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On Suicide Bombing (The Wellek Library Lectures) Hardcover – May 11, 2007

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Editorial Reviews



(Jonathan Shainin Bookforum 1900-01-00)

Asad's book is valuable because the legal distinctions he is challenging are especially vulnerable now.

(Samantha Power The New York Times Book Review)

Book Description

A subtle, sophisticated questioning of the current discourse surrounding terrorism, war, and the horrific phenomenon of suicide bombing.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Wellek Library Lectures (Book 231141521)
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1St Edition edition (May 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231141521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231141529
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By R. Elghonimi on July 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Rather than giving us more "imaginary" scenarios of what "might be going on in the mind of a terrorist" (as if modern torture methods or any other methods could definitively uncover intentions - a witch hunt mentality), Talal Asad is asking the right questions. What makes terrorism so terrifying that it has to be labeled distinctively - rather, than say, a gun-wielding student running amok at a university, killing 30+ people and then himself? Why does the topic of suicide bombing cause overwhelming horror over and beyond the scope of other horrific acts by state armies or school shootings - the disproportionate maiming and killing of civillians, women and children from far range by modern military weapons? The author doesn't attempt to give simplistic answers and wave the problems away, nor does he apologetically defend any perpetrator of terror - individual dissident or modern government.

What he does is uncover the disturbing truth that the double standard exists in our media and liberal democracy discussions: as soon as a modern government labels a dissident regime or country or religious group as "barbaric" or "uncivilized", it gives itself the right to kill "their" citizens or attack "their" defenses just as it has been previously attacked. Where is the line crossed?

Very deep reading. The author touches on Islamic and Christian culture and compares and contrasts what living and dying mean in each. This was one of its strongest aspects. Once the ideas of living, dying, and sacrifice are understood in terms of a particular culture, only then can its stance on suicide or bombing or terrorism be correctly understood. Do proponents of terrorism or suicide bombing abide by the tenets of their religion or is it a subversion of their teachings?
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Deborah on July 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book based on the Wellek lectures at U.C. Irvine is the best book on the topic of suicide bombings. As the other reviewer stated, it's approach brings "depth" to the topic, especially an understanding of Islam and the Arabic language, both of which tend to be seen as insignificant not only in the mainstream press but also in academic circles. Asad demonstrates why cultural anthropology has contributions to make to a topic and a region dominated by political science with its biases in which meaning lies away from "the ground up" and for the people it presumes to represent.

Some highlights that struck me--Asad's point that suicide bombing is about histories and the fact that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the history of Israeli expansion and Palestinian dispossession is always bracketed out, so that various kinds of political violence are abstracted from this political context. Another point he made is about the "West's" own "culture of death." I was very struck by his discussion of colonial and contemporary warfare waged by the West and the development of advanced weaponry designed to beat out at every turn surgical skill. Israel, prior to its departure from Lebanon last summer, left over cluster bombs AFTER the cessation of hostilities. There was no military point, no self-defense or security involved in that act. This act was aimed at a civilian population for no reason at all other than to maim and kill. The U.S. State Dept. "regrets" that Israel still hasn't turned over the maps that show where the cluster bombs were dropped, so that they can be safely disarmed.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rosalind on January 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an important, thoughtful reflection on the trajectories of violence and "unequal killing," particularly in encounters between Israelis and Palestinians, by one of our most astute intellectuals. Professor Asad's authoritative knowledge about the politics of religion and secularity resonates throughout these lectures but only to reveal that the reflexive link between "terrorism" and religious motives made by many pundits in the West is specious and superficial at best. The argument is complex yet deeply engaging and the writing luminous. A fine read.
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2 of 10 people found the following review helpful By N. Jones on May 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
No book to date has so cleanly highlighted the insidious depth of the cruelty and violence on which contemporary liberalism stands. It forces us to consider, in earnest, is the form of suicide bombing even something which can be considered a product of anything but liberal politics (mind you, hearing this before reading the book may do some damage to its argument).
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