How can young Muslims, often teenagers, find the will to detonate bombs, killing themselves and blowing up others? For American young adults, this is a troubling question, addressed by author Landau in her disturbing informational book. Starting with an exploration of perceived differences between suicide (not sanctioned by Islam) and martyrdom, she moves on to discuss characteristics and motives of both male and, more recently, female bombers. Psychiatrists, scholars, terrorist leaders, and young people themselves suggest varying motivations, ranging from intense piety, to hunger for revenge on occupiers, and pressure of personal problems. All agree that the promise of posthumous glory in their society and immortality in paradise are powerful magnets. Surprisingly, many suicide bombers are from educated, middle class families, idealistic and compassionate before they commit to martyrdom. Landau makes the point that not all Muslims endorse using young people as human bombs, though some are more censorious of killing innocent bystanders than of the heroes' own self-destruction. After chapters about the importance of recruiters, trainers of the young martyrs, and effects on their families, the author reviews historical suicide attackers, especially the kamikaze pilots of World War II. Parallels also extend to the suicidal terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center and other bombers in Bali, London, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. What to do? That is a harder question, not answered here. The book contains much extremely chilling information—excellent for discussion, probably best tackled in small amounts at a time. Endnotes, a bibliography, and an index are included.
- Julie Watkins
Who is the "typical" suicide bomber? In these turbulent times when terrorism knows no geographic bounds, it seems especially sensible to attempt to profile those who are willing not only to randomly kill others but also to brutally commit suicide while doing so. Unfortunately this profile is nearly impossible to pin down. The stereotypical bomber used to display the same general characteristics: young male, fanatically religious, purposeless, and easily influenced. Bombers now run the gamut from the former stereotype to rich, middle-class males to females and even pregnant women. This unknown factor is even more frightening because many blend in with their surroundings. The author studies several individual examples of young people who are recruited into or choose to become human sacrifices, and the convoluted path that leads them to their final, grisly end. Landau, who has written more than two hundred nonfiction books, does an excellent job of dissecting the complex history, motives, and philosophies that feed the culture of the suicide bomber. Her thoughtful and concise analysis focuses primarily on the Middle East, where the majority of bombers are born or trained. Even students who believe Social Studies to be dull will find her writing style compelling and easy to follow. But unless library staff promote the title, the subject will likely relegate the book to the nonfiction shelves, to be used primarily for school assignments. That would be a shame, because its significance to today's world makes it relevant reading for everyone.