Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing.

AuthorDanis, Mary E.
PositionBook review

Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, 128 pages. Hardcover $19.95.

TALAL ASAD'S BOOK, ON SUICIDE BOMBING, takes analysis of suicide bombing and terrorism to a level that has not yet been achieved by other scholars. Rather than focusing on the psychological issues that lead one to become a "martyr," as many other books on the topic do, Asad asks the reader to think about much deeper questions. Why is suicide bombing so much more terrifying than other acts of violence? Why is it so vastly different from war? What makes terrorism so much less morally justifiable than other attacks executed in a "just war?" While claiming to not justify any type of terrorist atrocities, Asad questions whether acts committed in wars, such as the one being waged in Iraq, are not equally horrendous and unjustifiable. This book, based on the Wellek Library Lectures at the University of California, Irvine, addresses these issues in a thought-provoking manner and offers alternative explanations by relying upon the opinions of experts and philosophers.

On Suicide Bombing is divided into three chapters, "terrorism," "suicide terrorism," and "horror at suicide terrorism." He begins with a focus on differences between war and terrorism and directly calls into question the Bush administration's liberal use of "just war" in the "war on terrorism." War is defined as formal hostilities between sovereign states and not between a state and an abstraction like terror. As Asad asks why terrorism is so much more extreme than war, he critiques Michael Walzer's notion that terrorism is considered especially evil not only because of killing of innocent people but also the instilling of fear and insecurity into everyday life. He argues that war can also instill these emotions, and that the brutality of a state army and of a terrorist group have much in common. During the bombings of villages by state armies, certainly innocent men, women, and children lose their lives. The constant presence and threat of opposition soldiers creates fear in people's lives.

If war is only used as a "necessity" then we look for ways of justifying it by believing that we had no choice and had to protect others and ourselves. Terrorism, on the other hand, is never justified by the West, even though terrorists also claim that these actions are sometimes necessary. In playing the devil's advocate, Asad asks if possibly the terrorists have reached the limit, with no other...

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