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Mapping the Minds of Suicide Bombers using Linguistic Methods: The Corpus of Palestinian Suicide Bombers' Farewell Letters (CoPSBFL)

Pathways to radicalisationRadicalisationRegionsWorld

Studies in Conflict and TerrorismJournal abstract

This study proposes a novel methodology for the study of the mindset, motives, and cognitive style of individual suicide bombers in Israel/ Palestine, based on a comprehensive corpus of personal farewell letters (which also serve as last wills) that were written by suicide bombers to their family during the Second Intifada (2000–2006). To avoid privileging certain a priori sentiments, motivations, or concepts over others, I used a programmatic “bottom-up” sequence of quantitative psycholinguistic procedures, in which prominent themes or concepts from one level of analysis are further qualified and contextualized in the next. This afforded a minimally biased view of the cognitive content of Palestinian suicide bombers, including the sentiments, motivations, and concepts that they were more preoccupied with, and the context in which these ideas were expressed. The results are largely consistent with theories of political violence that place pro-social sentiments at the forefront of the motivations for suicide terrorism, and paramount to antisocial sentiments such as hatred and revenge. Since the linguistic patterns that were uncovered in this analysis cannot be controlled consciously, and the farewell letters of suicide bombers have rarely been rigorously analyzed linguistically, this study may provide an unprecedented glimpse into the cognitive style and content of individual suicide bombers—a glimpse that is minimally biased by political, partisan, or sectarian preconceptions.

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