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On Suicide Bombing

On Suicide Bombing

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 144
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  • Book Info
    On Suicide Bombing
    Book Description:

    Like many people in America and around the world, Talal Asad experienced the events of September 11, 2001, largely through the media and the emotional response of others. For many non-Muslims, "the suicide bomber" quickly became the icon of "an Islamic culture of death"-a conceptual leap that struck Asad as problematic. Is there a "religiously-motivated terrorism?" If so, how does it differ from other cruelties? What makes its motivation "religious"? Where does it stand in relation to other forms of collective violence?

    Drawing on his extensive scholarship in the study of secular and religious traditions as well as his understanding of social, political, and anthropological theory and research, Asad questions Western assumptions regarding death and killing. He scrutinizes the idea of a "clash of civilizations," the claim that "Islamic jihadism" is the essence of modern terror, and the arguments put forward by liberals to justify war in our time. He critically engages with a range of explanations of suicide terrorism, exploring many writers' preoccupation with the motives of perpetrators. In conclusion, Asad examines our emotional response to suicide (including suicide terrorism) and the horror it invokes.

    On Suicide Bombing is an original and provocative analysis critiquing the work of intellectuals from both the left and the right. Though fighting evil is an old concept, it has found new and disturbing expressions in our contemporary "war on terror." For Asad, it is critical that we remain aware of the forces shaping the discourse surrounding this mode of violence, and by questioning our assumptions about morally good and morally evil ways of killing, he illuminates the fragile contradictions that are a part of our modern subjectivity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51197-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Religion, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Like most new yorkers who were in the city on September 11, 2001, I encountered the events of that day largely through the media, through the pall of smoke that hung over the south of the island, and through the emotion infusing the conversation and demeanor of ordinary Americans. For many Muslims living in the United States, September 11 was the beginning of a long period of anxiety, during which they found themselves associated, occasionally explicitly but more often implicitly, with terrorism.¹ For many non-Muslims in the United States, Western Europe, and Israel, the suicide bomber quickly became the icon...

    (pp. 7-38)

    On the evening of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush made a statement in his address to the nation:

    Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers; moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us...

    (pp. 39-64)

    I argued in the previous chapter that the categories “war” and “terrorism” are constituted according to different logical criteria, the one taking its primary sense from the question of legality and the other from feelings of vulnerability and fear of social disorder, and that they are not therefore mutually exclusive. It is not correct to say, as Walzer does, that “the peculiar evil of terrorism [is] not only the killing of innocent people but also the intrusion of fear into everyday life, the violation of private purposes, the insecurity of public spaces, the endless coerciveness of precaution” because war, whether...

    (pp. 65-92)

    In this final chapter, I want to move away from the preoccupation with the meaning of suicide bombing and with the question of what motivates the bombers to kill innocent civilians by dying—of why people choose death rather than life. I want to reframe the question. I want to ask: Why do people in the West react to verbal and visual representations of suicide bombing with professions of horror? Unimaginable cruelties perpetrated in secret or openly, by dictatorships and democracies, criminals and prison systems, racially oriented immigration policies and ethnic cleansing, torture and imperial wars are all evident in...

    (pp. 93-96)

    I began these reflections about suicide terrorism immediately after September 11, 2001. Since then, there have been four assaults by the United States and its allies against “Islamic terror,” in two of which (Afghanistan and Iraq) the USA was the major warring party and in two (Gaza and Lebanon) the crucial political supporter and arms supplier of the major warring party (Israel). At the time of writing, all four wars are still ongoing and have already resulted in massive losses of life that immeasurably exceed anything terrorists have managed to do. This imbalance is not a matter of bad motives...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 97-120)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 121-128)