The Enigma of Islamist Violence

Part of the CERI/Sciences Po. series
July 2007 9781850658368 200pp
Temporarily out of stock


The debate surrounding Islamist violence remains locked in oppositional sterility. Are such attacks perpetrated by Islamists as a matter of belief or do they reflect socio-economic realities? Is the suicide bomber a pathological case, as the psychologist maintains, or a clever strategist, as those steeped in the geopolitical approach claim? This book aims to transcend both the culturalist or underdevelopment explanations by focusing on the highly variegated nature of the phenomenon. For example, suicide attacks are relatively common in Kashmir and Israel/Palestine but almost non-existent in Algeria and Yemen, both of which have experienced long-running campaigns by violent Islamist groups. However a more nuanced reading, based on a series of case studies, reveals a less obvious set of meanings for suicidal political violence. These bring us closer to the Islamists’ political mindset: a quest for purity in the next world that replaces the justice here on earth of which the militant despairs; the distress caused by the degeneracy of a failing ethno-nationalist rebellion, which encourages a shift in the struggle to the timelessness of death; or the paradoxical desire to assert one’s individuality when the wider group is powerless by carrying out an ‘exemplary’ act of war against an enemy that is increasingly imagined rather than real. These are among the complex motivations of suicide attacks that this book brings to light.


‘A well-structured, well-researched, and engaging book that will make a timely and significant contribution to the debate on Islamist violence.’ — Claire Heristchi, University of Aberdeen

‘Extremely interesting and highly recommended to all those with an interest not only in Islamism, but political violence in general.’ — Francesco Cavatorta, MESA Bulletin


Amélie Blom is Associate researcher chez Institut d'étude de l'Islam et des Sociétés du Monde Musulman IISMM-EHESS.

Luis Martinez is a Senior Research Fellow at CERI Sciences Po in Paris. He has been Visiting Professor at Columbia University, New York (2000–2001) and at the University of Montréal (2007–2008).  A political scientist and a specialist on the Maghreb and the Middle East, his books include The Algerian Civil War, 1990–1998The Libyan ParadoxThe Enigma of Islamist Violence (co-edited with A. Blom and L. Bucaille), and The Violence of Petro-Dollar Regimes: Algeria, Iraq and Libya.

Laetitia Bucaille holds a Master’s degree from Sciences Po Paris and a PhD in Political Science. She has been a tenured lecturer in Sociology at the Bordeaux 2 University since 1998.

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