Making Sense of Suicide Missions

Making Sense of Suicide Missions

Making Sense of Suicide Missions

Making Sense of Suicide Missions

Synopsis

Suicide attacks have become the defining act of political violence of our age. From New York City to Baghdad, from Sri Lanka to Israel, few can doubt that they are a terrifying feature of an increasing number of violent conflicts. Since 1981, around 30 organizations throughout the world - someof them secular and others affiliated to radical Islam - have carried out more than 600 suicide missions. Although a tiny fraction of the overall number of guerrilla and terrorist attacks occurring in the same period, the results have proved significantly more lethal. This book is the first to shed real light on these extraordinary acts, and provide answers to the questions we all ask. Are these the actions of aggressive religious zealots and unbridled, irrational radicals or is there a logic driving those behind them? Are their motivations religious or has Islamprovided a language to express essentially political causes? How can the perpetrators remain so lucidly effective in the face of certain death? And do these disparate attacks have something like a common cause?For nearly three years, this team of internationally distinguished scholars has pursued an unprejudiced inquiry, investigating organizers and perpetrators alike of this extraordinary phenomenon. Close comparisons between a whole range of cases raise challenging further questions: if suicide missionsare so effective, why are they not more common? If killing is what matters, why not stick to 'ordinary' violent means? Or, if dying is what matters, why kill in the process? Making Sense of Suicide Missions contains a wealth of original information and innovative analysis which further our understanding of this chilling feature of the contemporary world in radically new and unexpected ways.

Excerpt

The aim of this volume is to provide the reader with as full and systematic an account of suicide missions (SMs) as possible. Working closely together for nearly three years, we delved into the phenomenon, which has become the defining act of political violence of our age, without any preconception, motivated by an intense and dispassionate interest in the explanatory challenges that it poses to social scientists, but also by our dissatisfaction with the simplistic or ideological interpretations of it that were being proposed.

In order to make sense of SMs, we need to rely on solid, wide-ranging, empirical evidence and to identify the theoretical questions that we should meaningfully ask about them. Both tasks are vigorously pursued by this book through a wealth of factual details, comparative analyses, and carefully reasoned arguments. We endeavour to uncover the general conditions under which SMs emerge and the patterns they follow as well as the motivations of both the perpetrators and those who send them.

The volume is not, however, an encyclopaedia of suicide attacks—the Russian anarchists who introduced SMs in their modern form in the early twentieth century, and the recent cases of the insurgents in Chechnya, Kashmir, and Turkey receive attention in the book but are not the object of our original research. We concentrate on four main instances: Peter Hill provides a concise description of all that is known about the Kamikaze (chapter 1); Stephen Hopgood tries to discover the logic of the missions carried out by the Tamil Tigers in the civil war in Sri Lanka (chapter 2); Luca Ricolfi, on the basis of the most comprehensive databse hitherto put together, deals with the Lebanese and Palestinian groups in the Middle East (chapter 3); and Stephen Holmes provides a challenging new interpretation of the al-Qaeda 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (chapter 4). The authors take particular care in presenting and Wltering all the available evidence, restraining their speculative arguments as much as possible, but struggling with obstacles of varying diYculty. The knowledge of the Kamikaze case is well-established now, but in both Sri Lanka and the Middle East, where the issue is painfully alive, the warring parties impose their selective and manipulative pressures on the facts, making it hard to discover all one would ideally like to discover and sometimes to feel fully conWdent in the quality of the data. The hardest task is perhaps to make sense of the organizers and perpetrators of . . .

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