“Can you identify for me a suicidal terrorist that was not a Muslim?” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked at a Congressional hearing on refugees, which took place on Thursday. The question was met with audible exasperation from those in the room.
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez, to whom the question was posed, was left speechless for a moment.
“I’m not even going to answer that question Congressman,” he said.
After further questioning from King, he added, “What I can say is that we do our job, and if terrorists are attempting to gain admission to the United States, then we do our job to prevent them.”
Rodriguez didn’t see it fit to get into the history, but there have, of course, been suicidal terrorists who are not Muslim. While it’s true that the majority of organizations that promote suicide attacks are Islamist, their motivations tend to be more political than religious.
According to University of Chicago political science professor Robert A. Pape. who has extensively researched the issue, “[S]uicide terrorism follows a strategic logic, one specifically designed to coerce modern liberal democracies to make significant territorial concessions.”
Terrorists of various religious persuasions have used the tactic to their own ends.
“It is my lot to die young,” Ignaty Grinevitsky wrote before he attacked and killed Tsar Alexander II outside of his palace in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1881. “I shall not see our victory, I shall not live one day, one hour in the bright season of our triumphs, but I believe that with my death I shall do all that it is my duty to do, and no one in the world can demand more of me.”
Grinevitsky dropped a bomb at the feet of the 62-year-old Russian emperor. In doing so, the left-wing terrorist became the world’s first “truly infamous as a suicide bomber,” according to Henry Dodd, an international security expert.
Called by the “masters of suicide bombing,” separatist fighters in Sri Lanka known as the Tamil Tigers made frequent use of the tactic after their first attack in 1987. Forty soldiers were killed when a fighter known as Captain Millar rammed a truck full of explosives into an army camp in Nelliaddy, a town in northern Sri Lanka. The group carried out about 220 suicide bombings over the course of the next 15 years. Notably, the Tamil Tigers carried out the only suicide assassination of a sitting president.
The Tigers were not motivated by religion, but rather by a desire for autonomy from the Sinhalese majority that dominates the South Asian island nation. The group, which is primarily Hindu, was actually “pretty secular” according to Pape, the political scientist.
There have been several instances of Americans killing civilians in schools, churches, and in other public places before turning their guns onto themselves. Although they’ve wrought havoc and ignited terror, few of these attacks have been classified as terrorism due, in part, to the reasoning that the perpetrators were not part of terrorist organizations.
Some advocates have argued that the description of terrorism used in by law enforcement is a hypocritical one that focuses more on the perpetrators than the crime. Were this not the case, then perhaps shooters like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who unleashed a bloody rampage on Columbine High School before killing themselves might be considered terrorists.