altruistic self-sacrifice for their co-ethnics, as all co-ethnics are around the world.

Satoshi Kanazawa argues that many suicide bombers are driven to suicide due to sexual repression. He also notes that most Western men who are tricked by porn movies, most Muslims are tricked by the Quran, which did not exist in their ancestral environment. He theorizes that in the same way that Western men who watch porn believe they can potentially copulate with the women they see in porn movies, the same reasoning can be said for Muslims who believe they can copulate with the 72 virgins in their Heaven. Kanazawa says:

If you are a likely reproductive loser in the United States, watching porn is your way of meeting women and having sex. If you are a likely reproductive loser in a Muslim society, committing suicide bombing is your ticket.

He also notes how most suicide bombers are slightly more wealthy as well as educated than the population they come from, which I have just referenced above:

Social scientists have recently noted that suicide bombers tend to be slightly more educated and wealthier than the general Muslim population from which they come (Atran, 2003; Berrebi, 2003; Krueger and Maleckova, 2003), in seeming contradiction to my suggestion here, because such men should have more reproductive opportunities on earth than their less educated and poorer competitors. Closer examination of these studies reveals, however, that they are not inconsistent with my evolutionary psychological explanation of suicide bombings. For example, a study of 129 Hezbollah shahids (martyrs), only three of whom were suicide bombers, shows that shahids are significantly more likely to have attended secondary school or higher, and significantly less likely to come from a poor family (Krueger & Maleckova, 2003, pp. 129-135). However, this is entirely because Hezbollah members are more likely to come from Beirut and South Lebanon, characterized by higher level of education and less poverty. Once the geographic origin is controlled, shahids are no more likely (albeit no less likely either) to come from privileged background. (emphasis his)

Though most Muslims don’t believe the hadiths involving 72 virgins, Kanazawa puts forth a great theory, which also goes along with what I’ve been talking about for this whole article: there is a subconscious thing in their brain, which motivates them to suicide bomb as a strategy for inclusive fitness. By doing so, they are not taking up any more resources, so their kin/co-ethnics can better use those resources in order to proliferate their genes to the next generation.

Ashkenazi Jews show the same nepotism as Arabs, but go about their goals in a different way. They are two different sides to ethnic genetic interests and genetic similarity theory, basically polar opposites. Looking into both groups’ motivations through history and learning why they do what they do shows a lot about how the world is today.

Inbreeding was introduced to the Arabs by the Jews around 200 BC near the Levant. With that much inbreeding happening for so long, this led to the aforementioned effect of lowered IQ by 2.5 to 10 points on average and increased clannishness.

Suicide bombings offer yet another window into the reality that is Ethnic Genetic interests, as well as Genetic Similarity Theory and Group-Selection. Without those drivers, suicide bombings would be less in number because a majority of suicide bombings happen to increase inclusive fitness in the group because many of the men/women are childless or terminally ill. So by stopping themselves from taking up resources, they also increase the inclusive fitness of their co-ethnics because they are not taking up any more resources. They are also eliminating their genes, which didn’t copulate more progeny to the next generation. By getting rid of genes that don’t make it to the next generation and strengthening the gene pool of those who reproduce.

Suicide bombings show yet more reasons for the existence of GST, because if they weren’t so genetically similar due to inbreeding, suicide attacks would be lessened.


1 Comment

  1. Chinedu says:

    There are Arab Christians and they don’t engage in suicide bombing.

    There are Kurdish Muslims and they don’t engage in suicide bombings

    There are Sufi Muslims and they don’t engage in suicide bombings.

    In fact even among hardcore literalist puritanical Muslims (Salafists and Wahhabists), only a very, very minuscule percentage would even consider suicide bombings. So it’s certainly not in their genes, LOL.

    Suicide bombing is strictly a socio-religious-cultural phenomenon. There were virtually no Muslim suicide bombings prior to the 1980s. Prior to that time Arabs were driven much more by nationalism than by religion.

    Yep. HBD is a joke.


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