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Dr. Melissa Finn, Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice: Martyrdom, War and Politics.

Book Panel – November 12, 2012


Over the past decade, there have been many tools used to combat terrorism. Dr. Melissa Finn questions the violent nature of counterterrorism in her work, Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice: Martyrdom, War and Politics. Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice examines the motivation of martyrdom operations (“suicide bombings”) while exclusively looking at suicide bombings done by transnational Jihadists, from 9/11 until now.

Finn argues that the current model for counterterrorism lacks an integral mediation mechanism (dialogue) that would open communication with Al-Qaeda. When confronted with people willing to give up their life, it is necessary to understand their motivation while respecting them as human beings by using a discourse that they understand. Finn thus emphasizes the need for understanding Jihadi to open this dialogue. However, in order to do so, we must deal with the intrinsic problems within the vocabulary currently used in the discourse on Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice, specifically critiques the failure to understand sacrifice in Jihadi martyrdom operations. We must move beyond “suicide” and look instead at the different etymology of sacrifice. By understanding transnational Jihadists’ voices on their own terms, counterterrorism could become more effective. Furthermore, Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice explores the Jihadi relation to Islam, which as Finn argues, presents a problem by inhabiting and rupturing aspects of Islam. Finn affirms that Jihadists might be talking propaganda, but there is political theory involved. Western political theory must be included with Jihadist and Islamist discourse in order to open the dialogue.

Finn’s book offers an insightful approach to counterterrorism, which is refreshing in today’s fear-driven environment in regards to the Al-Qaeda discourse. By questioning the logic behind Jihadist motivation, Finn develops an effective foundation for dialogue. The in-depth analysis of martyrdom operations in Al-Qaeda and Sacrifice goes beyond present methodology, and poses an interesting alternative to the current tools of counterterrorism.