Sex, Brains and Tragedy

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'Hot for Martyrdom' headline

Another name for this talk would be "How to Make Someone Hot for Martyrdom." How many of you have heard of a part of the human brain called "the reward circuit?" It's my thesis that none of us should be turned loose on the planet without an instruction manual for this primitive mechanism, which — among other things — impels us to mate. It's also impelling bombers from Palestine and Egypt.

Consider a recent documentary called Suicide Killers by a Frenchman, who interviewed failed Palestinian suicide bombers. These "would-be explosives" are usually young…and celibate, thanks to fundamentalist Islam. They repeatedly cite "marriage in heaven" as a chief motivation for their annihilation. Upon martyrdom they are promised 72 virgins, or, if female, they will become one of those highly-desirable, sacred beauties. Local newspapers report bomber's suicides as "marriages." Even their parents affirm that "better marriage" is one reason they are happy for their dead children — and quite willing to sacrifice their brothers and sisters so they can find the same happiness.

Entire speech in PDF format with images

Remarks delivered December 11, 2006 at NATO Advanced Research Workshop, Cambridge, England: "Suicide Bombers - the psychological, religious and other imperatives"