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Sacrifice, Martyrdom, Scapegoating, Suicide and Terrorism
Definitions, Differentiations and Resources

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

For a personal essay on sacrifice, click here.

To cite this page: Zur, O. (2013). Sacrifice, Martyrdom, Scapegoating, Suicide and Terrorism: Definitions, Differentiations and Resources. Retrieved month/day/year from


Terms like sacrifice, martyrdom, scapegoating, terrorism and suicide have been misunderstood, misrepresented and erroneously used interchangeably. This paper defines, explains and differentiates among these terms with emphasis on the psychological aspects of these constructs. Additional resources for each of the five topics are included, and a collection of quotes from a variety of resources on the different topics is presented.

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Sacrifice (from a Middle English verb meaning 'to make sacred', from Old French, from Latin sacrificium: sacer, sacred; sacred + facere, to make) is commonly known as the practice of offering food, or the lives of animals or people to the gods, as an act of propitiation or worship. The term is also used metaphorically to describe selfless good deeds for others.
    Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Sacrifice is derived from the Latin word "sacrificium." It is a combination of the words "sacer," which means something set apart from the secular or profane for the use of supernatural powers, and "facere," which means "to make." In other words, sacrifice means to make something holy or pure in worship of the divine.

Humans have sacrificed the life and blood of their own species. They have also sacrificed animals and animals' blood, crops, such as flowers or rice, wine and honey, and many other symbolic offerings. Acts of sacrifice, such as dedicating one's life to God, becoming a monk, priest, nun, or missionary, or fasting or declaring celibacy were also part of religious-spiritual sacrifice. Sacrifice, in its original meaning, is a ritual whose purpose is to establish or sustain a proper relationship with God, gods, or spirits. It is often performed to bring good fortune or to appease divine wrath kindled by an individual's or humanity's transgressions. In the Christian tradition a sacrifice is the offering of an object by a priest to God alone, and the consuming of it to acknowledge that He is the Creator and Lord of all things. Jesus made the ultimate self-sacrifice. He, the "Son of God," allowed himself to be crucified for the sake of humanity's eternal salvation and redemption from sin.

The more modern and secular interpretation of sacrifice is the giving up of something valuable or important for somebody or something else considered to be of more value or importance. Along these lines millions of veterans have been willing to sacrifice their lives in war in order to defend their country, people, freedom or God. And, uncomfortable as it may be to say it, the Iraqi and Palestinian suicide bombers and the vicious 9/11 terrorists sacrificed their lives in order to harm their enemy by inflicting death and destruction but, above all, for the purpose of instilling fear, vulnerability and uncertainty in the hearts of the enemy. Sacrifice, indeed, has many faces. Sacrifice can be holy or profane, conscious or unconscious, personal or universal, and carefully crafted or utterly blind.

Sacrifice has been carried out by many people in different roles and positions. Millions of compliant parents throughout man's evolution have sacrificed their sons through programming and expecting them to risk and, if necessary, sacrifice their lives for the safety and security of the family, clan, tribe, nation, empire and/or God. Traditionally, there has been great pride in having a hero – even a dead hero - for a son, husband or father.

While many more children were sacrificed by parents in wars than parents who sacrificed themselves for their children, we are more comfortable with the concept of parents sacrificing themselves to save their children. In nature we have the archetypal example in the mother Killdeer bird that pretends to be distressed or to have a broken wing in order to decoy predators away from the nest and thus save her vulnerable young. The movie, Life is Beautiful, gives an almost mythological illustration of a father who sacrifices his life to save his son's.

Sacrificial drama has been a recurring theme in Greco-Judaeo-Christian mythology and tradition. Medea killed her children rather them let them die ignominiously at the hands of King Creon, who sought to revenge himself on her. According to the Old Testament account, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in order to prove to God his devotion through obedience. Also according to the Old Testament, Jephthah sacrificed his daughter in return for God's leading him to military victory. In order to avoid a double abomination, Oedipus's parents left him on a hillside to die when he was an infant because the oracle at Delphi had predicted that when he reached maturity, he would kill his father and marry his mother. Many other folk stories describe parents' and stepparents' readiness to kill their children and stepchildren for a cause. Agamemnon of Mycenae sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, at Aulis where he slew her on the temple altar in order to turn the wind so his troops could depart after the fall of Troy.

