Now, you talk in your documentary "My Trip to Al-Qaeda," about the Quran and what the Quran has to say about suicide. And you said that the Quran says, do not kill yourself and that the punishment for suicide is to spend eternity killing yourself with the same instrument you used to die. What insights do you have about how al-Qaida managed to make suicide a holy thing, where these, you know, beautiful things happen to you as a result of it and you become a hero in the eyes of the prophet?
Mr. WRIGHT: Well, it was actually Ayman al-Zawahiri who pioneered this. He was the very first to use suicide bombers, even before the Palestinians did, in his attempts on political figures inside Egypt. He even pioneered the use of martyrdom videos. And after 1996, when he had blown up the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, killing mainly Muslims, a lot of other Muslims were very angry with him and, you know, wanting to understand how can you justify that? And so he wrote a response to their queries. He compared the suicide bombers to the martyrs of Christianity.
There weren't very many examples he could draw upon from Islam because of this absolute prohibition within the Quran. And it's really ironic that it was Christian martyrs that became the basis of his argument.
The notion is that you are a guided missile. And the idea that you're going to be sacrificing yourself for a cause that's greater than you overcomes this kind of prohibition. It's sophistry. It's - in my opinion, many people don't really pay attention to the argument. I think that the young men that are drawn into al-Qaida with a goal of committing suicide have other causes driving them than simply Zawahiri's legalistic argument about how you can kill yourself and get away with it.
I think that, you know, it's almost a total ban on the idea of suicide in Muslim countries. It's completely taboo. So if you are feeling despairing and you are the type of person that in another society might want to kill yourself, how do you go about that? Well, for one thing, al-Qaida offers you a route to paradise, at least they say so.
GROSS: So you think that a lot of people who join al-Qaida to become suicide bombers are clinically depressed?
Mr. WRIGHT: Oh, I think there's no doubt about it. And, you know, the studies that have been done about the young men drawn into these groups typically show them to be fairly well-educated. You know, especially, you know, the early leaders of al-Qaida, you know, professional men, well-educated, some of them not even very religious. So, you know, what is it? You know, what are all the elements? And if you're going to try to pin down a single word about what is it that characterizes the drive into this kind of radical reaction, I think a word might be despair. Because there are many different rivers that lead into despair, you know, there's poverty. There's political repression. There's gender apartheid. You know, there's a sense of a cultural loss. There's religious fanaticism. All of these elements are present in many different Muslim countries in varying degree.