Crenshaw Review Article


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THE PROBLEM OF “SUICIDE TERRORISM” 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 sources listed above. It aims to give readers a glimpse of the content of the different volumes as well as offer a critique. These works make important contributions, although explanations are still at an early and uneven stage. The concept remains imprecise, the facts are not well established, and neither explanations nor policy recommendations distinguish suf±ciently between suicide and other terrorist or insurgent attacks or account for variations within the phenomenon. Speci±cations of what is to be explained vary by author. Findings are often based on incompatible datasets, and references to cases or examples do not always ±t the stated de±nition of the concept. Contradiction, ambiguity, and error are particularly consequential because the overall number of suicide attacks is quite small compared to total numbers of attacks on similar targets using other means. Inclusion or exclusion of a few events can thus shape the conclusions that are drawn. In addition, many accounts are being overtaken by events. Suicide attacks in Iraq outnumber all other campaigns and challenge some of the explanations offered by general studies. For example, Mohammed Hafez lists 443 suicide attacks in Iraq from 22 March 2003 to 20 February 2006. The Brookings Iraq Index as of 24 January 2007 reports 1,188 multiple fatality bombings, including at least 403 suicide bombings. In comparison, fewer than 200 incidents were associated with the next most consequential campaign, Palestinian violence against Israel from 1993 to 2006. The review is organized as follows. I ±rst ask what it is that the authors are trying to
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This note was uploaded on 02/01/2010 for the course GOV 365N taught by Professor Moser during the Fall '06 term at University of Texas.

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