Sacrifice was manifested in the Greek mythology of Medea. Psychoanalysts have studied what they call, the Medea Complex, which is the mirror image of the Oedipus Complex. While in the Oedipus Complex children have an unconscious wish to kill their parents, in the Medea Complex parents have an unconscious wish to kill their children. Sometimes the Medea Complex has also been called the Isaac Syndrome. Along the same lines sociologists and historians have noted that the parents, the rulers and the older generation in power have always trained young men to be willing to sacrifice their lives for a variety of causes. Some sociologists and psychologists have viewed wars as expressions of inter-generational tension. According to this view the older generation feels threatened by the younger and, to avoid being supplanted, sacrifice them in battle. Historically, it has been the kings, rulers, generals, politicians, ministers, senators, in short, the power structure, which is generally composed of people of more advanced years, who send the younger generation to war. The sociologist, Gaston Outhaul,describes wars as an effective mechanism for the older generation to dispose of the best and bravest of the new generation and thereby reduce the immediate threat from the up and coming bright and talented leaders. These well-indoctrinated, idealistic young men fulfill the mandate of purity and wholeness that traditionally has been required of the sacrificial victim. This dynamic was most apparent in the Vietnam era when the older (parent) generation was deeply disappointed and outraged that many of their draft-aged sons were reluctant to participate in that senseless war. The statistics that wars erupt on an average of every 25 years gives credence to this generational-sacrifice theory and the view of war as ritual infanticide.

Dr. Richard Koenigsberg, who has written extensively on war systems and sacrifice, states:

The destruction of life and property that occurred on such a vast scale during the Twentieth Century cannot be explained in conventional economic and political terms. To understand these events, we begin by acknowledging that the historical process is governed by profoundly irrational forces.

In phrases like "the individual must die so that the nation might live" the nation-state is reified, treated not as an idea or social construction, but as if an object that substantially exists. According to the ideology contained within this phrase, countries exist as entities in their own right, separate and distinct from individuals residing within them. So pervasive is the ideology of nationalism that one must remind oneself when speaking of "France," "Germany" or "America" that these words refer to ideas or concepts created by human beings rather than to concrete objects that actually exist. To make a statement like "The individual must die so that the nation might live" is to suggest that countries are living creatures, the preservation of which is more significant or valuable than the preservation of actual human lives.

In war, actual human bodies are sacrificed in the name of perpetuating a magical entity, the body politic. Sacrificial acts function to affirm the reality or existence of this sacred object, the nation. Entering into battle may be characterized as a devotional act, with death in war constituting the supreme act of devotion.

For the soldier, willingness to enter battle-and if necessary to die-expresses the depth of his devotion to his nation. One may characterize entering battle as a "pledge of allegiance" in its most radical form.
    From: Koenigsberg, R.: The Sacrificial Meaning of Warfare

Resources on Sacrifice:

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Historically, a martyr is a person who dies for their convictions or religious faith, such as during the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire. Sometimes the term is applied to those who use violence, such as dying for a nation's glory during wartime (usually known under other names such as "fallen warriors"). The death of a martyr is called martyrdom.
    Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Martyrdom is different from sacrifice and suicide. The word "martyrdom" itself comes from the Greek martyrs, the earliest meaning of which was "eyewitness." Martyrdom, in modern times, is grounded in profound religious faith. Martyrs are willing to die, to sacrifice their lives in this world, in order to be assured a place in the next world and a guarantee that they will not be condemned to hell. Heaven's Gate "new age monks" in California believed they must give up on their earthly bodies in order to join an alien society somewhere in the universe. Recently published reports from the martyrs' recruitment camps (see Daniel Pipes' article, "Arafat's Suicide Factory," in the New York Post,December 9, 2001) revealed that suicide bombers in Palestine are screened first and foremost for the strength of their Islamic fundamental beliefs. Those who are chosen have a deep desire to join Allah and Muhammad in heaven. An interesting element of the recruitment of suicide terrorists is that those who are motivated primarily by hate and revenge are eliminated. They are replaced by those who evince a positive devotion to the Koran and Allah rather than those who are consumed with rage and the desire to punish Israel and/or the U.S.A. According to the same article, a camp instructor explained that,"…we do not take depressed people. If there were a one-in-a-thousand chance that a person was suicidal, we would not allow him to martyr himself. In order to be a martyr-bomber, you have to want to live." The same obscure logic applies for Hamas, which rejects anyone "who commits suicide because he hates the world." This logic, apparently, works as "hordes of young men" clamor to be sent to their own obliteration. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have established a process of selection conducted through the mosques, where "a notably zealous youth" ready for martyrdom is noted by the clerics who then recommend him for selection. Those who make the cut enter a protracted, highly supervised and disciplined regimen of spiritual studies and semi-military training. These devotees are taught to see suicide operations as a way to "open the door to Paradise" for themselves and their families. "I love martyrdom," says one such "martyr-to-be."

