Terror Management in the War Zone : Shiites Vs. Sunnis
In his 1974 book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker developed the idea that as humans we are inevitably aware of our own impending death. In order to escape this terror, humans develop an illusion of immortality through psychological "buffers" such as religious beliefs, social connections to groups or individuals or through creating objects that would succeed them.
Solomon and two of his colleagues, Pyszynski and Greenberg, then elaborated on the TMT by engaging in empirical work with an emphasis on "mortality salience" ( MS). Parallel to the idea of MS, reminding subjects of their mortality encourage them to engage in five frequent behavioural responses. These responses are, worldview defense, harsher evaluations of moral transgressors, increased aggression towards the out-gourps, increased ethnocentrism, and increased self esteem enhancement. Since the length of this entry is limited i will only elaborate on two of thse five "buffers" in response to stimuli that reminds one of their own death.
There have been many attempts to uncover the mystery behind the "adherence to and defense of national idiologies and values and intolerance and hostility towards dissimilar others" ( Leary et al 1997). However, few have sought to ask about the consequences of having a constant reminder of death such as the frequent killings in cities of Iraq and its effect on ethnocentrism and increased aggression against the out-goup members.
Previous research has emphasized on "increased support of one's nationalist, religious, or secular idiology, disliking dissimilar others, supporting ethnic stereotypes, denigrating or distancing oneself towards the idiology of the out-group, ingratiating oneself to heroes or those who bloster the views of the in-group, intensifying altruistic tendecies towards the in-group, or proposing greater punishment for those who violate the norms of the in-group". ( Leary et al 1997).
The events of September 11 have brought the TMT once again back to the spotlights and many papers have been written about the effects of this faithful event on "incrasing in-group affiliation and hostility and aggression towards the out-group and the increased liking of the in-group members who conform the cultural expectations" ( Landau et al 2004). Furthermore, they have concluded that fear of therrorism leads to increased support for standing leaders such as president Bush.
The only observations considering TMT in the war zone included one under the supervision of Dr. Dechesne who applied the TMT to some problems that the multinational troops were having while serving on a peace-keeping mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. The problem was that although Dutch and German troops have been working well together on various joint missions, when they got to Kabul, positive relations seemed to be breaking down and old national rivalries seemed to be coming to the surface. The findings implicated that the higher the soldiers scored on a fear of death scale, the more negative their attitudes toward working with soldiers from other European countries. Another study that will be hinting on the TMT during war time is an upcoming research which will address the promotion of suicidal behaviour in respond to constant reminders of death ( Winerman 2005). Further, although some research has been done with regards to the responses of the trained military occupants in the war zone, nothing has been done to consider the reaction of the lay people who are not trained professionals in dealing with the fear of death in respond to constant reminders of death. Also most researches have concentrated on how the shocking events of September 11 has lead to nationalism and the voting results leading to the victory of president Bush, none has pondered on the out comes of this war on the increased nationalism, intolerance of dissents, hostility towards those who are different and need for heroes in the Iraqi population. Rather, the political policy is to show the unrest in Iraq as an outbreak of a civil war and the invaders ( Americans) are simply portrayed as the neutral foreign party who are risking their lives to promote peace and understanding between people who, up until the point of occupation, were very peacful and understanding indeed.
My ideas convey that being exposed to frequent instances of death will create increased ethnocentrism and aggression against attitudinally dissimilar others just as it has been proven in previous studies. To elaborate on this point i will further discribe the recent conflicts between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq. Just today two suicide bombers caused the death of about 75 Shia muslims in a Shia Mosque.
I think that the attack of the Unisted State of America on Iraq and the removal of the tyranny of Saddam Hossein has created an opportunity for the minority groups to gain a will of their own and the extremists to become more segregated towards the opposite points of their belief systems.
This civil war is being promoted by the two religious groups of Iraq the Shia and the Sunnis. From the blogs I read over time i concluded that unlike the current situation where a division of religious rules over Iraq, previously the Shia and Sunnis used to live together. The mass Iraqi population was brought up to believe that "people who discriminated in any way- positively or negatively- based on sect or ethnicity were backwards, uneducated and uncivilized.. most people simply didn't go around making friends or socializing with neighbours based on their religions" ( Rose' Blog ).
The frequent encounters with death has shoved the initial indifferences between the Shia and Sunnis to more extreme points, Under the influence of MS each group underwent the urge to identify more closely to the ideologies held by its religious leaders and denigrate those who criticize their popularly held beliefs. The denigration was pursued by suicide bombings and hostility towards the out-group. This in turn led to a civil war in Iraq which indorsed an even more extreme division between the Sunnis and the Shias; now people "pick up their things to move to ' Sunni neighbourhoods' or 'Shia neighbourhoods'" (Rose' Blog). In their Mosques, the religious figures hold meetings that promote poisonous anti- Shia or anti- Sunni teachings and create untrue stereotypes against the out-group.
In conclusion, I am attempting to suggest that frequent reminders of death in the war zone leads to the promotion of indifferences between opposite religious groups and causes an enhancement in the ideologies of the in-group while creating unfavourable attitude towards the out-group. This hypothesis could also be tested on the effects of MS on the attitudes that Iraqis hold agains the invaders ( US Soldiers).