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A Journey into the World of the Suicide Bomber

by Anne Marie Oliver & Paul F. Steinberg

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-19-511600-3
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Of suicide as a way of life: a study of the culture of violence surrounding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

When the intifada began in 1988, independent scholars Oliver and Steinberg moved to Gaza and lived with a Palestinian family to study the situation. “We gladly talked to anyone who would talk with us—nationalists and Islamists, leaders and followers, stone throwers and spokesmen, militants and bystanders,” they write. Over the next years, some of those people talked with them reluctantly, while others were quite proud to speak openly of how they would “cut off the head of a Jew or a collaborator.” Oliver and Steinberg are sympathetic to the plight of the dispossessed Palestinians, including the suicide bombers they take pains to humanize even while showing them to be automata trained by murderous masters. In a memorable sequence, Oliver and Steinberg recall the Hamas (“zeal”) movement’s spiritual leader: Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, the author of much of the rhetoric of Palestinian terrorism, who, “renowned for his asceticism, would in later years be seen driving around the camps of Gaza in a specially outfitted brown Range Rover, which some said was a gift from the Saudis, while others insisted it was from none other than Arafat.” Image is everything, of course, and the authors work with a large collection of photographs and videotapes depicting such things as a knife-wielding giant hand stabbing an Israeli soldier “like a machine gone mad” and mobs of young children waving copies of the Quran while lionizing fallen participants in “martyrdom operations”—not all of whom seem to have believed that they would really earn martyrdom in the bargain. The authors also look closely at the rhetoric of the suicide bombers and their coaches—for in such things as taking one’s own life in the service of a cause, one Hamas leader tells us, “the importance of ‘spurring on’ cannot be underestimated.”

Of much interest to students of the Middle East, and of the psychology of cults.