Dr. Fields, the author of Martyrdom: The Psychology, Theology, and Politics of Self-Sacrifice wrote on Martyrdom:

The idea of martyrdom never had a name in Hebrew or Aramaic. Instead it derives from the Greek, mytros or witness. The early Christians, who were tortured to death for their witnessing for Christ, became the martyrs memorialized on icons. These iconic images proved a powerful attraction both for group memory and for exciting new adherents or followers.

Islam adopted the martyrdom image despite he fact that they eschewed graven images of human beings. But the grandson of Mohammed who stated that it is better to die in dignity than to live in humiliation became the iconic figure for Shia Islam. Those who die on the path to Allah become martyrs in Islam. Similarly, Pope Urban II recruiting for the Crusades promised that all who died in the reclamation of the Holy Land from the infidels would be forgiven all venal sins and ascend immediately to Heaven (paradise). There is historical precedent on all sides.

Twenty one hundred years after the first age of martyrdom, we find ourselves living in the age of trauma, torture and terrorism. In the twenty-first century, these fused into the phenomenon that secularists had consigned to a pre-modern age-martyrdom. This concept, essentially religious, changed from religious to secular or nationalist martyrdom at the time of the French Revolution when the divine sovereignty of the king was replaced by, "our Lord mankind."
    Fields, 2005, p. 1

In her book Martyrdom, Fields writes that the terrorists are normally from privileged backgrounds and are well educated. This makes them confident in their own beliefs. The trigger for their behavior is usually that they have seen the death of a sibling, often their eldest brother, for the cause. In Jaradat's case, her brother and cousin were killed by Israeli soldiers in June.

Fields said: "They feel a need to assume the dead family member's commitment and prove themselves with a deed. The processes in the brain that choose martyrdom are in the same part of the brain that chooses altruism.

"What is interesting about the suicide bombers is their sense of calmness and love seems incongruous with the destruction and killing they are about to cause."
    Ben McConvill Scotland On Sunday

Kotre adds:

The word "martyrdom" itself comes from the Greek martys, the earliest meaning of which was "eyewitness." The Arabic shahid had the same original sense: You were there, you saw it happen and you're qualified to tell us about it. Only later did the notion of self-sacrifice come in: a "martyr" is one who will die, violently or under torture, to manifest allegiance to a religious conviction. By the time of the Reformation, that kind of faith was being placed in secular creeds as well as religious ones. Now you could die for your country or cause, and the mass media are full of reports of people who do just that.

To be a martyr, you have to choose your fate. . . Thus, Jews who died in the Holocaust were "victims" whereas Jehovah's Witnesses were "martyrs." The Witnesses had a choice: They could have left the death camps had they abjured their faith. The Arabic shahid had the same original sense: You were there, you saw it happen and you're qualified to tell us about it. Only later did the notion of self-sacrifice come in: a "martyr" is one who will die, violently or under torture, to manifest allegiance to a religious conviction. By the time of the Reformation, that kind of faith was being placed in secular creeds as well as religious ones. Now you could die for your country or cause, and the mass media are full of reports of people who do just that.
    Kotre, 2005

Pipes' 2001 New York Post acclaimed article, Arafat's Suicide Factory, regarding martyrdom and suicide bombers articulates:

Islamic Jihad, which along with Hamas trains the suicide killers, explains: "We do not take depressed people. If there were a one-in-a-thousand chance that a person was suicidal, we would not allow him to martyr himself. In order to be a martyr bomber, you have to want to live." The same strange logic applies for Hamas, which rejects anyone "who commits suicide because he hates the world."

