New Book: The Smile of the Human Bomb (Prof. Gideon Aran)


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In 2017, nearly six thousand people were killed in suicide attacks across the world.

In The Smile of the Human Bomb, Gideon Aran dissects the moral logic of the suicide terrorism that led to those deaths. The book is a firsthand examination of the bomb site at the moment of the explosion, during the first few minutes after the explosion, and in the last moments before the explosion. Aran uncovers the suicide bomber’s final preparations before embarking on the suicide mission: the border crossing, the journey toward the designated target, penetration into the site, and the behavior of both sides within it. The book sheds light on the truth of the human bomb.

Aran’s gritty and often disturbing account is built on a foundation of participant observation with squads of pious Jewish volunteers who gather the scorched fragments of the dead after terrorist attacks; newly revealed documents, including interrogation protocols; interviews with Palestinian armed resistance members and retired Israeli counterterrorism agents; observations of failed suicide terrorists in jail; and conversations with the acquaintances of human bombs.

The Smile of the Human Bomb provides new insights on the Middle East conflict, political violence, radicalism, victimhood, ritual, and death and unveils a suicide terrorism scene far different from what is conventionally pictured. In the end, Aran discovers, the suicide terrorist is an unremarkable figure, and the circumstances of his or her recruitment and operation are prosaic and often accidental. The smiling human bomb is neither larger than life nor a monster, but an actor on a human scale. And suicide terrorism is a drama in which clichés and chance events play their role.



“By departing from the traditional political, military, economic, and theological analyses of terrorism, Aran presents an intriguing and novel view of the issue.”

(Publishers Weekly)

“A conceptually innovative examination of suicide terrorism…. One of the book’s unique contributions is its analysis of suicide terrorism from an anthropological-sociological perspective, based on the author’s extensive field research in Israel and the West Bank…. An important contribution to the literature on suicide bombing attacks.”

(Perspectives on Terrorism)

“This is a terrific book: fascinating, smart, and enlightening. Aran makes an important contribution to the field, and this is one of the best studies of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism and even of terrorism broadly conceived.”

(Barak Mendelsohn, author of The al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and Its Consequences)

“This is a remarkable exploration of the meaning of suicide terrorism. It is an intellectual journey through personal accounts of victims and inside views of the Zaka movement of Orthodox Jews who locate bits of flesh remaining after suicide attacks.

This is a thoughtful, sensitively written tour de force by one of Israel’s leading anthropologists, and the scope of his book is wide-ranging, touching on themes that are relevant to the many forms of religious extremism around the world.”

(Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence)

What makes a peaceful co-existence in Jerusalem so difficult?


Jerusalem is holy three times – for the Jews, Christians and Muslims: What makes a peaceful co-existence here so difficult?

 From Euronews with Luis Carballo –Prof. Gideon Aran was Interviewed  On the occasion of Pope Francis visit to the Holy Land.

1. First, let me state it clear – considering the circumstances, the current Jerusalemite interfaith relations are not too bad. The frequency and intensity of the recent violent incidents are low, especially if you view it in historical perspective (think of the Crusaders bloody massacre of both Jews and Muslims…), and if you compare it to other religiously charged places with explosive potentiality across the globe (like Nigeria, Iraq, Lebanon and more).

Watch the full Interview:

Gideon Aran
Click on the picture To watch

2.  The above mentioned relative quiet is particularly impressive if you take into account the fact that it is not just a religious divide, but also a national strife with socio-economic and cultural implications as well. Actually, the religious rivalry is superimposed upon the political armed confrontation, and this makes the Middle-Eastern conflict much harder to solve.

3.  What makes the religious reality in Jerusalem unique and particularly interesting is the fact that there are three protagonists here. In Jerusalem three – essentially exclusive – religions compete with each other. In most past and present  analogous cases there is a frontal opposition between just two players, which results in a zero-sum game. See the classic opposition between Christianity and Islam in Istanbul, for example. Once a dyad becomes a triad, new options open, among them the option of creating coalitions, that is, alliance of two partners against a third party, and then it may occasionally change. Such coalitions may increase tension or decrease it. Right now, for instance, Jews in Jerusalem collaborate with Christians (including Arab Christians!) against their common enemy – Islamic Fundamentalism. On other issues Muslims and Christians join forces against Jews.

euronews - Gideon Aran

4. Let’s face it: each of the three Abrahamic religions claims to monopolize the “truth”, despite their common ancestry or rather because of it. As they emerged along history, first Judaism, followed by Christianity and later Islam, each established itself in an alternative distinct place, far away and very different from the other: Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca. And yet, at the same time, in a dialectical counter tendency, all three were attracted to the same original site, coming back to Jerusalem and insisting on exclusivity or at least a suprimacy there.

Paradoxically enough they shed much blood – theirs and others’ – to replace each other at the very tiny spot –less than one square Km where so many holy sites are squeezed in. Please join me in observing the Old City – look at the monumental structures, one a top the other, or juxtaposed with the other:  The remains of the Davidic temple constructed at the 10-8 century BC, and the Herodian temple destructed in the 1st century AD, then the Al-Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock erected at the 7th century, and then, beginning at the early Middle-ages, the building of the many layers of the Holy Sepulture.

euronews - Gideon Aran


And mind you, on the early 20th century, Protestant Christianity put up its own sacred places – look at the Holy redeemer Lutheran Church, of course, meant to be the tallest tower within the walls, only 50 meters far from the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Ethiopian, and the Armenian, and the Assyrian, etc etc..

Lately Price Tag attacks are targeting not only Muslim but also Christian institutions: Why this change?

