An Economist Looks at Suicide Terrorism


Mark Harrison

Published: September 2006


Suicide terrorism has an economic aspect. The organisation of a suicide mission requires an incentive, a voluntary transaction, and a contract that is enforceable by the parties to it. A terrorist faction that competes for power in a community that is both oppressed and oppressive provides young people with an incentive to invest in an identity that is rendered more valuable by death. Suicide attacks are then the outcome of a voluntary agreement between the faction and the young person to trade life for identity. The institution of the “living martyr” renders the agreement privately enforceable. Thus, suicide terrorism is the outcome of an individual rational choice. There are some implications for counter-measures.



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