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Dying Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror [Paperback]

Mia Bloom

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Book Description

June 15 2007

What motivates suicide bombers in Iraq and around the world? Can winning the hearts and minds of local populations stop them? Will the phenomenon spread to the United States? These vital questions are at the heart of this important book. Mia Bloom examines the use, strategies, successes, and failures of suicide bombing in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe and assesses the effectiveness of government responses. She argues that in many instances the efforts of Israel, Russia, and the United States in Iraq have failed to deter terrorism and suicide bombings. Bloom also considers how terrorist groups learn from one another, how they respond to counterterror tactics, the financing of terrorism, and the role of suicide attacks against the backdrop of larger ethnic and political conflicts.

Dying to Kill begins with a review of the long history of terrorism, from ancient times to modernity, from the Japanese Kamikazes during World War II, to the Palestinian, Tamil, Iraqi, and Chechen terrorists of today. Bloom explores how suicide terror is used to achieve the goals of terrorist groups: to instill public fear, attract international news coverage, gain support for their cause, and create solidarity or competition between disparate terrorist organizations. She contends that it is often social and political motivations rather than inherently religious ones that inspire suicide bombers. In her chapter focusing on the increasing number of women suicide bombers and terrorists, Bloom examines Sri Lanka, where 33 percent of bombers have been women; Turkey, where the PKK used women feigning pregnancy as bombers; and the role of the Black Widows in the Chechen struggle against Moscow.

The motives of individuals, whether religious or nationalist, are important but the larger question is, what external factors make it possible for suicide terrorism to flourish? Bloom describes these conditions and develops a theory of why terrorist tactics work in some instances and fail in others.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. An "explanation of the unexplainable," this lucid and comprehensive study of the historical roots and contemporary motivations of suicide terror is a major study. Bloom's historical range is formidable; the first eight chapters are a marvel of historical compression, moving from the Zealots of first-century Judea to the Japanese kamikaze of WWII within a few bleak but instructive pages. Bloom stresses that suicide bombings can only thrive with the implied consent of an aggrieved population, which can be withdrawn: the Omagh bombing of 1998, for example, was a disaster for the IRA. Over and over again—from Chechnya to the West Bank—history teaches that harsh counterterror tactics become part of the cycle, or, as University of Cincinnati political scientist Bloom terms it, part of the contagion of violence. She sees hopeful signs in Turkey's recent measured and partially successful response to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The book also includes a fascinating chapter on suicide terror as practiced by women, especially in Chechnya and Sri Lanka, and how it is viewed, ironically, as a source of female empowerment. The last chapter is a clear-eyed consideration of the possible occurrence of suicide bombing on U.S. territory. A generous appendix contains charts and usefully annotated list of sources. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


This lucid and comprehensive study of the historical roots and contemporary motivations of suicide terror is a major study.

(Publishers Weekly)

Ms. Bloom...who has done extensive field research...[is] able to present a more nuanced and better informed analysis of suicide terror.

(Joshua Sinai Washington Times)

[Bloom] sheds interesting light on a phenomenon often mistakenly believed to be restricted to the Middle East.

(Washington Post Book World)

An insightful investigation into the internal workings of terrorist groups.

(Karl Helicher ForeWord 1900-01-00)

Pertinent for western countries... It's a great introduction for students and those wishing to know more about the complex motivations of suicide bombers.

(Katherine Boothroyd Altar Magazine)

Bloom offers valuable insights into the rational calculus of terrorist groups.

(Peter Pham The National Interest)

The book is both well written and very informative... In troubled times such as these the book is worth reading.

(Stefan Isaksson UFO.SE)

A detailed study of suicide terror.

(Ira Smolensky Salem Press 2006-01-00)

[Bloom] makes a convincing case.

(Mayer Nudell Security Management)

Bloom offers valuable insights into the rational calculus of terrorist groups.

(J. Peter Pham Current)

A welcome addition to a rapidly growing field of research.

(Ignacio Sanchez-Cuenca Political Science Quarterly 1900-01-00)

Dying to Kill leaves us with a better understanding of the effects of oppression on populations, and the rationale behind the adoption of suicide bombing as a strategy by both groups and individuals.

(Aharon Horowitz Azure 1900-01-00)

Anyone who wishes to really attempt to understand the history and motivations, Mia Bloom's tome is the way to go.

(American Jewish Life 1900-01-00)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dying to Read Dec 19 2005
By Security Nerd - Published on Amazon.com
This was the best book on the subject I have read in a very long time. The books presents interviews with failed bombers and the group leaders that send them. Amazing... the book gives you a glimpse inside the groups and also the mentality of the people who are drawn into this cult of martyrdom. I had no idea that there were more bombings in Sri Lanka than anywhere else but certainly, the recent growth of Islamic bombers seems to show that secular groups are not the most dangerous post 9/11. My instinct is to agree. The terrorists in Sri Lanka are not ramming planes into buildings here in this country and many people do not even consider them terrorists.

