Normal, abnormal, normal, abnormal… Is blasting yourself up and occasionally taking innocent lives with you in the process normal or not? What makes a person do things that hinder the society from faster development, such as self-destruction with special effects including explosions, minced meat, newspaper headlines, and crying faces?

To assess, whether suicide bombers are normal, we must first agree upon what “normal” means. Substituting the question with a similar one: are they sane or insane is perhaps easier to answer and could be used as a gateway to find the answer to the former question. Erich Fromm discussed in his “The Pathology of Normalcy” whether a sane person in an insane society is sane or insane. Similarly, we can ask, whether a normal person in an abnormal society is normal or abnormal. Since ‘normal’ is something that refers to the norms, to the status quo, we could conclude that anyone who deviates from the standard setting in a society is abnormal. Since most people are not suicide bombers, the bombers are deviating from norms, hence they are abnormal.

‘Normal’ is also an assessment of whether a behaviour is driven by human nature: could it be a natural response to certain situations in some specific social models?

One of the primary needs that drive people is the need to belong. Social pressure can make most people do things that are in dissonance with their selves. It makes people ignore their gut feeling that says that what one is about to do is wrong. Need to belong, need to be accepted and respected by others is a stronger force than the need of honest self-fulfillment, like Maslow has made clear in his pyramid of needs. This model reflects perfectly that if you cannot have people around you who would share the same values with you, people tend to adjust to the group and accept their values instead. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance that begins to boil in the subconsciousness enhances the need for self-fulfillment and being true to one’s nature, and that need can be easily misunderstood and translated into the language of the group norms.

Let’s improve the equation with brainwash that, at least, according to my availability heuristics, seems to always be present. The majority of the suicide bombers that I have heard of have been related to Islam in one or another way, either by having grown up with the religion or with the biased knowledge that I, too, share. We keep hearing that most terrorists are Muslim, hence a Muslim person will be more prone to go become a suicide bomber, just because people have the subconscious tendency to fulfill expectations as Ariely and Rosenthal have shown in their studies. What happened in Norway and Paris illustrates this tendency related to availability: after stopping covering suicides in the news, suicide rates dropped.

Now, if one gets connected to a radical group who welcomes the ‘lost soul’ with open arms, he feels he belongs. He’s subconsciousness has been immersed with accounts of suicide bombers and tales of fulfilling his purpose on Earth by getting closer to some higher form of meaning, and blowing himself up would be one of the ways. His probability to go with the flow and do it is higher. He is following a path, he is escaping from bigger questions. I’d say it’s a normal way for a person to behave. Whether we should judge it is another question.

Suicide bombers are sad people who haven’t fulfilled their life’s purpose. It’s normal for people to seek for it, after seeking for acceptance. If the group’s pressure favours one’s path towards the wish to split in half in public with special effects, it becomes a normal thing to do for the individual. It is normal that social pressure, brainwash and cognitive dissonance make people do abnormal things. That, however, doesn’t make the act something normal nor acceptable.


This piece is an essay written in English class today, with minimal improvements.

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