Professor David Edwards’ book: Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan
Excerpt: What compels a person to strap on a vest loaded with explosives and self-destruct in a crowded street? Scholars have answered this question by focusing on the pathology of the “terrorist mind” or the “brainwashing” practices of terrorist organizations. In Caravan of Martyrs, David B. Edwards argues that we need to understand the rise of suicide bombing in relation to the cultural beliefs and ritual practices associated with sacrifice.
Before the war in Afghanistan began, the sacrificial killing of a sheep demonstrated a tribe’s desire for peace. After the Soviet invasion of 1979, when thousands of people were killed, sacrifice took on new meanings. The dead were venerated as martyrs, but this informal conferral of status on the casualties of war soon became the foundation for a cult of martyrs exploited by political leaders. This repurposing of the machinery of sacrifice set in motion a process that would lead nineteen Arabs who had received their training in Afghanistan to hijack four airplanes on September 11, 2001.
Drawing on years of research in the region, Edwards traces how a cult of martyrs created by Afghan jihadis in the 1980s developed into the scourge of suicide bombing that haunts our world today. His diverse sources range from the early poetry of jihad, martyr magazines, school primers, legal handbooks, and martyr hagiographies to videos produced by suicide bombers, the manual of ritual instructions used by the 9/11 hijackers, and Facebook posts through which contemporary “Talifans” promote the virtues of self-destruction.
Reviews: “Such a beautifully written and imaginative work comes along rarely—at once a deeply felt personal memoir about the author’s anthropological encounters with Afghanistan and a highly original theory about suicide bombing as sacrifice.” Steven C. Caton, Khalid Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulrahman Al Saud Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies, Harvard University
“David B. Edwards’s skill as a scholar and raconteur is surpassed only by the tragedy of the story he tells.” William McCants, author of The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
Cover photo: Kabul, Afghanistan, 2009. Habad, age twenty-two, was a Taliban living in Waziristan when he was sent on a suicide bombing mission in Afghanistan. He was planning to blow himself up in a vehicle after encountering American troops. When he drove into Afghanistan he saw many Afghan officers and decided he could not risk killing his “Muslim brothers.” He decided to turn himself in to the local police. Habad expects to be in prison for twenty years. Photo by Michael Christopher Brown, © Magnum Photos.
University of California Press (ISBN 978-0-520-29479-0)