In SUMMARY, I identified the following ISSUES in Lankford's book:
(1) A CONVENIENCE SAMPLE:
Lankford's sample of about 130 suicide terrorists is a "convenience" or "opportunity" sample that cannot be used to extrapolate generalizations about the general population of suicide terrorists. Every basic statistics student knows this. For example, regarding convenience sampling, W. Lawrence Neuman's "Basics of Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches" (CR 2012) states:
"Unfortunately,[convenience sampling] often produces very nonrepresentative samples. It is not recommended if you want to create an accurate sample to represent the population" (p.147).
Yet, Lankford continues to conjecture on the main population of suicide terrorists from his unrepresentative sample, and says that they are mainly psychologically abnormal. This is a violation of basic statistics and a reliance on faith over meaningful statistical extrapolation. Had Lankford used a random sample, for example, his conclusions would have been taken more seriously if the results demonstrated this.
(2) DOUBLE COUNTING?:
The sample may have double-counted some suicide terrorists, as stated by Lankford in his own words in footnote-61, Chapter-3:
"All efforts have been made to reduce the chances of redundancy. However, since some of these individuals are not identified by name, it is possible that a few cases appear on this list more than once" (p.208).
This means we don't know how many suicide terrorists really are in Lankford's unrepresentative sample. There may be far less than 130.
(3) UNIDENTIFIED SUICIDE ATTACKERS:
When I read the list of suicide terrorists in Appendix- A (p.177), I counted the following:
*10 unidentified males,
*8 unidentified females,
*1 unidentified sixteen-year-old boy,
*5 multiple unidentified attackers (stated 5 times, each with multiple attackers),
*Multiple teenage boys stated one time (with names unknown).
According to the above, at least 30 suicide terrorists from Lankford's sample are unidentified. Lankford fails to mention these details in his book. Following from the previous point, such ambiguity makes for a less serious sample. Nobody knows if these attackers really existed or not, and it is easy to manufacture evidence in view of such ambiguity.
(4) LISTING SUICIDE ATTACKERS WHO DID NOT COMMIT SUICIDE:
It is curious why Lankford lists Mir Aimal Kasi as a suicide terrorist. After killing CIA staff in 1993, Kasi fled to Pakistan, was later found, and executed in 2002 by the US government. He never attempted suicide. Why did Lankford label Kasi as a suicide terrorist?
In summary, the SAMPLE PROBLEMS are:
*Non-probability sampling (convenience sampling): Using an unrepresentative sample to generalize about the main population of suicide terrorists (violation of basic statistics);
*Undetermined/unidentified names and number of suicide terrorists in the unrepresentative sample due to possibility of double (or more) counting;
*Gaps in an already unrepresentative sample make the sample even less convincing and prone to fabricated data;
*List of 'suicide terrorists' in the sample has names of people who did NOT commit suicide, i.e. Mir Aimal Kasi. How many non-suicidal terrorists like Kasi have been listed as "suicide terrorists" by Lankford in his unrepresentative sample?
(5)SUICIDAL TRAITS TO SUICIDE LINK:
Lankford's risk assessment of Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers is mainly based on soft indicators like hopelessness, guilt and shame, etc. which are common to millions of people, therefore rendering them almost meaningless in differentiating between those who are likely to commit suicide from those who are not. Stronger indicators (like past suicide attempts) is virtually absent in Lankford's analysis and risk assessment. His "psychological autopsies" and conclusions are therefore highly subject to false positives. Also, the "evidence" Lankford uses can yield opposite conclusions.
(6) CRITICIZING SCHOLARS:
Lankford criticizes many scholars, including Robert Pape. He accused Pape of ignoring the suicidal dimension of terrorists, whereas Pape concluded from his research that, "the data shows less than 5 percent of suicide attackers experience major depression associated with ordinary suicide." Lankford misrepresents the scholars he criticizes. Lankford is also unable to explain one of Pape's interesting findings:
"While mental illness and ordinary suicides occur in every country at fairly constant rates, suicide attacks are highly concentrated in specific areas of foreign occupation - typically starting when the occupation begins and sharply declining when it ends - patterns that strongly refute mental illness as a major cause as they confirm the main findings of Cutting the Fuse."