Convincing healthy individuals to blow themselves up is obviously not easy, but requires ideas and institutions. The process begins with the Palestinian Authority (PA) inculcating two things into its population, starting with the children: a hatred of Jews and a love of death. School curricula, camp activities, TV programming and religious indoctrination all portray Israelis in a Nazi-style way, as sub-human being worthy of killing; and then deprecate the instinct for self-preservation, telling impressionable young people that sacrificing their lives is the most noble of all goals.

The system works: Hassan reports that "hordes of young men" clamor to be sent to their own obliteration. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have established a process of selection based in the mosques, where "a notably zealous youth" ready for martyrdom gets noted by clerics who recommend him for selection.

Those who make the cut enter a protracted, highly supervised, and disciplined regimen of spiritual studies and military-like training. These adepts are taught to see suicide operations as a way to "open the door to Paradise" for themselves and their families. "I love martyrdom," says one such "living martyr."
    Pipes, 2001/p>

Resources on Martyrdom:

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A scapegoat is most often referring to someone who is made to take the blame for others. It is somebody who is unjustly blamed for causing upset or distress by another person who is unwilling or unable to take personal responsibility for his or her own actions.

Scapegoating is a hostile social - psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also a practice by which angry feelings and feelings of hostility may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards others. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; he is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence. Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from "approved" enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. Distortion is always a feature.
    The Scapegoat Society (

One of the most common references to scapegoats is in the Jewish mythology where two very similar-appearing male goats were brought into the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) as part of the Holy Service of that day. The high priest cast lots for the two goats. One goat was offered as a burnt offering, as was the bull. The second goat was the scapegoat. The high priest placed his hands on the head of the goat and confessed the sins of the people of Israel. The scapegoat was led away and let go in the wilderness according to Leviticus 16:22.

In Christian theology the story of the scapegoat in Leviticus is interpreted as a symbolic prefiguration of the self-sacrifice of Jesus, who takes the sins of humanity on his own head, having been driven into the 'wilderness' outside the city by order of the high priests. Controversial Christian anthropologist René Girard has provided a reconstruction of the scapegoat theory. In Girard's view it is humankind, not God, who has the problem with violence. Humans are driven by desire for that which another has or wants. Girard calls this dynamic mimetic desire. This causes a triangulation of desire and results in conflict between the desiring parties. This mimetic contagion increases to a point where society is at risk; it is at this point that the scapegoat mechanism is triggered. This is the point where one person is singled out as the cause of the trouble and is expelled or killed by the group. This person is the scapegoat. Social order is restored as people are contented that they have solved the cause of their problems by removing the scapegoated individual, and the cycle begins again. Girard contends that this is what happened in the case of Jesus. The difference in this case, Girard believes, is that he was resurrected from the dead and shown to be innocent; humanity is thus made aware of its violent tendencies and the cycle is broken. Satan, who is seen to be manifested in the contagion, is cast out. Thus Girard's work is significant as a re-construction of the Christus Victor atonement theory. (Wikipedia Encyclopedia)

In scapegoating, feelings of guilt, aggression, blame and suffering are transferred away from a person or group so as to fulfill an unconscious drive to resolve or avoid such bad feelings. This is done by the displacement of responsibility and blame to another who serves as a target for blame both for the scapegoater and his supporters. The scapegoating process can be understood as an example of the Drama Triangle concept [Karpman, 1968].

The perpetrator's drive to displace and transfer responsibility away from himself may not be experienced with full consciousness - self-deception is often a feature. The target's knowledge that he is being scapegoated builds slowly and follows events. The scapegoater's target experiences exclusion, ostracism or even expulsion.

In so far as the process is unconscious it is more likely to be denied by the perpetrator. In such cases, any bad feelings - such as the perpetrator's own shame and guilt - are also likely to be denied. Scapegoating frees the perpetrator from some self-dissatisfaction and provides some narcissistic gratification to him. It enables the self-righteous discharge of aggression. Scapegoaters tend to have extra-punitive characteristics [Kraupl-Taylor, 1953].

