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Death as Existence: Symbols and Metaphors in the Islamic Promotion of Martyrdom

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Technical Report,05 Aug 2015,04 Aug 2016

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Existing studies on radical Islamist suicide missions tend to explain this phenomenon either as a desperate measure of the weak or as something unique to the Islamic context. Suicide missions, however, are hardly unique to the Islamic context. The example of World War II Japanese Kamikaze pilots comes to mind immediately. But self-destruction, too, even when it only targets the self and not others along with the self, is not unique to the Islamic context. The example of Buddhist self-immolation through burning comes to mind immediately or, for that matter, that of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, who set himself on fire in December 2010, catalyzing the Arab Spring in various Arab states the following year and onwards. It is the consistent and, indeed, timeless theme of self-destruction in human history that motivated this study. My central aim in this study was to interrogate the meaning of death and existence, broadly speaking, in order to understand an individuals choice to take his or her own life. Through drawing upon philosophical discussions on the matter, particularly in terms of the assumed unequivocality of the dread of our own death and the debates surrounding the meaning of human existence, I argue that self destruction actually symbolizes existence in its essence. This essence, I maintain, is human agency namely, autonomy and sovereignty over our own thoughts and actions. In order to establish the universal importance of the human desire for agency, this book draws upon temporally and contextually varied examples of self-destruction, from prisoners in Nazi death camps, to those with a political agenda, and still others in the name of love. In all these cases, the individuals concerned made a critical distinction between an authentic existence existence with agencyand an inauthentic existence existence without agency and one marked by passivity and

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  • Sociology and Law

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