British colonial officials in Malaysia were so impressed with the idea that native Malays might suddenly grab a weapon and embark on a frenzied homicidal attack, that they adopted the Malay word amok into the English language to refer to any sudden, violent, chaotic behavior. Such attacks, usually following a period of brooding, may have their origin in forms of warfare in historical Malaysia, although by the time they were described by the British, they had become individual attacks (Carr, 1985). Historical accounts from Southern India, Malaysia, and Indonesia describe elite warriors known by a variety of names including amouco, amok, and amokos and famous for their willingness to die in furious attacks. However as early as the 15th century, historical accounts describe civilian men who suddenly took on an apparently indiscriminate homicidal fury (Spores, 1988). John Spores points out, however, that amoks often attack members of their immediate family (Spores, 1988) and is among those theorists who question whether amok attacks are in fact indiscriminate and whether amoks do not actually remember their actions, as claimed (Burton-Bradley, 1985; Carr, 1985; Hughes, 1985; Spores, 1988).
Although Carr (1985) argues that amok is properly understood as a specifically Malay phenomenon, others see similarities with sudden, homicidal attacks in other parts of the world, as in mass shootings in schools and workplaces in the United States, for example (Arboleda-Florez, 1985). Theorists who like to compare similar events in disparate settings might also ask whether ostensibly politically motivated attacks such as suicide bombings in Israel, Palestine, and other world areas share similarities with these other described assaults. Although Simons and Hughes (1985) argue to retain amokwithin the culture-bound syndromes, the frequency of mass homicidal and homicidal/suicidal attacks in a variety of world areas tends to indicate, once again, that the idea of culture-bounding remains problematic. However, the proliferation of sudden homicidal and homicidal/suicidal attacks in many parts of the world indicates that understanding such behavior, however classified, should remain a priority.
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