Methodologically the book appears to be a most dissimilar case comparison in which the author shows the linkages among groups and individual motivations. Instead of presenting the groups that suicide bomb as either religious or secular, the author presents a spectum along which most groups fall.

Super interesting especially the author's discussion of women bombers and how they are motivated.

I enjoyed this book immensely. I am sure you will too.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dying to Kill Dec 16 2005
By Mary book worm - Published on Amazon.com
Read the book after seeing the author on TV talking about women suicide bombers. Some of the people who have read the book completely misunderstood what she was saying (I read the reviews and wondered whether we had read the same book?). She is not blaming victims but analyzing what kinds of counter terrorism tactics work best. She also has an interesting counter point to this book by Robert A. Pape that suicide bombing is a response to foreign occupation. Oh by the way, who is occupying Bangladesh which has been in the news this week with attacks? So I found Dying to Kill more nuanced and based on real world information including interviews with real life terrorists to be heads and tails above some of the so called experts. She is also on point about Iraq, even rightly predicting that there is no way to impose democracy from above and identified that most of the bombers are foreigners like Saudis. This book will definitely not disappoint.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic insider view on terrorism May 8 2005
By DJ Offbeat - Published on Amazon.com
I read this book with great interest. The author discusses why suicide bombers and the organizations that send them got so popular all over the world. Further, she has included interviews with failed bombers and the leaders that send them so there is a lot of new information from an insider's perspective.

The book examines suicide bombing from all over the world, and I learned for instance, that not all groups using suicide terrorism are radical Muslims like those in Al Qaeda ... the author went to Sri Lanka and interviewed the Tigers, who committed the most suicide attacks of all the groups put together and they are Hindus. The book also examines why women become bombers, something I really did not know much about and contrasts Chechnya and Israel/Palestine and explains what went wrong in Iraq. This book was really fantastic. I recommend it enthusiastically.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important study on suicide terrorism Sept. 3 2006
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is one of the major studies of suicide terrorism. Anyone interested in the subject should read this book, as well as other major sources (such as Robert Pape's work and Ami Pedahzur's edited volume). She begins by providing a brief history of suicide terrorism--which has roots going back quite a distance historically (the Zealots of Judea to the Kamikaze during World War II).

She emphasizes that, contrary to what some people say about terrorism being irrational, this is a political tactic that can make sense under certain circumstances. Early on, she notes that (page 1):

Terrorist groups appear to use suicide bombings under two

conditions: when other terrorist or military tactics fail,

and when they are in competition with other terrorist

groups for popular or financial support.

In addition, she contends that suicide bombings can only be effective when a population is supportive of this tactic. Also, she observes that history shows that harsh punitive counterterrorist tactics actually exacerbate the situation. Ham-fisted antiterrorist actions leads to more people who are "dying to kill." A kind of contagion effect has been manifest over time. Bloom says that (page 126) "As suicide terror has proven relatively successful in the Middle East or places like Sri Lanka, there has been an upsurge in the number of regions, countries, and non-state actors that utilize it as a tactic in their nationalist struggles against (real or perceived) foreign occupations."

She concludes by noting that the United States has a potential "lose-lose" in Iraq. On the one hand, if the United States stays in Iraq over time, it will be perceived as an occupying power and be subject to greater suicide terrorist tactics against it. On the other hand, if the United States pulls out prematurely, that would embolden terrorist strikes, as the U. S. appears to be a "paper tiger." This becomes another side effect of the United States' invasion of Iraq. If she is correct, another legacy of the war may be implications for future terrorist actions against the United States.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dying to kill Dec 17 2005
By Brainy but beautiful - Published on Amazon.com
I had to read this book for a class and really enjoyed it. Unlike so many other books on the subject or in political science generally, this was an easy read with tons of additional information at the back for additional research. The main points were that suicide bombing happens under specific conditions and, if you can "shift the preferences of the people" they say they represent, you can make terrorism less "alluring" than more peaceful methods. I thought it made good sense. Bloom shows how targeted assassination may open up a Pandora's box and differentiates between long term and short term strategies. The chapter on women was my favorite by far. So before all these women started participating in attacks she has predicted this in the book by showing how several of the muslim fundamentalist leaders had started to allow women to be bombers and that Al Qaeda would eventually follow suit. She also explained how more than one group can use bombings to influence an audience, something no one else discusses to show how groups compete using violence as a "litmus test"... The book is sooo interesting, written well, presented clearly and if you want to understand how complicated suicide bombing and terrorism is, this is definitely the book for you. No simple answers, but simply put. It was my favorite book last semester.

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