Explaining Suicide Terrorism: A Review Essay

The current trend toward suicide bombings began in Lebanon in the early 1980s. The practice soon spread to civil conflicts in Sri Lanka, the Kurdish areas of Turkey, and Chechnya. Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians in the 1990s and during the Al Aqsa intifada further highlighted the threat. Al Qaeda's adoption of the tactic brought a transnational dimension. Interest in the phenomenon then surged after the shock of the 2001 attacks, which involved an unprecedented number of both perpetrators and casualties. Since then, suicide bombings have expanded in number and geographical range, reaching extraordinary levels in the Iraq War and spreading around the world to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Bangladesh, and Britain.

This review covers thirteen of the books published on the subject since 2002. Three analyze the Palestinian case and four others focus on Islamist violence. The other six, including two edited collections, intend to be comprehensive. This review also refers to a few selected publications that discuss the arguments presented in the works reviewed. It aims to give readers a glimpse of the content of the different volumes as well as offer a critique.

The essay reviews these works:

  • Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
  • Joyce M. Davis, Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance and Despair in the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
  • Diego Gambetta, ed., Making Sense of Suicide Missions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Mohammed M. Hafez, Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006).
  • Raphael Israeli, Islamikaze: Manifestations of Islamic Martyrology (London: Frank Cass, 2003).
  • Farhad Khosrokhavar, Suicide Bombers: Allah's New Martyrs, translated from the French by David Macey (London: Pluto Press, 2005).
  • Anne Marie Oliver and Paul F. Steinberg, The Road to Martyrs' Square: A Journey into the World of the Suicide Bomber (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Robert A. Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2005).
  • Ami Pedahzur, Suicide Terrorism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005).
  • Ami Pedahzur, ed., Root Causes of Suicide Terrorism: The Globalization of Martyrdom (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
  • Christoph Reuter, My Life is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing, translated from the German by Helena Ragg-Kirkby (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
  • Shaul Shay, The Shahids: Islam and Suicide Attacks (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004).
  • Barbara Victor, Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers (Emmaus Pa.: Rodale [distributed by St. Martin's Press] 2003).