Life as a Weapon: The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Life as a Weapon

The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings, 1st Edition

By Riaz Hassan


272 pages | 15 B/W Illus.

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Suicide bombing has become a weapon of choice among terrorist groups because of its lethality and ability to cause mayhem and fear. But who carries out these acts, and what motivates them? By undertaking analysis of the information in the most comprehensive suicide terrorism database in the world, Life as a Weapon seeks to question and in turn undermine the common perception that the psychopathology of suicide bombers and their religious beliefs are the principal causes.

Instead, the book presents a cocktail of motivations that drive suicide bombers, and explains how their actions achieve multiple purposes – community approval, political success, liberation of the homeland, personal redemption or honour, refusal to accept subjugation, revenge, anxiety, defiance. Since the configuration of these driving factors is also specifically related to the circumstances of political conflict in each different country, it is only through gaining understanding and knowledge of these conditions that appropriate policies and responses can be developed that will protect the public and counter the scourge of suicide bombings.

Life as a Weapon is a pivotal text in the discussion surrounding suicide bombings, and as such it is of relevance to undergraduate students, postgraduates, and researchers working in areas such as Security Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Terrorism, Criminology and Political Science.


‘To help us better understand suicide bombings Professor Riaz Hassan, one of the world’s leading sociologists, has brought together a wealth of knowledge on suicide, religion and the state, terrorism, politics and social conditions.

This masterful analysis takes us through two thousand years of history, and in recent decades across a wide geographical spread – from Sri Lanka to Chechnya, from Israel to Iraq, from Turkey to Pakistan and many places in between.

Hassan argues that suicide terrorism uses life as a weapon for altruistic purposes and is a global phenomenon which has seen more suicide bombings in Iraq alone since 2003, than in the whole world in the preceding 25 years. He shows this with the meticulous scholarship that has characterized his impressive scholarly work for decades.’ - Adam Graycar, Professor, Rutgers University, USA

‘This is a marvelous book by an extraordinary and courageous scholar. Throughout Life as a Weapon Professor Hassan challenges a number of taboos and if his data lead him that way he is ready to take politically incorrect positions. After the 9/11 tragedy (and the horror of suicide attacks wherever they occur) it is next to impossible for scholars in the West to take on objective view about who suicide bombers are, what their real motivation is, and how suicide bombing compares ethically with other acts of war. The Western media and often even Western scholars describe suicide bombers as fanatics, cowardly criminals who often commit the crimes drugged by their commanders.

Professor Hassan shows that all this received wisdom is false. Suicide bombing is hardly a fanatic, irrational act; it is actually a very effective political, military response, mostly carried out against occupying forces who have an overall military superiority and can only be challenged or even defeated by suicide terrorism.

There will be readers who will be upset when confronted by this book, but as far as I am concerned this speaks for Professor Hassan. He does not excuse suicide bombing but he understands it and provokes his readers to rethink their basic – and I am sure he is right: mostly false – assumptions.’ - Ivan Szelenyi, William Graham Sumner Professor of Sociology and Professor of Political Science, Yale University, USA

Table of Contents

Foreword Acknowledgements Introduction: Life as a Weapon Cato's suicide; Crucifixion death of Jesus Christ; The Martyrs of Cordoba; The Jewish Zealots and Sicarii; The Order of Assassins; Japanese traditions of the political and military sacrifice; Outline of the book Chapter 1: Global Trends in Suicide Bombing 1981-2006 The Flinders University Suicide Terrorism Project; Incidence of suicide bombings and fatalities, 1981-2006; Suicide bombings by country; Suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism; Lethality of suicide bombings; Targets and types of suicide bombings; Concluding remarks Chapter 2: Explaining Suicide Bombings Explanations focusing on individual characteristics and motivations; Suicide bombing as organizational imperative and strategic weapon; Societal conditions: repressive occupation, humiliation and altruism; The social construction of altruism Chapter 3: Suicide Bombings in Iraq Iraqi insurgency; Iraqi Nationalists; Iraqi Islamists; Darnah, Libya: A mini Martyrdom Central; FUSTD Suicide Bombing Profile: Iraq; Targets of suicide attacks; Types of suicide attacks; Biography of an Iraqi suicide bomber; Baghdad Badr attack; Concluding remarks Chapter 4: Suicide Bombings in Israel and Palestine The Oslo Accord; The Al-Aqsa Intifada I; Palestinian suicide bombings; Main sponsoring orgainzations; Hamas; Palestinian Islamic Jihad; Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; The Al-Aqsa Intifada II; FUSTD Suicide Bombing Profile: Israel and Palestine; Type of suicide attacks and targets; Two case studies of suicide bombers; Concluding remarks Chapter 5: Suicide Bombings in Pakistan The Islamization program; The occupation of Afghanistan; Post-9/11 developments; Suicide bombing campaigns; What attracts young Pakistanis to militancy?; Learning to be suicide bombers; Biographies of a suicide bomber and a recruiter/facilitator; FUSTD Suicide Bombing Profile: Pakistan; Concluding remarks Chapter 6: Suicide Bombings in Afghanistan Protagonists in the Afghanistan conflict; Resurgence of the Taliban; Configuring the conflict; FUSTD Suicide Bombing Profile: Afghanistan; The incidence of suicide attacks 2001-06; Weapons and regions of suicide bombing; Who are Afghanistan's suicide bombers?; Insights from UNAMA interviews; Cross-border dimensions of insurgency; Concluding remarks Chapter 7: Suicide Bombings in Sri Lanka History of the Conflict; The LTTE and Suicide Bombings; FUSTD Suicide Bombing Profile: Sri Lanka; Tamil Tigers: Two Profiles; Concluding remarks Chapter 8: Suicide Bombings: Homicidal Killing or a Weapon of War? Suicide and Suicide Bombing; War and War Killing; Killing in War and Terrorism; War Killing and Murder; Good Death Bad Death; Concluding remarks Epilogue Suicide bombers are not mad; A strategic weapon, tactic; Driven mainly by politics, not religion; Humiliation aids sub-culture of suicide bombing; Sometimes driven by revenge and retaliation; Altruistically driven action; Countering suicide terrorism

About the Author

Riaz Hassan is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia and Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies National University of Singapore. His research interests include suicide terrorism, housing, and Muslim Societies. His recent books include Faithlines: Muslim Conceptions of Islam and Society (Oxford University Press, 2004) and Inside Muslim Minds (Melbourne University Press, 2008). He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and a member of the Order of Australia.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General