Scapegoating also can be seen as the perpetrator's defense mechanism against unacceptable emotions such as hostility and guilt. In Kleinian terms, scapegoating is an example of projective identification, with the primitive intent of splitting: separating the good from the bad [Scheidlinger, 1982]. On another view, scapegoaters are insecure people driven to raise their own status by lowering the status of their target [Carter, 1996].
    The Scapegoat Society (

Resources on Scapegoating:

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Suicide (from Latin sui caedere, to kill oneself) is the act of intentionally ending one's own life; it is sometimes a noun for one who has committed, or attempted the act.

Suicide is viewed in varying ways among the cultures, religions, spiritual traditions, legal and social systems of the world. It is considered a sin or immoral act in many religions and a crime in some jurisdictions. On the other hand, some cultures have viewed it as an honorable way to exit certain shameful situations. Other cultures have viewed it as an honorable way to end a hopeless situation, such as terminal illness. Persons attempting or dying by suicide sometimes leave a suicide note. Assisted suicide by health or other caregivers to terminally ill people has been ferociously debated in recent years. Suicide also has been considered an epidemic in certain times and certain cultures and situations.

According to stricter definitions of suicide, to be considered suicide the death must be a central component and intention of the act, not just a certain consequence. Along this line of thought, suicide bombing is considered more a kind of bombing rather than a kind of suicide. Similarly, martyrs' focus or goal is not death but an assurance of a place in the next world and a guarantee that they will not be condemned to hell. Certainly, a suicide bomber knows that death will be part of the outcome of his or her actions. Nevertheless, death is not the goal of such actions.

Suicide has become an increasing social challenge in today's stressful world. As clinicians, we are faced with the need to balance quality care and respect for the choices and desires of our clients with the need to avoid liability and blame for those choices. While suicide will always remain a personal choice, we can heighten appropriate efforts at suicide prevention by arming ourselves with adequate knowledge of the issue and awareness of risk factors for suicide.

Following are some basic facts about suicide:

  • NIMH reports that in 2001 there were twice as many deaths from suicide as from HIV/AIDS. Four times as many men kill themselves than do women. Nearly 75% of all suicide deaths in 2001 were males.
  • Vulnerable populations such as youth and the elderly are far more likely to die by suicide than others do. In addition, those with psychiatric and medical conditions also pose higher risks for suicide.
  • Comprehensive assessment of suicidality requires evaluation of an individual's: ideation; intent, plan and lethality; motivation to die; emotional and physical state; coping skills; and epidemiological risk factors.
  • Research by Harvard Medical Institutions suggests that nearly 75% of patients with schizophrenia have suicidal ideation. Nearly half those with schizophrenia attempt suicide at one time or another, and suicide is far more common in those who are in the early phase of their illness, are feeling hopeless and recognize deterioration.
  • While there is wide acknowledgment of risk factors associated with an individual's psychological state, they may underestimate the impact of sociocultural risk factors such as: barriers to access to mental health treatment (geography, transportation, $); stigma associated with psychiatric disease and suicidality often inhibit help-seeking behaviors; cultural and religious beliefs; suicide "epidemics" in groups, such as school, ethnic, online communities, etc.
  • Clinicians and many other medical experts have often looked at suicide prevention from a clinical or medical perspective and concern ourselves with one patient at a time. However, people must realize that they may have far greater impact by approaching suicide from a Public Health perspective, which examines the roots of our current society for this phenomenon.
  • Most clinicians are well aware of the risks posed by post-partum depression but often misconstrue those risks as purely hormonal or biochemical in nature. Careful attention must be paid to the impacts of long-term sleep deprivation, both for new parents, as well as for the elderly.
  • Research suggests that poor sleep strongly correlates with depression and eventually with increased risk for suicide.
  • Incarcerated persons are significantly more likely to suicide than those in the general population.
  • Research suggests that there is higher suicide potential among LGB youth. Four factors are suggested as prime reasons for increased suicidality: increased drug use and alcoholism; heightened sexual activity; increased risk of victimization or violence by others; and heightened risk of becoming defensively violent as a result of persecution about being visibly gay.
  • Debate about the legality of suicide, or death control, has continued for decades. As a culture, we continue to struggle with the concept of suicide. Over the years Szasz has continued to remind us that suicide is neither a crime nor a sin nor a mental illness, it is a personal choice. The much debated Oregon suicide assistant law has led the way in accepting terminating one's life as a legitimate conscious choice. The increased number of baby boomers who nurse their elderly parents and are facing the question of how to die, place the issue of suicide high on our personal and professional issues.
  • The way we choose to die is closely tied to the way we choose to live. We must keep the dialogue regarding suicide open and ongoing.

