Most rural Pakistanis think suicide bombers are abnormal

Published: May 30, 2011
Parents, politicians, even Pakistani culture blamed for the rise of terrorism in the country.

Parents, politicians, even Pakistani culture blamed for the rise of terrorism in the country.


Even though they attribute many rational causes for the anger and frustrations felt by terrorists, most people in rural Pakistan appear to believe that suicide bombers are mentally handicapped, according to a study of rural attitudes conducted by the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.

According to Dr Sana Butt of the department of rural sociology at the university, more than 42% of the respondents to her survey strongly agreed with the statement: ‘Suicide attackers are abnormal in some way or mentally disturbed’, and a vast majority agreed with it.

The results of the survey are part of a study that Butt conducted titled ‘perception of rural people about suicide bombings in the context of socio-cultural ideology’.

The survey interviewed over 10,000 people in rural areas in Pakistan. Over 98% of the respondents were Muslim, and over 89% were Sunni. The survey seems to have been skewed towards younger people, with over 54% of respondents being between the ages of 18 and 28. It was also skewed towards better educated respondents, since over half of them had completed at least 10 years of schooling.

In other ways, though, the respondents seemed to be a representative sample. Over 66% lived in a household with between five and eight people, close to the Pakistani average of seven. And nearly 63% live in a joint-family system.

Over 93% of the respondents were opposed to suicide bombings, though significant majorities attributed the causes to things like social and political injustices, and even family circumstances such as overly strict parents or the household income.

About the same percentage (93%) of respondents blamed the parents of bombers for their upbringing and attitudes that result in their children becoming terrorists. Nearly 81% of those surveyed believe that suicide bombers are motivated by the demands of the movement they belong to (though it is not clear whether the respondents themselves knew what those demands were.) At least 64% thought that social status of the bomber was a determining factor in a person choosing to become a terrorist. About 53% thought that most suicide bombers were poor. A similar percentage believed they lacked formal education. Yet, 54% of respondents also thought that educated people are involved in suicide bombings at least in some capacity. And the same percentage believed that peer pressure was also to blame for people becoming terrorists.

Over 71% of those surveyed believe that parental strictness motivated people to become suicide bombers, perhaps reflecting changing attitudes about the degree to which parents should be allowed to make decisions on their children’s behalf.

An overwhelming majority (79%) believe that economic conditions create the conditions for suicide bombing, while about the same proportion (78%) believe that government ineffectiveness contributes to terrorism as well.

Interestingly, about 37% of those surveyed blamed Pakistani culture for being tolerant, or even promoting, suicide bombings. A much higher 75% blamed political leaders for instigating terrorist activity.

The survey findings suggest a nuanced, if somewhat confused, understanding of the causes of terrorism amongst rural Pakistan. Perhaps critically from the perspective of policy makers, it suggests that support for violent radicalism is still minimal. Yet, as Dr Butt pointed out, responsibility for eradicating terrorism does not lie with the government alone.

“The government alone cannot do anything against terrorist activities occurring in Pakistan,” she said. “Each and every Pakistani should try to resist terror activity by helping the police and counter-terrorism officials.”

Dr Butt, however, did not absolve the government responsibility, arguing that a concerted effort needs to be made to remove a sense of deprivation from the population, to increase respect for human rights and to end a culture of guns that allows for easy access to weapons.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • jagjit sidhoo
    May 30, 2011 - 9:54AM

    Rural folk have an earthy wisdom . They value life more they know how difficult it is to put life into crops so deliberately loosing a child who you have loved and looked after for 20 odd yrs is unthinkable.Recommend

  • Siraj Ahsan
    May 30, 2011 - 10:01AM

    Terrorism and extremism is plaguing middle class and that is the problem with the society.Recommend

  • Rabnawaz
    May 30, 2011 - 11:22AM

    good storyRecommend

  • Tasawar Abbas
    May 30, 2011 - 11:24AM

    nice storyRecommend

  • muhammad jehanzeb
    May 30, 2011 - 11:42AM

    suicide bombers are not created because of mental illness or poverty or unemployment.We should stop living in denial & gather the courage to call a spade a spade.Suicide bombers,mumtaz qadris are created due to religious fundamentalism,because they are promised 72 virgins in the afterlife for killing people,because they are promised a place in heaven for killing non-muslims & blasphemers.

