Why do people kill?
The attack by Hamas on October 7; the bombings of Gaza by Israel; the war in Ukraine; repressive regimes which torture, rape and kill; the terror attacks all over the world – these are all crimes that shock the human conscience and horrify us into disbelief and yet they dominate our news channels. Who are the people behind this violence and why do they torture, rape and kill? What kind of people are they? What motivates them to do this? How do they see their own crimes? What makes them resort to violence? But also: How can we stop them?
When we see the news we tend to distance ourselves from the perpetrators as well as the crimes and argue that they, the perpetrators must be very different from us ordinary normal human beings. We tend to believe that they must have a violent past, long criminal records or mental deficiencies otherwise they would not be able to do this. But: Is that really the case? Are perpetrators born to be violent and cruel? Or are they made that way? And if so: by whom, how and why? Or are they normal after all? ‘Terribly and terrifyingly normal’ as the famous philosopher Hannah Arendt suggested when, during the sixties, she witnessed the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the main organizers and executioners of the Holocaust. But if that were true: does that mean that we could all become perpetrators of mass atrocities?
This event is an initiative by the Dutch Institute for Emergent Phenomena (DIEP) with the support of the University of Amsterdam. Science & Cocktails Amsterdam is presented in cooperation with Paradiso Amsterdam.
Alette Smeulers is professor at the University of Groningen. She is specialized in perpetrators of international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as well as terrorism. In her research she takes an inter- and multidisciplinary approach. She has published widely in the field. Her most recent book on Perpetrators of mass atrocities: terribly and terrifyingly normal? is published by Routledge (2024). Together with Nicola Quaedvlieg, she also made a podcast series on perpetrators of mass atrocities, called Terribly and Terrifyingly Normal?