Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance, and Despair in the Middle East

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9781403966810: Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance, and Despair in the Middle East
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Martyrs offers compelling and chilling interviews with terrorist trainers, with the families of suicide bombers, fighters and fanatics, and with Muslim scholars offering differing opinions on the legitimacy of violence in Islam. Through the voices of those who plan and those who grieve, Martyrs provides provocative and troubling insights into the zealotry that leads to the targeting of innocents, the endless cycle of revenge, and the despair that besets the Middle East. From Iran to Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Joyce Davis reports on the rage that drives tragedies and at the despondency of the mothers of those who die and kill. Unsettling as the perspectives presented here may be, they are crucial to understanding, though not accepting, the fury at and resentment of the US.

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Review:

Discussions of terrorism and suicide bombers run the risk of painting these complex, polarizing issues with too broad a brush, rushing to quick summations and blanket statements at the expense of depth. Not so with Martyrs, Knight-Ridder Deputy Foreign Editor Joyce Davis’s multi-faceted approach to the subject. While never excusing the unspeakable acts that they commit, Davis sets out to find out what can fill people with such hate and zealotry that they would willingly die in the process of attacking their enemies. Only with this knowledge, she theorizes, can America understand who it’s up against and find a way to stop these forces before they kill again. Davis profiles numerous people in the Middle East on many different sides of the martyrdom issue. Her scope is impressive; the book devotes chapters to children who have died in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, female suicide bombers, mothers of men who have been declared martyrs, and, in what is perhaps the most compelling section, men who train bombers before the missions are carried out. Besides gathering a wide range of viewpoints, Davis brings a perspective to this well-covered issue that is personal and moving: rather than relying on news reports or spending much time with policy experts, Davis traveled to the region, met the people, and got the story. Her interviews create a fascinating mosaic of people at the heart of the conflict between the United States, Israel, and several primarily Muslim countries. Along the way, insight is gained into the underpinnings of anti-American sentiment in the Arab world: its roots, evolution, and future. Davis’s actual writing can be a bit clunky from time to time, especially when she spells out her analysis rather than letting her copious research lead us to those same conclusions. But this does not distract from Davis’s largely successful to shed light on a world that has long existed mostly in shadow. --John Moe

About the Author:

Joyce M. Davis is Associate Director of Broadcasting for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and supervises American broadcast services to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia and is the author of Between Jihad and Salaam: Profiles in Islam (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999).

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