    Religious fundamentlism is the problem,we should stop beating about the bush & face upto reality.The problem lies in our madrassas,in our mazhabi jamatein.Recommend

  • May 30, 2011 - 2:01PM

    Why they dont check the body for drugs in his system or world revolve around media trials?Recommend

  • Ali Kazmi
    May 30, 2011 - 4:48PM

    Research shows that poverty, insanity and religion too have very little or even nothing to do with terrorism and suicide bombing. People turn to terrorism because they have serious political grievances.

    To eliminate terrorism in Pakistan, you’d have to hold the army accountable for all the injustices it continues to perpetrate against the people of Pakistan and grant people their inalienable rights. Peace and prosperity quickly follow the protection of inalienable individual rights.Recommend

  • May 30, 2011 - 6:11PM

    @Ali Kazmi:
    Fear is the best discipline tool authority has to control masses. Remember childhood we were scared by the parents, teachers, professors, now bankers, politicians, imperialists.Recommend

  • Tahir Khan
    May 31, 2011 - 3:02AM

    Mohammad Jehanzeb….What a flawed argument. I am a muslim and I am also promised 72 virgins but I will never be a terrorist even if you choose to become one.

    Please dont blame it on Islam…just blame it on the wrong -doer. If a suicide bomber has just read surah Maidah…and understands it He will never do so. The problem my dear is ignorance of religion.Recommend

  • ALi Sajjad
    May 31, 2011 - 3:23PM

    Dr Sana’s survey misses out some basics…there is no mention of any stats about suicide attacks before american attack in Afghanistan, there is no mention of, if any, increase in the rate of suicide attacks in Pakistan after the rate of drones increased…
    in a country where a large segment of the middle class is influenced by Fundamentalist pro military Jamat e Islami and the emerging clean shaved Maulana Imran Khan, it is amazing for me to see the rural population believes in what is mention in Dr Sana’s work…it not just amazing to see its rather hard to believe too…
    the most popular public sentiment in Pakistan is ‘Amrica Murdabad’, considering the current scenario of pakistan where no political party can cater ideally to this slogan i feel people are increasingly viewing the militant islamist organizations as an alternative…this push is complimented by the economic turmoil…recently a report stated that the thousands of loom workers in Faisalabad are being recruited by the Banned Sipah e Sahaba…i can not comment on the authenticity of the claim but it is highly possible…all im trying t say is that librel bourgeois argument viewing fundamentalism as an independent phenomenon lacks rationality and is unscientific…Recommend

  • mussarat Hussain
    Jun 1, 2011 - 7:31AM

    It is surprising that “abnormal” sucide bombers are targeting diplomatic enclaves, NATO tankers, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, journnalists, Data Darbar, Imambargahs, killing Ahmedis, Christian and Shiite minorities and abortive attempt on Times Sqaure and Russian Theatre, London Sub-ways and other prime targets.

    Besides, attacking of “Mehran” base in Karachi by a group of “abnormals”, most recently.

    If theyare real “abnormal” why don’t they target their “mentors” who showed them road that leads to hell.

    Those declaring them “abnormals”, in my view, should be examined thoroughly by a licensed
    psychiatric who specialises in “Mental Trauma Disorder”.

    If “abnormals” can play havoc then what about “Normals”.?


  • mussarat Hussain
    Jun 1, 2011 - 7:37AM

    @ALi Sajjad:

    Dear Ali Sajjad, If we assume your notion for the time that a large volume of work force of loom industry in faisalabad recruited by the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the question is wherefrom SSP is getting funds?.

    Very good question, an extensive research is needed to find as to which country supported SSP during the bleak era of one-eyed dictator Zia ul haq. You know what I mean Sir?


  • mussarat Hussain
    Jun 1, 2011 - 7:41AM

    @ALi Sajjad:

    Yet another very good point.

    Maulana Imran Khan. It is useless to spoil precious time in discussing “Maulana Imran Khan”.

    Aur Bhi Gham Hain Zamaney Mein Muhabbat ki Siwa. (Although Muhabbat is “Haram” in the dictionaries of Maulanas, they have many other alternatives for killing time).

    God Bless Pakistan, Amen, Summa Amen.


  • Jun 4, 2011 - 5:56PM

    I do commend and congratulate Dr Sana Butt research on ‘perception of rural people about suicide bombings in the context of socio-cultural ideology’.Recommend

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