Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror

Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror

Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror

Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror


What motivates suicide bombers in Iraq and around the world? Can winning the hearts and minds of local populations stop them? Will the phenomenon spread to the United States? These vital questions are at the heart of this important book. Mia Bloom examines the use, strategies, successes, and failures of suicide bombing in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe and assesses the effectiveness of government responses. She argues that in many instances the efforts of Israel, Russia, and the United States in Iraq have failed to deter terrorism and suicide bombings. Bloom also considers how terrorist groups learn from one another, how they respond to counterterror tactics, the financing of terrorism, and the role of suicide attacks against the backdrop of larger ethnic and political conflicts.

Dying to Kill begins with a review of the long history of terrorism, from ancient times to modernity, from the Japanese Kamikazes during World War II, to the Palestinian, Tamil, Iraqi, and Chechen terrorists of today. Bloom explores how suicide terror is used to achieve the goals of terrorist groups: to instill public fear, attract international news coverage, gain support for their cause, and create solidarity or competition between disparate terrorist organizations. She contends that it is often social and political motivations rather than inherently religious ones that inspire suicide bombers. In her chapter focusing on the increasing number of women suicide bombers and terrorists, Bloom examines Sri Lanka, where 33 percent of bombers have been women; Turkey, where the PKK used women feigning pregnancy as bombers; and the role of the Black Widows in the Chechen struggle against Moscow.

The motives of individuals, whether religious or nationalist, are important but the larger question is, what external factors make it possible for suicide terrorism to flourish? Bloom describes these conditions and develops a theory of why terrorist tactics work in some instances and fail in others.


Imagine a situation in which choosing to blow yourself up along with dozens of other people seems like a great idea. How bad must your life be if you think that it is better to be a sacrifice than to live, have a family, and be a productive member of society? Imagine what goes through the minds of people right before they become suicide bombers. Are they scared, are they angry, do they fully understand what they are about to do?

This book investigates what motivates young men and a growing number of young women to do this. Terrorist groups appear to use suicide bombing under two conditions: when other terrorist or military tactics fail, and when they are in competition with other terrorist groups for popular or financial support. Suicide bombing is generally found in the second stage of conflicts— and only spreads in countries where the population is receptive to terrorists targeting civilians (which has been the case in Iraq, Israel, and Chechnya, less so in Sri Lanka, and not the case in Spain or Northern Ireland.)

Other scholars have attempted to explain this phenomenon as the result of brainwashing, extreme poverty, emotional dysfunction, or feelings of despair. These are partial explanations at best. Mark Juergensmeyer and Yoram Schweitzer argue that these “martyrdom operations” are acts of religious extremism. Indeed, the organizations who recruit young people to detonate themselves in crowds of civilians have manipulated religious fervor by wedding the ideas of heavenly reward to martyrdom, encouraging their followers to believe they will ascend straight to heaven and enter paradise. This is presented as the absolute sacrifice leading immediately to the ultimate reward.

Suicide terror has historical precedents. Nonetheless, the 1983 attacks in Lebanon against the American Marine Barracks signaled the beginning of the modern use of suicide terror. Historically, Muslim (Shi'ite and Sunni), Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and secular organizations all employed suicide attacks, especially in the Middle East, but also in many other regions . . .

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