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)


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