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My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing Hardcover – April 11, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st edition (April 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691117594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691117591
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,492,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A book on suicide bombers has the potential to be gripping and revelatory. With such a title as the one above, it's not unreasonable to expect a first-person account of the motivations of a would-be bomber or plenty of material taken from primary-source interviews. Unfortunately, this is not the book it presents itself to be. Instead, Reuter, a reporter for the German magazine Stern, provides a serviceable introduction to the modern history of suicide bombing by Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iranian children's battalions in the Iran-Iraq war and Japanese kamikaze pilots, among others. While the research is good, Reuter tells us nothing that has not already been written about in other books or magazines. He did conduct a handful of interviews with the mothers of suicide bombers. However, these were arranged by the sponsoring terrorist organization, so it's unclear whether the mothers' expressions of pride and happiness over their sons' deaths are their true sentiment or if they are simply reciting group propaganda. Nor does Reuter offer much analysis. Other interviews are with intelligence and law enforcement agents, whose input helps to better understand the logistics of suicide operations but does not shed much light on the psyche of the would-be bombers. Other books by scholars who conducted interviews directly with would-be bombers and terrorist combatants have set a higher standard; examples include Jessica Stern's Terror in the Name of God and Joyce Davis's Martyrs. Though not bad, Reuter's account falls short of the current caliber of such material on the subject.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"We are as yet a long way from fully understanding the various manifestations of suicide terrorism and its motives, but My Life Is a Weapon is an important contribution. Reuter has traveled for years through Arab countries, the Middle East and Central Asia and is able to talk more or less freely to people and read texts usually not accessible to the average foreign correspondent. His account of suicide terrorism is, to the best of my knowledge, the first (of its kind) in any language."--Walter Laqueur, Times Literary Supplement

"Against the violent Manichean rhetoric of the times, and its brute interventionism, Reuter offers a counter-narrative: suicide attacks in Israel-Palestine will stop when Israel withdraws from the Occupied Territories; more generally across the region, the West should keep out."--Jacqueline Rose, London Review of Books

"This is a journalist's history . . . with solid exposition, sharp observations and flashes of insight. . . . For instance, in invading and occupying Iraq, he maintains, the Bush administration is playing into the hands of terrorists like Osama bin Laden, creating exactly the context of humiliation that provides new recruits."--William S. Kowinski, San Francisco Chronicle

"[A] well-researched history of suicide attacks, which touches on the 12th century Assassins but concentrates on today. . . . Suicide attackers can be educated and uneducated; religious and secular; comfortably off and destitute: their link is the decision they make to transform their powerlessness into extraordinary power."--The Economist

"Christoph Reuter . . . interviewed as many families of suicide bombers as he could find, canvassed their countries of origin for insights, and has compiled the results in a short, readable book. The windows Mr. Reuter makes into suicide terrorists' family lives . . . show how lamentable is the ethos of chauvinism and pride that supports suicide terrorism. But they also show how fragile and contrived that support can sometimes be."--Brendan Conway, New York Sun

"[Reuter] integrate[s] impressive research with personal interviews and experiences that give the material immediacy and emotional force. . . . [H]is message is an important one, and it is this: the myths that poverty, or deprivation, or humiliation, or paradisiacal virgins or religious zealotry or hopelessness or plain ignorance are ultimately driving suicide attacks are 'simply wrong'. . . .. What is driving the spread and intensification of such attacks, he suggests, is a record of apparent success in attaining strategic objectives from 1980 to 2000, even if such success was bought at a horrible cost."--Avery Plaw, Montreal Gazette

"Everyone frustrated by the spread of suicide bombing as an extension of politics by other means would be wise to read and dwell on My Life is a Weapon. . . . Reuter's book offers rich data for mulling the topic."--Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer

"This insightful, sensitively written book deserves a wide audience."--Jane Adas, Christian Century

"Likely to become the standard text on the subject."--Washington Post Book World

"Fine first-hand reporting is combined with a sensitive effort to explain."--Foreign Affairs

"Reuter has provided an excellent overview of the nature of contemporary suicide attacks. The book is well worth reading for all students of this topic."--John C. Zimmerman, Terrorism and Political Violence

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Shahadi on September 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
With My Life is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing Christoph Reuter, a journalist and international correspondent for the German magazine Stern, offers a modern history of suicide terror. Over the course of nine chapters he traces a genealogy of the practice at different points in its history and across several cultures. Chapters on the ancient Persian assassins, suicidal child-soldiers of the Iran/Iraq war, Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Shahids (martyrs), and Japanese kamikazes are considered in parallel with Al-Qaeda and separatist movements in Sri Lanka and Kurdistan. Reuter writes, "This book attempts to piece together, in a logical sequence, what is known about [the origins of suicide terror]--which societies facilitate its development, what conditions are most favorable for its spread, and how the various tactics used have been developed" (6). However, the study that follows is compromised by its founding assumptions: that identifying the origins of suicide terror will shed light on its contemporary purveyors and that some cultures are more hospitable to this practice than others.

