Home BOOK REVIEW: Understanding Suicide Terrorism: Author Radhika Halder

BOOK REVIEW: Understanding Suicide Terrorism: Author Radhika Halder

The book “Understanding Suicide Terrorism” tackles an extremely critical chapter in the history of terrorism. At a time when India is looking for urgent answers post the ghastly Pulwama attack, the book offers a useful insight into the psychology of suicide terrorism. The book is an easy read and those who are learning to understand the world of terrorism will find some very educative history and growth of the phenomenon. Those already in the game too will find several takeaways from author’s well laid out research providing a rich acumen into the arena of suicide terrorism.

The book has a very logical flow which allows the readers to have a better grasp of the issues being discussed. Ms Halder has looked at the various definitions of “terrorism” and highlights the dilemmas and challenges for the world to arrive at a globally acceptable description of the phenomenon, and then carefully goes on to restrict the scope of her discussions to violence by “Non-State actors”. She repeatedly projects the Af-Pak regions as the hub of global terror where religion, politics, ideology and strategy have combined to create a toxic cauldron, spreading venom in the region and exporting the same globally.

            Tracing the origins of terrorism to the 18th century French Revolution, the author has gone on to elucidate the history of “suicide terrorism” through a well researched chronology, covering the phenomenon in Russia, Japan, Ireland and some of the most terror torn regions in the Middle East and Asia. The writer has  lucidly elucidated the underlying philosophy behind suicide terrorism which evolved from “probable death” in Russia to “certain death” of Japanese Kamikazes associated with honour, transforming to take a religious flavour in Iran and its strategic employment by LTTE, till its complete revolutionisation with 9/11 attacks.  

            The author has analysed various dimensions of the phenomenon in Chapter 3 over two transformational periods. Firstly, 1980-2000 where struggle for homeland and community identity dominated the thinking with groups like Hezbollah. Secondly, the period after 2000 which has been characterised by religious and ideological motivations for groups like Al Qaeda & ISIS. She contends that terrorist organisations have come to favour suicide terrorism because it guarantees assured destruction, heavy psychological impact on target audience, lesser cost and plausible deniability. The chapter aptly identifies the individual terrorist, willing to sacrifice as the most important factor in suicide terrorism and outlines the requirements for preparing a suicide bomber including his/her willingness, background and process of indoctrination.

            Chapter 4 analyses various facets of terrorism with in-depth study of LTTE & al-Qaeda. Tracing their origin and growth leading to adoption of suicide terrorism, the book brings out the commonalities and differences in the two organisations highlighting the tactical and strategic value of the phenomenon. A strong top leadership was common to the gps (which also resulted in their downfall on elimination of Prabhakaran & Osama bin Laden), along with a strong reason to justify the beliefs and methodologies. The cadres were motivated by the prestige & honour associated with the sacrifice. On the other hand, LTTE was based on ethnic conflict, and Al Qaeda relied on religion; while LTTE never targeted civilians, Al Qaeda believes in creating fear through random killings. She also makes a distinction between suicide terrorism and fidayeen attacks, separated by the ultimate intent to die or live another day to die later.

            Analysing the anti-India terror groups, the book provides a well researched history of the rise & growth of LeT & JeM. It also provides the reasons for the nexus with Pak in the backdrop of its formation, her Indian obsession and the platform provided by the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. The jihadi ideology of LeT behind the philanthropic façade of JuD has been highlighted to bring out the continuing threat to India. JeM’s primarily anti-India agenda and its efforts have been collated in Chapter 5 to underscore the long term threat posed by JeM. Fidayeen attacks is a favoured methodology of both LeT & JeM, though the slightly different approach of the two has been outlined to provide a better threat perspective from the two terror groups.

            The book looks at Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan to analyse the different forms of suicide terrorism and the effectiveness of state measures to check the trend. The challenges are accentuated by the lack of military, economic or even technological (as in case of Afghanistan) resources. While some countries have been successful in containing the phenomenon, others have struggled due to continued alienation of the masses fanned by wrong policies and collateral damages.

            In the end, the author talks about the shift in global strategy to counter terrorism. As the threat became global post 9/11 attacks, countries like UK, US, Belgium have shifted their strategic focus to counter the phenomenon. Concept of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) has been explained as part of this shift. The book outlines the efforts of UN and other multinational fora to tackle terrorism and concludes that while suicide terrorism gains popularity amongst perpetrators, multinational, multipronged, synergized approach will be required to deal with the underlying ideology and associated social, religious, ethnic and economic issues to protect the global community.             


Name of the Book: Understanding Suicide Terrorism

Author: Ms Radhika Halder

No of pages: 230

Published: 2018; by KW Publishers Pvt Ltd

Cost: Rs 980/-


Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CLAWS or of the Government of India

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Col Ashish Singh

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