1. Nothing is new under the sun. There are several precedent cases to the recent one. I remember from my early childhood in Jerusalem during the Fifties and Sixties some incidents of violence – mainly symbolic violence – directed against local clergy and monasteries. It was especially intensive during the first years after the foundation of the state, when the churches were engaged in intensive and quite explicit missionary work, focusing on the conversion of low class new immigrants Jews and holocaust survivors.

euronews - Gideon Aran
price tag

2. Israeli Orthodoxy consists about 20% of the local Jewish population. A certain portion of these religious people truly believe that Israel’s arch enemy is not the Arabs and Muslims but the Christian world. Ironically some of the most extreme anti-Palestinian religious Jews (particularly the hawkish far-Right wing of the National-Religious) claim that the ultimate and deeper confrontation is the one with the Church with whom there are still some fundamental theological as well as blood accounts to settle.

It is only due to current geo-political emergency reality or strategic pressing reality that the Jewish attention is temporarily diverted to the Middle Eastern conflict. Once the regional 100 years old tough problem will be finally solved and all Arabs will be defeated and evacuated, then all religious energies will be directed to retribution and winning  over Christianity.

euronews - Gideon Aran

3.  Actually at present, the real target of Price tag activities is neither Muslims nor Christians but Jews.  They try hard to embarrass the “establishment” – the Israeli government on the one hand, and the Jewish West bank settlement leadership on the other hand. They claim that both betray their mission, and they employ different kinds of provocations to present them as cowardly, hypocrite and impotent.

4. Price Tag is not a well organized underground committed to a systematic and coherent ideology. This phenomenon is made of peripheral youth, mainly dropouts, bordering with juvenile delinquency that act out its frustrated aggression and select targets quite randomly. In a sense their behavior could be seen as hooliganism and should be treated as adolescent anarchism. Now, this is not to belittle their import or under-rate their danger ,but to clarify the grave situation which may radically change from bad to worse if not promptly tackled.

 Prof Gideon Aran was Interviewed to Euronews with Luis Carballo On the occasion of Pope Francis visit to the Holy Land.

Gideon Aran: measure of religiosity on a certain dimension


Analysis of the findings of studies that measure the different dimensions of religiosity promotes our understanding of the nature of religion but shows that the measurability itself is a complicated task.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Thus, a measure of religiosity on a certain dimension is not necessarily correlated with the measure on another dimension. This increases the difficulty to compare the religiosity of two individuals or groups in an attempt to determine which one is more religious. Continue reading Gideon Aran: measure of religiosity on a certain dimension

Prof Gideon Aran: Social Scientific Study of Religion Literature


The social scientific study of religion literature seems to acknowledge the significance of the issue, but its treatment is mainly implicit, partial and dated. A noteworthy exception which is highly relevant to the present argument is the Stark & Glock School of sociology of religion (Glock and Stark 1965).

Written By Professor Gideon Aran

Its foundations go back to the 1960s and it arrived at the zenith of its influence during the 1970-80s when many such studies were based on analyzing the National Survey data, while in the 1990s basically one work, impressive in itself, represented this productive research legacy. Continue reading Prof Gideon Aran: Social Scientific Study of Religion Literature

Gideon Aran: Research on Religious Variation


The psychology of religion has been dominated by issues of measurement. Not only have psychologists of religion long recognized the importance of good measurement and have placed a high pioity on it.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

But in the 1980s a leading specialist in the field pronounced measurement to be the current hegemonic paradigm, that is, the foremost perspective or concern of psychologists of religion (Gorsuch 1984). Continue reading Gideon Aran: Research on Religious Variation

Prof. Gideon Aran: Analysis of religiosity as a characteristic


Analysis of religiosity as a characteristic which may manifest in different degrees, higher or lower, relates both to the question of the very empirical existence of the phenomenon, i.e.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

The actual application of religiosity indexes among the religious, as well as to the question of the theoretical value and methodological validity–that is, the heuristic functionality–of analyzing the measurability of religiosity. Continue reading Prof. Gideon Aran: Analysis of religiosity as a characteristic

The groups that unwavering endeavor to increase their religiosity


Our examination will be limited to the three major monotheistic faiths.

Written By Gideon Aran

Similar to the Ultra-Orthodox Jews are their parallel-competitors in Israel, the right-wing nationalist Orthodox (known by the acronym Hardal), as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Sunni countries of the Middle East (e.g., Mitchell 1993; Kepel 2003), the Protestant Bible Believers Evangelists in the United States, Holland, and Germany (e.g., Ammerman 1997), and Catholic groups such as the Italian Communion e Liberazione (Zadra 1994). Continue reading The groups that unwavering endeavor to increase their religiosity

Prof. Gideon Aran: Discussions about religiosity levels


Discussions about religiosity levels take place in a variety of religious subcultures. 

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Formulations such as “more” or “less” religious are likely to hide widespread experiences among the religious, a basic need of sorts, perhaps a religious instinct, manifestations of which–despite their general repudiation–are both evident and intriguing. Continue reading Prof. Gideon Aran: Discussions about religiosity levels

Inter and Intra Religious Competitions


Inter- and intra-religious competitions are recognized phenomena. Generally speaking, they are seen as antagonisms revolving around religious “truth,” monopolization of the claim to the original message, possession of the fundamentals (as well as struggles for control over sacred sites and offices.)

Written By Gideon Aran

At times these conflicts escalate to Holy Wars, Religious Wars, Crusades. Jihad, etc. In our case, though, we are speaking of competition between partners who might share a religious doctrine, who do not necessarily have exegetical disagreements or overt rivalries over privileges and positions of prestige and authority. Continue reading Inter and Intra Religious Competitions