Joseph Croitoru: The Martyr as...

Joseph Croitoru: The Martyr as Weapon


The topic of the German-born Israeli Joseph Croitoru is the historical development of suicide attacks and the ideological background of the movements that train them. His study centres on Muslim terrorists and countries such as Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Chechenya and Kurdistan -the majority of attacks are after all perpetrated by Muslims - but also looks at the Third Reich and Asia (Korea, Japan and Kashmir).

Interestingly Croitorus traces all suicide movements of the 20th century, including Muslim and particularly Palestinian movements, back to the pioneer role of the Japanese Kamikaze pilots in World War II who revived the deep-rooted Japanese tradition of loyalty to a divinely revered emperor in which death was regarded as infinitely preferable to the ignominy of capture. This ideal of sacrificial patriotism cultivated from infancy in Japan and the associated sense of superiority and the promise of bliss in the beyond proved to be a model which could effortlessly be transferred ideologically to the fertile ground of the Islamic Palestinian context.

The blood bath caused by the suicide attack of members of the Japanese Red Army in Tel Aviv in 1972 marked the export of suicide attacks as a weapon on the Near East conflict. The concept of suicide attacks as a form of service to God is rooted in the Islamic cult of martyrdom, the unshakeable assurance of salvation and deliverance from hell-fire led as much as in financial incentives and the prospect of honour for one’s relatives.

The spiral of violence is driven both by the stiff competition the various Palestinian groups who train suicide commandos and send them into action against unaware civilians face from one another, and by the publicity achieved by the well-targeted propaganda broadcasts of “farewell videos”.

At present none of the extremist movements lack candidates. The increase in numbers is matched by an increase in fanaticism. Where once there were unmarried terrorists now there are schoolchildren, married men, mothers of infants and heads of families willing to die as a contribution to the Jihad against the infidels.

Croitoru’s study is healthily objective and supported by many sources. It shatters the illusory hope of a humanist peace agreement in Palestine and throws the problem into sharp focus. Suicide attacks aim at spreading fear and terror. At the turn of the 21st century they have accomplished their objective. How can this vicious circle be broken?

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