Contrary to many lawmakers, legislators and mental health professionals, Thomas Szasz, MD, has viewed suicide as a personal choice rather than a crime or mental illness. His article on Suicide as a Moral Issue is sited in the resources below. The author of this article (OZ) has written:

We engraved my mother's gravestone, as she had requested many years prior to her death, "Trees Die Erect", testifying to her refusal to retire from her role as an educator, psychologist and social activist. She chose to die at the top of her career in what my sister and I called "Suicide by work." The question of suicide reared its head to me again when I worked in East Africa as a fish-ponds expert and was shocked to notice how so many rural tribesmen did not hesitate to chop down the few palm trees left in the oasis and let the cattle defecate in the only water hole in an arid area. It looked normal to them but pretty suicidal to me. Part of this experience helped me shift my focus from fish to people. Early in my career as a psychologist, I encountered suicide when I worked in a mental health clinic in a local jail and was ordered to conduct a suicide assessment on a death row inmate. My bafflement quickly turned to outrage at how ludicrous it was for me to determine whether a prisoner should be placed on suicide watch so he would not kill himself before the state had a chance to execute him. Then, like most clinicians, I have encountered many situations, in which depressed, psychotic, disillusioned, hopeless or depleted clients felt desperately suicidal and where suicide prevention was necessarily and often welcomed by them.

Resources on Suicide:

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For an extensive analysis of the topic of victimhood, click here.

An aggrieved or disadvantaged party in a crime: compare victimology; one who suffers as a result of some event such as a disaster; a person acquiring a psychological attitude of victimhood.
    Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Victim is a socially constructed term with meanings that are highly different from culture to culture. Some cultures do not define people in terms of victims. While undoubtedly there are true victims, our culture has diluted the term and applied it so broadly that we are at risk of loosing its true meaning. Some victims are truly innocent, for example, the child who is being molested, a victim in the other car in a drunk driving accident or a woman who is raped by a stranger. Most violence involves some knowledge, familiarity or intimacy between victims and victimizers. However, many victims are not innocent and many share some sense of responsibility with their victimizers. An example is a woman who is raped after choosing to get drunk and bears some responsibility for electing to be completely helpless and unconscious, at the full mercy of others, in a situation that has the potential to be dangerous. Other examples are adults who were victimized due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, where with some awareness, preparation and caution they could have prevented the assault.

A cultural critique of victimhood is provided by Zur:

We have become a nation of victims, where everyone is leapfrogging over each other, competing for the status of victim, where most people define themselves as some sort of survivor. We live in a culture where more and more people are claiming their own holocaust. Charles Sykes, author of the widely acclaimed A Nation of Victims (1992), points out that if you add up all the groups that consider themselves to be victims or oppressed, their number adds up to almost 400 percent of the population. Exploring the psychology or the dynamic of victimhood has been suppressed and censored because it has been equated with "victim blaming". As the article below illuminates, the victim stance is a powerful one.

The victim's basic stance is that he or she:
1. Is not responsible for what happened.
2. Is always morally right.
3. Is not accountable.
4. Is forever entitled to sympathy.
5. Is justified in feeling moral indignation for being wronged.

"It is not my fault!" "I have been wronged!" and "I am owed!" are the essential victim's stance. The victim claim is not limited to the traditionally, truly abused and exploited underprivileged classes. It is also often claimed by the privileged middle class and the wealthy of our society. The victim's stance of "Don't blame me!" is often accompanied with "I deserve this, this and this!" the "rights industry" or the "rights movement" goes hand in hand with the victim industry. The incessant cry for empathy and justice by the victim industry reduces our capacity to deal with genuine victims, such as children who are molested, women who are raped and beaten, immigrants who are mistreated, etc. The victim culture creates a compassion fatigue, which interferes with helping those who truly need and deserve our help. Shelby Steel (1992), similarly analyzed the victimization ideology and how tragically it affected African- Americans' identity and their relationships with white Americans. Like Dershowitz (1994), Kaminer (1992) describes the outrageous notion of self-proscribed victims and the prevalence of irresponsibility and blame in our culture.

