MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Root Causes of Suicide Terrorism: The Globalization of Martyrdom

By McCauley, Clark | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Root Causes of Suicide Terrorism: The Globalization of Martyrdom


McCauley, Clark, The Middle East Journal


Root Causes of Suicide Terrorism: The Globalization of Martyrdom, ed. by Ami Pedahzur. New York and London, UK: Routledge, 2006. xix + 197 pages. Index to p. 202. $125 cloth; $35.95 paper.

Reviewed by Clark McCauley

This volume is the product of a conference at the University of Texas in May 2005; contributors include an interesting mix of terrorism experts, junior scholars, and graduate students. Each chapter offers something interesting.

Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger introduce the volume with statistics from a database at the University of Haifa that represents 624 completed suicide attacks in 28 countries between 1982 and 2005. Against Robert Pape's contention that suicide attacks occur mostly in national resistance to foreign occupation, Pedahzur and Perliger argue that suicide attacks between 2000-2005 were most often conducted against moderate Islamic regimes. This statistic appears to depend on counting suicide attacks in Iraq as targeting a moderate Islamic regime, but the Haifa database is not publicly available for scrutiny (Rape's data are, in an appendix to his 2003 book, Dying to Win). It is difficult to see how a science of terrorism can emerge without public access to relevant data and definitions.

Assaf Moghadam argues persuasively that talking about suicide terrorism can involve researchers in controversies of defining terrorism', he recommends talking instead about suicide attacks. Also persuasive is his admonition to be clear about the unit of analysis, whether for instance multiple attackers are counted as one "attack."

Mia Bloom provides a condensed version of her 2005 book, Dying to Kill. At the individual level, she distinguishes between personal interest (i.e., revenge, purity) and group interest (i.e., advancing group welfare) as motives for self-sacrifice. At the group level, she sees suicide attacks as having in-group political value that rivals the value of coercing the enemy. Sponsoring suicide bombers can bring a terrorist group status and support in competition with other terrorist groups ("outbidding").

Mohammed Hafez explores the motivation of individual Palestinians who choose suicide attacks. He examines their statements and the statements of those who know them to show the convergence of religion, nation, and vengeance in a culture of martyrdom that makes killing Jews worth dying for. He sees cultural explanation as succeeding where rational choice models fail, but readers untutored in rational choice theory are likely to see the two kinds of explanation as complementary: culture gives the individual a value for group welfare that can outweigh the value of self-preservation.

Leonard Weinberg profits by an inviting style to draw attention to currently neglected examples of suicide attacks for secular causes. In particular, Weinberg reminds us of the extent of Viet Cong terrorism: 44,000 assassinations and abductions between 1966 and 1999, not including the month of the Tet offensive in 1968. …

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