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Terrorism & Political Violence Book reviews

ISRVM Director Jeffrey Kaplan serves as Book Review Editor for the journal Terrorism and Political Violence.

Terrorism and Political Violence Book Cover

With the permission of the journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, this section of the ISRVM web page will be dedicated to the reviews which have been recently published in the journal. It is our hope that the section will serve to stimulate dialog between authors, readers, reviewers and publishers. The page will also highlight emerging books in the field of terrorism studies using reviews which have not yet been published in the journal through the publication of the review that will lead-off the review column of the upcoming issue. The first of these lead-off texts is a new Israeli study of suicide bombing which is reviewed by Dr. Avisheg Gordon. The review will be published in Terrorism and Political Violence 19:3 (Fall 2007).

The Path to Paradise, the Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers.

Path To Paradice Book CoverBerko Anat. The Path to Paradise, the Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers. Forward by Moshe Addad, and translated by Elizabeth Yuval. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishing, 2007. 250 pages; Paper $49.95. ISBN: 13-978-0-275-99446-4.

Reviewed by:
 Dr. Avishag Gordon,
Information Specialist at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology
Haifa, Israel

Dr. Anat Berko,  a Tel Aviv University criminologist , is a colonel in the Israeli army (IDF), the mother of three children and married to a Middle Eastern specialist. The book is based on a series of prison interviews she conducted with "would be" suicide bombers whose mission was foiled either directly by the IDF, or by some technical failure in the mechanism of the explosives they were carrying. Her interviews with these prisoners, therefore, present a rare first-hand account of the motivations and feelings of suicide terrorists, both men and women, and the whole frame of reference for their acts. The book first published in Hebrew in 2004, was translated into English and the expected publication date of this version is spring of 2007.
       The interviews with the prisoners conducted face-to-face, involved open ended questions, so that the report of the conversations is almost journalistic in style. It seems, though, that this way of communicating with the prisoners which proved successful, was necessary to gain their trust; so that they could answer the interviewer's questions sincerely and truthfully.
          In the forward to her book Berko mentions that the suicide bombers are driven mostly by blind hatred of Jews; and the promise embedded in the Qur'an that those who die for Allah are not considered dead; just moving to another life that is eternal and beautiful. As a result of their act their families will be also rewarded in the Garden of Eden (paradise); and all their sins erased.
During the training period, future suicide bombers are taught that the privilege of joining their rank is awarded only to a few who become Shaheeds (martyrs, holy persons) after death. During Berko's conversations with the prisoners, it became apparent that the dispatchers of terrorists, those who train them, attempt systematically to dehumanize the Israelis , men, women, and children, in order to erase any possibility of compassion towards the intended victims and to facilitate the act of suicide. During the dialogs with the author the prisoners did not show sympathy towards Israeli victims of such attacks or towards their suffering families, at least at first. The failed bombers kept talking about their own families and their suffering and how they missed their mothers. Only after conversing about their own families did they start to display a measure of sympathy and compassion toward the Israelis, too.
Generally, these terrorists showed no regret for the act they were being trained to carry out. Their motivations to become suicide bombers varied. There were those who had many family problems and did not see any solution but taking their own lives; and, in the process, "contributing" to the Palestinian national cause. Others wanted to exonerate themselves from the suspicion that they were collaborating with the Israeli authorities; and, through a suicide act, to clear themselves of any culpability and gain back community respect for their families. Among the women there were those who could not give birth to children and so had lost the respect of the community, which they hoped to regain by committing suicide and killing Israeli civilians. There were women who were suspected of "unsuitable" behavior; in defiance of Muslims social norms and so wanted to erase this suspicion by becoming a suicide bomber.
It became clear; during Berko's interviews that prison life only hardened these prisoners' position in respect to what they saw as their religious and national duties. Those who previously were not convinced believers became very determined and more religiously fanatic. Prison life under the constant preaching of their leaders, effectively converted them into more dangerous terrorists in the future.
Although the women's responses were somewhat different from the men's attitudes, and although the women missed their families more and were willing to talk about daily feminine affairs, their attitudes generally followed the approach shown by the men-terrorists. Fatima, a young woman interviewed shortly after being imprisoned was bewildered and desperately missed her family. She told Berko she was not sure if she had done the right thing by becoming a suicide bomber. Berko interviewed her again, one year later, and Fatima was now much more determined and sure about her mission. She said that prison life strengthened her belief that what she intended to do was the will of God. By becoming a suicide bomber, she would become the pride of all the Palestinian people; and would eventually go to heaven and become a Shaheed (a martyr).
Berko's book is an important document revealing the diversity of motivations that lead terrorists to blow themselves up and to kill innocent civilians for the promise of a better life in Paradise. Her book is not a systematic structured study of the inspirations underlying these acts, but more of a journalistic account of the thinking and beliefs of "would- be" suicide bombers during their stay in Israeli prisons.
These conversations sometimes become philosophical debates about the prisoners' present state of affairs and what they wished to change in the future. A careful reading of these accounts could help in understanding  the process by which an unaware terrorist becomes in Israeli prison a conscious and devoted believer in his or her mission; through listening to daily preaching about  the Qur'an and being subject to the social pressure of fellow-terrorists prisoners. During the prison term a captured terrorist may well transforms from a bitter person with  a low self-image who experiences feelings of anger and has status only in the margins of society; to being a highly inspired individual encouraged by the promise of a  good "life after death" that will evolve from a terrorist act leading to his or her demise.
According to Berko the terrorists are divided into two main groups: those who recruit other terrorists, train them, and dispatch them on their mission; and those who are recruited and who actually perform or attempt to perform the act. Often, the "would- be suicide bombers" complained that the "dispatchers" would not send their own children on a death mission, but would send an 11- years old boy, not a family member, to carry out such a job. Berko interviewed "senders," as well and notes that they are more educated and sophisticated than the general population. They also have a good knowledge of Israeli society, which they criticize for what they perceive to be its injustice and favoritism. Berko, whose parents were from Iraq, apparently gained the prisoners' trust because of her family's Middle Eastern origins; and her knowledge of Arabic, which add authenticity and truthfulness to the account of the interviews.


Published reviews for recent editions of the journal may be found in the PDF files on this page. Below is a full index of these reviews: