With a Thanksgiving break that offered me a relatively free weekend I sat down with Mr. Talal Asad to see what he thought about suicide bombing. In a two destructive chapters Asad has given me an interesting perspective into what goes through a suicidal terrorists head and, more importantly, why that previous though just isn’t as important as a few others.
In the first chapter Asad starts by bringing forward many examples of models that try understand the psychological, religious and social circumstances behind this phenomenon. In many cases it seems like he lines them up to knock them down whether is was the three point takedown of Strenski or illustration of how the title “Shahid” is made meaningless in this context through being applicable in too many senses.
All of the previous angling of examples makes sense soon in lining up a critique of liberalism that founds itself in a certain type of sanctioned violence that the state derives its power from. Moving quickly he takes the assertion of the state control of violence and combines it with the mandate to protect its citizens against “the uncivilized, whose very existence is a threat to civilized order” (Asad 59). Very quickly we see where this is going and after Asad explains how modern warfare has lost any vestige of empathy towards fellow humans through “the rise of ‘thing-killing'” he is close to his final posit that “a suicidal war can be legitimate” (Asad 61). After considering how the very foundations of liberalism demand the use of nuclear weapons when faced with an existential danger, Asad’s point certainly comes across powerfully.
The next section comes to deal with horror and how our reaction to suicidal bombing is something worth looking into and understanding. This chapter strongly defines the difference between fear and horror, horror being the change and loss of identity of things that we cannot see without it. Through some hard hitting examples Asad is really able to flesh this out into and illustration of how “combination of ecstasy and unbearable pain” fundamentally shocks the sensibilities that make us human (Asad 89). Indeed liberalism comes up in how unsteadily it takes these blows to both it’s integrity of “an uncoerced interiority” as well as the ideas of crime and punishment (Asad 91).
To conclude, some powerful points made on the nature of suicide bombing and our own reaction to it. Certainly not something I’d choose for light reading but certainly worth the effort put in. 8/10
Tall Asad, On Suicide Bombing, Columbia University Press, New York