It has yet to be widely understood that by alleviating all women, minorities, inmates, or any victim, of any and all responsibility to predict, prevent or even, unconsciously, invite abuse, is to reduce them to helpless, incapable creatures, and in-fact, re-victimizes them. This three-part web page invites the reader to go beyond the politically correct thinking on victimization and develop a more comprehensive and complex understanding of the dynamic of victimhood. The hope is for healing the hurt and injury of victims and for increasing the effectiveness of prediction and prevention of future violence.
    Zur, Psychology of Victimhood:

Psychotherapists have been accused of creating a self-serving industry by manufacturing victims. In fact, two professions have been reaping the benefits of victim culture. Attorneys and psychotherapists have perpetuated the rights industry and the culture of victims, partly for their own financial and professional gain.

Along these lines Zur writes:

While anxiety, borderline personality disorder and multiple personality were some of the most popular psychiatric diagnosis of the past, the nineties have introduced us to the new fad: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The prevalence of PTSD as a diagnosis on therapy insurance claims, as book and seminar titles is unprecedented. One must ask why so many of our patients within a span of a few years, suddenly and in such high numbers, have been labeled as traumatized. One must also wonder why in an age where technology, medicine, environmental concerns and diet have reached new peaks, Americans feel a heighten sense of vulnerability and are buying into the new psychiatric diagnosis. The repressed memory syndrome, and the numerous court battles around this issue, has also been part of the psychological industry's recent obsession with victimhood. While repressed memories may play a part in some instances, the sudden and large number of reporting reflects primarily on the industry's focus on victimhood. Increasingly, Americans are told that they are traumatized, victimized and in need of a psychotherapist or personal injury attorney. Those who do not feel victimized have been accused of being in denial.

In her book Manufacturing Victims, (1996) Tana Dineen details how the victim industry has been fueled by psychotherapists and outlines the direct economic and professional benefits that psychotherapists derive from perpetuating the idea of victimology. Dineen articulates well the idea that therapists need patients, so they create disorders with which to label prospective customers. Most recently it has been PTSD. Dineen appropriately differentiates between scientific and research based psychology versus the more dogmatic and self-serving field of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy sees many normal life events as trauma in need of healing rather than as enriching experiences. This has political consequences. Individuals are freed from moral responsibility for what they do or what happened to them and therefore are no longer citizens, but patients or victims.

Psychologists, Dineen (1996), Zilbergeld (1983) and others assert, have turned every form of discontent into a syndrome or disease requiring treatment. They systematically underestimate the capacity of humans to overcome adversity. All unpleasant events-such as a fall, car accident or the death of a pet-are assumed to leave an emotional residue that, unless dealt with professionally, will cripple the sufferer. Unfortunately, therapists have had considerable success in peddling this view to society.

The psychotherapeutic community adopted the blame approach back in the beginning of the 20th century with the birth of psychoanalysis. While originally the blaming finger was pointed primarily at mothers, later on it came to be pointed at men, racism, sexism, militarism, consumerism, the upper class, immigration, etc. The myth of the psychotherapeutic community is that somehow if one can identify a person or an event that supposedly caused the shortcoming, anxiety or depression, the condition will be improved. This is the premise of analysis and its emphasis on insight. The result has been a huge waste of time, money and life in search of someone or something to blame rather than finding a way to improve life now and in the future. Resilience and strength (Greene, 2002) seem to be ignored and are dominated by the psychologizing of all aspects of life.

