Marriage can curb terrorism, BYU professor says

Published: Thursday, April 1 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

PROVO — Real men don't blow themselves up.

In fact, Islamic men who are husbands and fathers are the least likely terrorists, according to a new study by professors at Baylor University and BYU.

"It is exceedingly difficult to convince a married Muslim man with at least one healthy young son still in need of his protection to commit suicide," according to the paper, "Sex and the Shaheed," published by political scientists Bradley Thayer of Baylor University and Valerie Hudson of BYU. "That father will not want to fail his obligations as a Muslim man."

The new study, published in International Security, points out that nearly all suicide bombers are single men, considered by society to be "reproductive losers."

Rising dowry costs, polygyny and in some cases physical abnormalities are pushing these single men to become shaheeds, or martyrs for Allah, as a way to secure honor and reproductive prospects in the next life.

Shaheeds are promised forgiveness of sins, a place in paradise, 72 beautiful-eyed young virgins and jewels to adorn their crown, the article explains.

They will also be spared the torments of the tomb and the Day of Judgment, according to Islamic scripture.

In March 2004, a 16-year-old failed suicide bomber told Israeli intelligence officials he had been mocked at school for his dwarfism and was tempted by the promise of sexual relations with virgins in paradise, according to the article.

Men also become shaheeds because their death brings in money from terrorist organizations, which their family can then use for the dowry of another child.

In Afghanistan, the average wedding costs $12,000 to $20,000, and families of young adult males in Egypt often save for seven years to pay for a wedding.

For a third or fourth son, there may be no money left for a dowry, Hudson explained. Thus he is unable to officially become a man as the head of a household and is racked with feelings of emasculation and humiliation.

"You get an appreciation for how desperate these individuals are," Thayer said. "If you put yourself in their shoes ... they are individuals who think that people are going to be better off ... when they're gone."

Some governments have stepped in to help reduce or subsidize wedding costs, such as Egypt, where they hold mass weddings in stadiums, and Iran's "love fund," which pays dowry costs of its soldiers, Hudson said.

"I had no idea how attentive, not just nations, but also terrorist groups, were to whether their young men were married or not," Hudson said. "These leaders of terrorist organizations understand that marriage and family make a difference in the terms of the behavior of their adherents."

In the 1970s, the Palestine Liberation Organization encouraged its members to marry, trying to tone down the more extreme Black September organization.

"When the men married, and especially when they had sons, their militancy waned dramatically," the article explains.

"We see this (research) really as only one arrow in a quiver, really, of ways to combat the problem of terrorism," Thayer said.

Recommendations from the article include promoting women's rights in Muslim countries, which lessens the divide between men and women and reduces emotions like dishonor and emasculation, which can lead men to become suicide terrorists.

Government-controlled dowry costs, establishment of democratic, liberal governments and publishing anti-terrorism messages focusing on the shameful, dishonorable path of the terrorist are also crucial.

"This is the useful element that academics are able to do," Thayer said, "Call attention to this, recognize a problem and identify a solution that individuals had not identified before."

For more information visit belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/project/58/quarterly_journal.html.

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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