MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers/Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom/Understanding and Addressing Suicide Attacks: The Faith and Politics of Martyrdom Operations

By McCauley, Clark | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers/Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom/Understanding and Addressing Suicide Attacks: The Faith and Politics of Martyrdom Operations


McCauley, Clark, The Middle East Journal


Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers , by Mohammed Hafez. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2006. 75 pages. Appends. to p. 98. Notes to p. 109. Resources for further research to p. 113. Index to p. 124. $10.

Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom, by Mohammed Hafez. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2007. 241 pages. Appends. to p. 258. Index to p. 285. $14.

Understanding and Addressing Suicide Attacks: The Faith and Politics of Martyrdom Operations, by David Cook and Olivia Allison. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International. 148 pages. Notes to p. 169. Gloss. to p. 177. Bibl. to p. 192. Index to p. 202. $44.95.

Reviewed by Clark McCauley

What is the importance of Islam for understanding Muslim suicide attacks? At one extreme is the view that suicide attacks are the expression of a fanatic strain of Islam; at the other extreme is the argument that such attacks are the expression of desperate politics - the warfare of the weak. In the first view, Muslim suicide terrorism cannot be understood without understanding Islam in all the complexity of its competing sects and schools. In the second, Muslim suicide terrorism can be understood with the same concepts and mechanisms that make sense of Tamil Tiger terrorism in Sri Lanka or PKK terrorism in Turkey. The three books reviewed here offer a mix of political and religious analyses, with Hafez heavier on the politics than Cook and Allison.

Hafez's take on Palestinian suicide bombers is neat, clean, and brief. Chapter 1 offers a quick survey of explanations of suicide terrorism. Chapter 2 presents results from a database of Palestinian suicide attacks. Chapters 3-5 examine organizational, individual, and cultural motives for such attacks. The concluding chapter summarizes policy implications.

The three appendices are useful contributions in their own right. Appendix A lists suicide bombings in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza between September 1993 and February 2005. Hafez generously offers access to this database to other researchers. Cases are listed by date, including information about the group sponsoring the bomber, number of bombers, number of victims, name, and, where available, the age of each bomber. Appendix B provides English translations of the "last will and testaments" of four bombers, each document posted shortly after the attack on the web site of the sponsoring organization (two for al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and two for Izzedeen al-Qassam Militias). Appendix C provides organizational profiles for these and other groups that deploy suicide bombers.

Hafez argues persuasively for a distinction of levels of analysis: Palestinian suicide attacks are a strategic choice for the groups deploying suicide bombers, an act of personal and religious redemption for the bomber, and an expression of Islamic revivalism and nationalist fervor in a culture that venerates martyrdom and martyrs. All three levels are required to understand Palestinian suicide attacks.

The three levels are indeed useful, but perhaps not so neatly divisible as represented. Two of five failed suicide bombers quoted on pages 49-50 seem to have had strategic motives. One says, "I believe the operation would hurt the enemy? Also [a] successful mission greatly influences society. It raises the morale of the people." Another says "I know the bombing will hurt the Israelis and prove to them we are still ready to fight The most important thing was that we should make an operation in the heart of Israel after the [Israeli military] penetration in order to prove that we were not influenced by the military attack." There is no doubt that personal redemption is important for many suicide bombers, but perhaps many also participate in the strategic goals of the group that sends them.

In sum, this little gem of a book about suicide bombers in Palestine is a very useful addition to any course on terrorism. …

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MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers/Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom/Understanding and Addressing Suicide Attacks: The Faith and Politics of Martyrdom Operations
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