In his introduction, Reuter decries the "facile explanations for suicide attacks offered in the Western media" as merely leading to more questions and begins by asking, "If the attacks are to be attributed to radical Islam per se, why have they appeared only in the last twenty years?" (11). Unfortunately, this auspicious beginning is quickly undone as he writes, "Perhaps the thorniest question is how a society can come to tolerate, and indeed foster a practice so opposed to the survival instinct as to be pathological?" (11).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on September 17, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is strongest in providing a brief but useful overview of terrorism as a strategy used by various groups over the ages. It is not a deeply analytical book, and does not deal except in passing with the larger questions, such as when terrorism is or is not employed as a strategy, and when it is or is not successful, or even what it means to be 'successful' in this situation.

The book was published in German in 2002, and so it is more than a bit out of date in analysing Al Qaida and home-grown terrorist groups. Nevertheless, it was well worth translating, and readers will learn from it. It is also well-written, as is to be expected from a professional journalist.

The one-star review by Joseph Shahadi is, in my estimation, quite unwarranted, although some of his points have at least superficial validity. I find myself bored with the "Eurocentric" critique of terrorism, and Reuter is not very culpable. On the other hand, I think he places much too much emphasis on the religous as opposed to social and political nature of Islamic terrorism. Terrorists tend not to be more religious than average, although more than a few intensified their religious observations leading up to self-sacrifice. Even Al-qaeda is more of a political and social than a religious movement, although it clearly using religion as an agent of maintaining solidarity.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John K on July 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My Life is a Weapon is a pretty good book, for what it is. While the work addresses the topic of suicide terrorism, it does so in the exact way that it bills itself: as a history. It is a fine history that covers a variety of topics from different periods and touches all the necessary bases (al-Qaeda, Israel/Palestine, and social/religious justification). Even though it was translated from German, it reads very well and serves as a good literary history on the subject. I particularly enjoyed the two chapters on Iran and thought that the chapter on "The Feud of the Fatwas" was also quite informative.

However, even though the book draws its inspiration from the phenomenon of suicide terrorism, the book also deals with state-sponsored suicidal acts. These events, such as the Japanese Kamikazes or the Iranian Martyrs, are interesting but have generally been excluded from the examination of suicide terrorism proper, which must be committed by a terrorist or terrorist organization. The author, Christopher Reuter, certainly brings his views and ideas into the fold but they do not constitute concrete analysis and are, despite the 2004 printing of the translation with abridgement, a bit dated. It must be noted that tackling the analysis and explanation of this monumental issue was not something that the author purported to do. It appears that he wanted to do just what he did, write a good literary history of the subject.

There are a few things that I would like to opine about from the book that do not have much bearing on its overall quality but which are simply conceptual and theoretical issues.

The main piece of insight that Reuter hoped to impart upon his readership was his theory that attempts to explain an issue in the development of suicide terrorism campaigns.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Polizeischütze on February 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Christoph Reuter provides an excellent overview of the historical origins and applications of this extreme of terrorist tactics. "My Life is a Weapon" surveys this tactic across religious and ethnic lines. That global perspective enhances the relevance of the this work. Mr. Reuter weaves antedotes from attacks as well as interviews with family and friends of martyrs. These stories greatly contribute to the read-ability of this work. Mr. Reuter delves into the various rationale typologies through his research. For us in the west to understand the "why" we need to read Mr. Reuter's research. This fast reading work should be a must for everyone in the domestic emergency services community as well as our military defenders destined for theaters overseas.

The reader's special attention should be concentrated on the descriptions of the Battle of Karbalah (680 a.d.). The west has a tendency to forget the past, a characteristic not shared by most of the world. The Battle of Karbalah is a focal point for extremist Islamic rationalization for this tactic. Practioners endeavoring to understand this tactic must accept the importance of this epic battle as a focal point of motivation for many extremist martyrs.
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