Topic: Security Studies / Terrorism

The Path to Paradise
The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers
Anat Berko

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Anat Berko

The Path to Paradise

The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers

Anat Berko Anat Berko

April 2007


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Offers a rare glimpse into the inner world of suicide bombers and those who dispatch them, and provides the most personal encounter a reader can have with a suicide bomber.

Suicide bombers are often compared to smart bombs. From the point of view of their dispatchers, they are highly effective, inexpensive forms of weaponry, and there is no need to invest in their technological development. Suicide bombers are in fact smarter than smart bombs because they can choose their own target—and they can react to circumstances on the ground, changing their target, or their timing, in an instant, to ensure the maximum damage, destruction, and death. Of course, unlike smart bombs, suicide bombers think and feel, they have histories, stories, beliefs, desires—in short, they have an inner world. Exploring the inner world of suicide bombers has been the focus of Anat Berko's research for years. She has worked to understand the thought processes of a people who can choose to place explosives on their bodies and kill themselves, taking as many other people with them as they can.

Do male bombers really believe that death will transport them to a paradise where they will be greeted by virgins? Are they victims of unbearable pressure to commit this act of terror? What are female bombers promised in the hereafter? Is there something that links all suicide bombers? Berko also explores the world of those who drop the smart bomb—the dispatchers: who are these people who persuade others to go calmly to their horrific deaths?

To learn about the inner world of suicide bombers and their dispatchers, Berko entered Israel's most heavily secured prison cells and conducted intensive and extensive interviews with male and female suicide bombers who had failed their missions, as well as with their dispatchers—including former Hamas spiritual and operative leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (later assassinated by Israel).
"This book, written by former Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Anat Berko, is an exploration of the world of suicide bombing. With unparalleled access to some of Israel's most heavily guarded prisons, Berko conducts interviews with suicide bombers who were stopped before they could carry out their attacks, and also with their handlers."—Middle East Journal

"Berko has written an interesting book that departs from many of the typical studies of suicide bombers. Her research involved frequent and extensive conversations with Palestinians jailed by Israel for attempted suicide terrorist attacks; the author recounts, in some cases transcribes, these discussions. Equally interesting is the author's emphasis on women's roles in suicide bombing and, more broadly, the role that gender plays in shaping the logic and motivation of terrorism against Israel. As always, the issue of bias in the scholarship on the Arab-Israeli conflict is something to consider here, as the author was previously a career officer in the Israeli Defense Forces. However, that does not undermine the value of her interviews, which flesh out and reflect similar studies of terrorism that emphasize the role of humiliation and gender. The book is a fascinating look at the individuals who carry out suicide attacks, and helps us understand the people, arguments, and emotions that give rise to this form of terrorism. Highly recommended. General readers, upper-division undergraduates through practitioners."—Choice

"Berko entered Israeli prisons and interviewed failed Palestinian suicide bombers and arrested bomb dispatchers. Here, she reports on those interviews, including one with the late Hamas leader Sheik Yassin, in order to explore the motivations of these figures, as well as how suicide bombing attacks against Israel are organized. In much of the work, she stresses the religious aspects of the phenomena and downplays the political and military realities of the Israeli occupation. (If she is familiar with the work of political scientist Robert Pape whose comprehensive study of suicide bombings world-wide led him to conclude that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions. Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland she does not reveal it."—Reference & Research Book News

"The Path to Paradise is an astounding document, an original and authoritative account of the inner worlds of suicide bombers and their dispatchers. Dr. Anat Berko brings to her work a unique combination of academic expertise, and, as the daughter of Jewish refugees from Iraq, genuine cultural understanding of the world of her subjects. The depth of both her professional and personal knowledge of her subject make this book a must-read for anyone interested in the real and complex causes of the suicidal terror that is spreading like wildfire throughout the world, and of which we in the US felt the devastating effects on September 11th, 2001."—George P. Fletcher, Columbia University, Author of Romantics at War: Glory and Guilt in the Age of Terrorism

"The subjects of this book--would-be terrorists whose lives were spared, because their missions were aborted when they were discovered by Israeli security forces or by alert bystanders--describe their desires and goals to Anat Berko with extraordinary candor. Their motivations, from self-hatred to hatred of Jews, shed light on their lives and culture--though in this case the light they shed is more like darkness visible. Dr. Berko tells their stories with startling clarity, sensitivity, and insight."—Avi Dichter, Minister of Public Security, State of Israel, Formerly head of the Israeli Security Agency, Currently Minister of Internal Security

"This is a serious, thorough, penetrating analysis of the dark and mysterious world of suicide bombers and their dispatchers. By spending thousands of hours with would-be suicide bombers, and their spiritual leaders, the author succeeds in conveying a vivid (and appalling) picture of their real motives. This book is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the phenomenon of suicide bombings and the ever-increasing threat of Islamic fundamentalism."—Khaled Abu Toameh, Veteran reporter and commentator on Palestinian affairs, Correspondent, The Jerusalem Post

"What goes through the mind of a suicide bomber from the moment he--or she--is recruited until the detonator is activated? How are they recruited? What about their families? Dr. Anat Berko spent thousands of hours in the lion's den trying to answer these questions. What she found makes us understand the real threat that suicide bombers, their handlers, and the organizations they belong to pose to world peace."—Gen. Amos Malka (Ret.), Former Chief of Israeli Military Intelligence