Victim means good business for attorneys and psychotherapists. The search for the cause and the person or circumstances to blame helps support hundreds of thousands of therapists. Of course the victim industry is not a sheer artifact of the therapeutic community. It functions within the culture of victims and entitlement and is fueled for its own professional and economic interests.
    Zur, Psychology of Victimhood:

Resources on Victim and Victimization:

  • Dineen, T. (1996). Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People. Westmount, Canada: Robert Davies Multimedia Publishing.
  • Darshowitz, A.M. (1994). The Abuse Excuse and other Cop-Outs Sob Stories, and evasions of Responsibility. New York: Little, Brown & Comp.
  • Green, R. (Ed.) (2002). Resiliency. Washington DC: NASW Press
  • Kaminer, W. (1992). I'm Dysfunctional You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Slater, L. (2003). Repress Yourself. New York Times Magazine, February 23, pp. 48-53.
  • Steele S. (1990). The Content of Our Character. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Sykes, C. J. (1992). A Nation Of Victims: The Decay Of The American Character. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Zilbergeld, B. (1983). Shrinking of America: Myths of Psychological Change. New York: Little Brown & Company.
  • Zur, Psychology of Victimhood:
  • Online course on Psychology of Victims:

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Terrorism & September 11th Suicide Bombers

Terrorism refers to a strategy of using violence, social threats, or coordinated attacks, in order to generate fear, cause disruption, and ultimately, bring about compliance with specified political, religious, or ideological demands. The targets of terrorist attacks typically are not the individuals who are killed, injured, or taken hostage, but rather the societies to which these individuals belong. Terrorism is designed to subvert existing political atmospheres, often with the aid of the mass media's influence.
    Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Terrorism has been an elusive term and its definition has been the topic of an ongoing debate. The goal of terrorism is to install terror in order to achieve certain political or other goals. In the ‘60s, there was a popular and rather accurate saying that "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." The British, for example, had to deal with many forces they labeled "terrorists": the Americans in the 18th century, the (East) Indians in the 1930s, the Jews, like two former Israeli prime ministers, Begin and Shamir, in Palestine in the 1940s, and the Argentinean's Falkland Islands in the 1980s, as each was fighting for their independence from imperialist Great Britain. Beyond agreement that terrorism aims at inducing terror, no common definition has been found. Consequently, it has been used as "name calling" against any "enemy of the state." More recently many district attorneys have used it to prosecute criminal cases that involved threats.

Typically, terrorist organizations do not posses aircraft carriers, tanks and missile launchers but do posses the capacity to carry out surprise attacks at the heart of the enemy land. Terrorism is often a characterization used by powerful governments when their enemies employ means that do not assure the big power victory in war. Terrorism has been described as one out of many types of warfare (i.e., primitive-ritualistic wars, colonial wars, holy wars or liberation wars.) As with any war, it is aimed to reach a certain political goal through violent means. The main weapons of terrorism, whether employed by Radical Muslims, Jews fighting for their independence or sovereign governments, is instilling terror by insidious means, employed secretively and unexpectedly. Terrorists, often more so than most soldiers, are prepared to make whatever sacrifice they deem necessary to achieve their goals, including their lives.

The response of the West to the horrendous acts of 9/11 again fired that need to expand our understanding of sacrifice and martyrdom. The 9/11 terrorists have been labeled insane, evil, irrational, brained-washed, and, first and foremost, fanatic, Muslim fundamentalists. Indeed, there is little doubt that they were religious zealots. However, the videotapes that some of them prepared before they embarked on their destructive mission clearly show that their actions were well thought out and deliberate. Most people agree that it must have taken them many years of planning. In fact, some of the 9/11 terrorists seemed to be highly articulate and deliberate in their intentions. It seems that some of the suicide bombers can be identified as sacrificial in their readiness to sacrifice their lives for a certain political goal and others can be viewed as martyrs, as their primary goal of focus was a spiritual union rather than death.

As repellent as it may be to acknowledge, the suicide/homicide bomber version of terrorism, which we painfully witnessed on September 11, 2001, and myriad times in Iraq and Israel over the last many years, is, in essence, similar to the self-sacrifice of millions of other soldiers who have fought in both good and evil wars throughout history. Suicide bombers were present at Pearl Harbor as Kamikaze pilots and in the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2001. One important aspect that differentiates these suicidal-terrorist missions from "normal" combat operations is that the intended victims are not restricted to military combatants and the perpetrators face certain death.

The 9/11 terrorists and the Iraqi and Palestinian suicide bombers seem to be driven by two forces: their terrorist-militaristic-strategic mindset that impelled them to sacrifice themselves for a political cause and for some of them, the desire to be martyrs. While martyrdom and sacrifice are two very different motivational systems, they operated either along side each other or in mutually enhancing ways in these suicidal-terrorist attacks.

Resources on Terrorism:

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