On Sunday, the book was reviewed in the New York Times:
Asad (…) takes aim less at the Bush administration than at the rest of us, and at what he sees as our unspoken complicity in “some kinds of cruelty as opposed to others.” He hopes, he writes, to “disturb the reader sufficiently” by showing the hypocrisy of rules that permit murderous conduct by states but deny it to nonstate actors. And he is angered by scholars, theorists and journalists who don’t speak Arabic and have never set foot in the Middle East, yet sound off about why suicide bombers do what they do. He is understandably aghast that the American public has expressed so little shock over the bloodshed inflicted in its name.
And by the end of the book, his rage has overtaken him. The Bush administration’s actions in the Middle East have left him so disgusted that he declares simply, “It seems to me that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies (especially if those armies belong to powerful states that are unaccountable to international law) and the horror inflicted by insurgents.”
It is hard to answer Asad’s argument without drifting into the distinctions he attempts to demolish. For instance, he cites the political philosopher Michael Walzer’s definition of the “peculiar evil of terrorism,” which, according to Walzer, is “not only the killing of innocent people but also the intrusion of fear into everyday life, the violation of private purposes, the insecurity of public spaces, the endless coerciveness of precaution.” Asad then asks why the United States’ war in Iraq and the Israeli cluster bombs in Lebanon do not earn the same condemnation as bombs wielded by terrorists. But if you continue to believe (as I do) that there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective, you will indeed find “On Suicide Bombing” disturbing, if not always in the way he intends.
Nonetheless, Asad’s book is valuable because the legal distinctions he is challenging are especially vulnerable now.
The review is part of the article Our War on Terror.
As Savage Minds already has noted, Columbia University Press has published a mp3-interview with Talal Asad. For more information on the book and Talal Asad see my earlier entry Anthropological perspectives on suicide bombing
More information will follow. I’m currently reading this book.