Suicide Bombing - a Reinterpretation

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The so called ‘war on terror’ was framed through fear of one key figure, the fanatical ‘suicide bomber.’ As a key signifier of all that the ‘free world’ opposes this figure is the subject of an academic cum security industry. The ‘Professor of Suicide Bombing’ develops policy advice about how best to prevent and anticipate such attacks, drawing on social scientific analyses of what causes individuals to engage in such attacks. This article rejects social scientific explanations of human bombing, interpreting this figure as a social symptom of the dominant order. Taking its cue from two unlikely bedfellows, Phillip Bobbit (2008), and Slavoj Zizek (1989), I contend that the human bomber’s act is a symptomatic response to the politicisation of life in modern societies. This restores to human bombings a significance which exceeds the delimitation of the act as mad or bad in the social scientific literature. Explicitly at stake in these acts is the value of lives, the means for determining this value, and the meaning of value itself in relation to human life. If the human bomber is a figure of fear this article concludes by refiguring this fear as the expression of desire, a desire without possible object in the current political conjuncture. I begin with a critical analysis of the dominant modes of interpretation of suicide bombing. Second, I think these acts as symptomatic responses to a particular ordering of lives. I trace the logics of this order through an analysis of the form of the act itself. Last, I characterise these acts as forms of acting out, that is as symptomatic of the dominant order, rather than as attempts to refigure that order.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-94
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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