Suicide bombers--or, what happened to Mohammed Bouyeri?
First of all, I don't think that suicide bombing represents the collapse of civilization, a moral low for the human race, or even a new tactic. As horrific as it appears to those of us who could never picture ourselves doing something similar, it is an effective and destructive means of making one's point. But history is full of examples of brutal violence--read about the practice of kamikaze here--and if we just chalk these acts up to some nice metaphysical term like 'immorality' or 'blind hatred,' we will completely fail to understand them.
I suppose the extreme conservative reason for the current wave of bombings, from 9/11 to the ongoing Iraqi and Palestian insurgencies, is that the bombers hate our freedom and prosperity; conversely, the extreme liberal reason would be something about how American hegemony has oppressed them and they have nowhere else to turn. Neither of these explanations is satisfactory, because they don't take any psychological factors into account.
While most of today's suicide bombers are young Islamic men, that is as far as you are going to get demographically. They're not necessarily poor, they're not necessarily uneducated, and they probably believe that they are carrying out their mission for a plurality of factors: money, respect, pride, war, loyalty, anger, protest, etc. For example, you can read about Theo Van Gogh's killer here. He was an upstanding, middle class member of his community until he was taken in by a radical mosque:
"Mohammed was never a hangabout. On the contrary, he had a good high-school education, and was known to his teachers as a promising young man. He was, as they say in the neighborhood, a positivo, who would surely make it in Dutch society. Not just ambitious for himself, Mohammed was always helping out troubled Moroccan kids, making plans for a youth program at his old school, and writing uplifting articles for a neighborhood bulletin. He was someone who could talk to city councillors and social workers. He knew his way around the intricate byways of Holland’s generous welfare system, where applying for subsidies is an essential skill. Things didn’t quite work out as Mohammed had hoped, however. A subsidy for a community center he’d been lobbying for was turned down. A promised renovation scheme for public housing never materialized. His mother’s death came as a shock. That year, Mohammed abandoned his studies in social work, went on welfare, and behaved in ways that were increasingly odd. In a meeting with community officials, he loudly proclaimed that Allah was the only God. He gave up alcohol, prayed all the time, refused to shake hands with women, and drifted to a fundamentalist mosque, El Tawheed." (Bold mine.)
What we forget is that behind every suicide bomber is a comfortable, powerful, well-fed, influential, angry Islamic cleric actively touting suicide or murder as an attractive option. One never sees a turban-wearing, serious-looking older gentleman carrying out such a mission: the mullahs are content to hold court from their mosques, and remain the engine driving the destruction from behind the scenes. The suicide bombers are just a weapon being cleverly manipulated and wielded effectively. Whether or not what they do takes some amount of courage is utterly irrelevant. The clerics are the real cowards, hidden behind robes and fiery speeches and comfortable ensconced in mosques and palaces.
We need to shift our focus in order to understand this crisis. Until Frenchmen start blowing up American malls, 'hatred of America' is an inadequate explanation.