According to Lankford's logic, this should mean that leaving occupation decreases mental abnormalities in the population. Yet, Lankford needs evidence to illustrate this. He provides no evidence. Lankford has also not examined Pape's sample. Therefore, he cannot know if he is correct or not. Yet, Lankford claims that Pape is incorrect.
(7) SUBJECTIVE REASONING:
Lankford forms subjective understandings of terms from which he bases his analyses. While saying that "heroism" cannot be attributed to anyone who kills, including suicide terrorists, he fails to mention how other scholars differed. David Lester, for example, used Zimbardo's definition of "hero" and said: "It all depends on your definition of a hero. In my note, I use Zimbardo's, and I reckon that some suicide bombers could fit his definition." Using this understanding, there need not be a "myth of martyrdom" or myth of heroism.
(8) CONTRADICTING HIMSELF:
Lankford says not to believe the words of terrorists at face value, yet forms some of his understandings based on their statements. For example, he says,
"By definition, this...means that their attacks cannot be considered a true `sacrifice,' because the suicide terrorists are not forfeiting `something highly valued.' Even according to their own statements, they are trading something they put low value on (their lives in this transient, unhappy, and corrupt world) for something they value highly (heaven and paradise). There is nothing noble or brave about that kind of bargain" (p.8).
Even according to their own statements? I thought their statements should not be taken at face value. Lankford uses them only when it suits his perspective.
(9) ODD STATEMENTS (Three examples):
(a) Lankford classifies "conventional," "coerced," "escapist," and "indirect" people who kill themselves as "suicide terrorists" (p.130). Yet, most or many terrorism experts relate such violence to mainly political goals. Lankford's definition seems to entrap many suicidal people with the "terrorist" label and contradict the definitions of terrorism held by most experts. Even members of the Jim Jones cult who drank poison are classified as "terrorists"!
(b) Lankford uses social stigmas and Islam in the Arab region as negative influences that force people to commit suicide. This, in spite of the fact that the social and religious norms can act as positive influences and minimize the probability of suicide terrorism. See, for example, the work of Ziad Kronfol, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, who discusses this. This paints an incomplete and distorted picture of Arabs and their culture, and omits the effects/nuances of multiple variables on human behavior.
(c) Lankford says: "The raw materials for prolonged suicide terrorism campaigns are virtually all here. In the United States, approximately thirty-four thousand people commit suicide each year. So there is plenty of suicidal intent to harness, along with tens of thousands of people who could be coerced into becoming suicidal" (p.166). This is alarmism. Lankford does not explain how thousands of Americans can be coerced into becoming suicidal.
(10) NO NEW AND CONVINCING RECOMMENDATIONS:
Most recommendations have already been stated by countless scholars before him, and can be included in recommendations to counter terrorism in general. Lankford has too much faith in Matthew Nock's five-minute computer test, which can detect individuals who have attempted suicide in the past, and predict which individuals are likely to commit suicide within six months (p.171). While praising this technology, Lankford stretches its utility by saying, "This could be an incredibly powerful security screening tool for identifying anyone who is contemplating a suicide attack" (p.172). But predicting suicide and predicting suicide attacks are two different matters -- not the same!
Lankford's assessment is limited to the psychiatric realm without offering an equally substantial treatment of other possible causes of suicide.It is surprising that the effects of military occupation, befriending of regimes with poor human rights records, and poor economic growth and prosperity in certain majority Muslim regions have little to no consideration in Lankford's analysis of suicide terrorism. Neither does religion and ideology. A more detailed analysis of social-cultural factors is also missing. This makes Lankford's analysis incomplete and his conclusions premature.
-BIGGEST FAILURE - THE SAMPLE:
Lankford extrapolates premature generalizations of suicide terrorists from a small, unrepresentative sample of some 130(?) or so suicide terrorists. This can lead to an incorrect understanding of the motivations of most suicide terrorists, as well as of effective ways to counter them. Moreover, it can also absolve those terrorists who commit premeditated acts of violence to maim and murder by labeling them psychologically unstable.
It is recommended that Lankford's conclusions not be accepted at this time until further research determines otherwise. While a segment of suicide terrorists is indeed psychologically deranged, the overwhelming majority of studies by other scholars do not support Lankford's conclusions that many or most suicide terrorists are suicidal due to abnormal psychology.
[See my complete review of Lankford's book in the new issue of the Perspectives on Terrorism journal (Vol.7; No.1; 2013), available at "terrorismanalysts-dot-com"]