"Death Is Its Own Conquest: The Prestige of Martyrdom in Palestine"

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Beginning with ‘Ali and Husayn, Muslim martyrdom has typically transformed the tragedy of death and granted martyrs’ deaths special distinction as heroes. This paper describes the deaths of Palestinian suicide bombers and the phenomenon of their distinguishing fame as martyrs (shahid/shuhada’). The main question this paper addresses is why and how do Palestinian martyrs (terrorist suicide bombers) use the act of martyrdom (shahadat) to gain distinctive prestige and fame. I will examine how commemorative posters, films, ceremonies, and rallies give many Palestinians – including the martyrs, their families, and the community -- meaning, value, and prestige. I will explain how through martyrdom the persons and deaths of the martyrs become virtually immortalized in the collective memory of the Palestinian people and serve to empower subsequent martyrdom campaigns (acts of terrorism). For these martyrs, death (istishhad) is not “a great equalizer,” but an honor distinguished above and beyond other deaths. Indeed, their deaths bestow a special sense of self and social esteem that their political and economic occupation and apartheid deny them. I will demonstrate that the experience of being demeaned and subjugated that devalues self and social esteem will continue to make martyrdom an attractive option, as it is through martyrdom that marginalized men -- and women -- can and do create an experience otherwise denied them: of being people of value in a world of meaning. I will show that it is because most avenues of everyday social and cultural heroism are closed to Palestinians, that the path of martyrdom solves a basic need for self and social esteem and gives purpose to their lives and deaths. Thus I will argue that reconstructing Palestine’s infrastructure and granting national autonomy will be necessary to transform the context in which martyrs’ deaths grant so much prestige.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - Mar 20 2010
EventColumbia University Conference on Death: "Unequal Before Death" - New York, NY
Duration: Mar 20 2010Mar 20 2010


OtherColumbia University Conference on Death: "Unequal Before Death"


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