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Suicide Bombers

Suicide Bombers

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Published by: api-3709748 on Oct 15, 2008
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A Note on Terminology
Two Forms of Martyrdom
1 Islam
Jihad: Holy War
Martyrdom in Islam
The Dif\ufb01cult Secularisation of Religion
Reinterpretations of Martyrdom andJihad
The Paradoxical Individualisation of Religious Discourse
Death and Fear of Dying
2 The Impossible National Community
Martyrdom in Iran
Martyrdom in Palestine
Lebanon: Between Martyrdom and Absurdity
3 The Transnational Neo-umma: al-Qaeda\u2019s Martyrs
Diasporic Ummas
Forms of Humiliation
A New Self-consciousness
The World Metropolis
Organisational Forms
Different Types of Actor
The New Middle-class Diaspora
The Case of Britain
The Case of America
Jihadist Families
The Exclusion of Women
The New Globalised Imaginary
Afterword to the English Edition

Throughout the twentieth century, the modern world strove to relegate religion to the realm of the private affairs of the individual. Over the last decades, however, we have seen the return in force of ostentatious forms of religiosity that defy the public space they invest. They reject society, and may even declare war on it.

Far from representing relics of an archaism faced with extinction, these violent religiosities are part of the modern world. The dynamic that produces them is the same dynamic that de\ufb01nes our cultural and political conditions of existence. Often characterised by the preponderant role played by death in their worldviews, they affect almost all religions, even though we will be looking exclusively at Islam here simply because the author of these lines is not competent to speak about other religions.

In the West, the problem of Islam and its activist forms arises for many different reasons. On the one hand, old barriers are breaking down as globalisation makes it dif\ufb01cult for the discrete and watertight civilisations of the past to go on existing. A hundred years ago, the population of the West was overwhelmingly Christian. That is no longer the case. In less than half a century, the upheavals of the modern world and the intermingling of peoples of different origins within it have resulted in the establishment of sizeable Muslim minorities in almost all countries. Muslims are now part of the cultural and religious landscape, be it in France (some four million), England (one and a half million), Germany (over three million), elsewhere in Europe or in the United States (some four million). The globalised world also generates a number of interrelated symbolic and cultural phenomena, thanks to the modern media and new forms of communication, mass population movements from one corner of the globe to another, and the formation of ever more varied diasporas. Events like the war in Bosnia or the struggles in the Palestinian territories are watched in real time by television viewers all over the world and inspire an almost simultaneous feeling of compassion, indignation, solidarity and revulsion. This too is breaking down the barriers between the various parts of the world.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims living in the West adapt to
their host countries and are eventually integrated into them. A tiny
2 Suicide Bombers

minority become radicalised for the speci\ufb01c reasons examined in the following analyses. There are various reasons for this. There are, to begin with, problems relating to the independence of former colonies after the Second World War (the Muslim territory of Kashmir, where the Indian-controlled area has given rise to con\ufb02ict between Pakistan and India), but there are also problems relating to the creation of Israel and the Six Days War, and to the collapse of the Soviet Empire (Bosnia, Chechnya or even Afghanistan). Those Islamic forms of struggle that result injihad or martyrdom relate to the establishment of new nations that \ufb01nd obstacles in their way or, as in the case of Iran, to the formation of nations that \ufb01nd themselves at war with other countries. Despite the differences between the cases of Iran, Palestine, Chechnya, Algeria or Afghanistan, the one thing that they do have in common is that they are inspired by Islamic movements that have a clearly identi\ufb01ed goal. The enemy they are \ufb01ghting is also clearly de\ufb01ned. In Iran, the goal of the war against Iraq was, on the one hand, to preserve national independence and the gains of the Islamic Revolution on the one hand and, on the other, to \ufb01ght the Iraqi enemy. Anti-Western rhetoric made the anti-imperialist struggle one of the issues at stake in the Islamic Revolution, but that goal was quickly marginalised.

A fundamentally different form of martyrdom came into being as a direct result of the collapse of the bipolar world and the Soviet Empire. This is al-Qaeda\u2019s form of martyrdom. Although it does have many things in common with national forms of martyrdom, the subjectivity that inspires its actors and the form taken by its hatred of the world are fundamentally different.

The interpretation offered here is based upon the analysis of texts, my \ufb01eld experience as a sociologist and anthropologist working in the Islamic world and in France, but also upon interviews carried out over a period of 18 months in French prisons with Muslims. Some were jailed for associating with wrongdoers in order to plan acts of terror, whilst others were radical Islamists or accused of belonging to Islamist networks. These interviews reveal the speci\ufb01city of their commitment and of the way they live their subjectivity.

One myth dies hard. Martyrs are described as \u2018Allah\u2019s madmen\u2019. They are described as being motivated by something approaching dementia, or as being out of step with the Western life way of life. They have personality problems, or quite simply have not succeeded in integrating into our societies. They are, in other words, not modern and are simply incapable of behaving as responsible and autonomous

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