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The human body as a terrorist weapon: hunger strikes and suicide bombers

Mollica, Marcello, Dingley, James (2007) The human body as a terrorist weapon: hunger strikes and suicide bombers. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30 (6). pp. 459-492. ISSN 1057-610X. (doi:10.1080/10576100701329592) (KAR id:1417)


This article argues that a major factor in terrorist acts is an appeal to the actor's own community at an emotional and symbolic level, through acts of sacrifice, particularly self-sacrifice. Although other aims also exist, a prime concern is to recall the actor's home audience to the struggle, because the actor regards himself as acting on their behalf. This utilizes the imagery and symbolism of traditional religion, implying a strong communal and non-material impetus to terrorist acts, rather than rational material calculation, that modern Western man finds difficult to comprehend. It also recalls much classical social theory, which emphasized the central role of religion in community. Self-sacrifice tells an emotional story to the actor's community that is comprehensible to them and will have an emotional appeal to maintaining the community. For the Northern Ireland hunger strikes (possibly analogous to suicide bombers) this is reflected in their appeal solely to a Catholic/nationalist community that equates strongly with ideas of a pre-modern society under threat from a modernizing society. All the hunger strikers were very normal for their community, but left non-Catholics completely unmoved. Consequently there is a need to understand the communal dynamics behind terrorism if one is to effectively counter the threat and that different societies may have different values regarding the individual, community, and life itself. Individual motivations do not provide an adequate explanation for much terrorism and it is a failure to grasp this that severely hinders much counterterrorism.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/10576100701329592
Subjects: J Political Science
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Stephen Holland
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2007 18:55 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 09:40 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Mollica, Marcello.

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