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Mia Bloom and John Horgan Missing Their Mark: The IRA’s Proxy Bomb Campaign SU IC ID E CAR BOMBS HAVE BECOM E A COMMONPLACE AND VIRTUALLY daily event in conflicts such as those taking place in Iraq orAfghanistan.* When an attack occurs, we make assumptions about the intent and motivation of the driver and the organization that sent him (and increasingly, her). Often, such attacks in an Islamic context presume that the act is a deliberate Istishhadi (martyrdom) operation. This paper challenges the basic assumptions about how the concept of martyrdom has been constructed in the literature until now. Using the little-known case of the IRA’s proxy bomb campaign in Northern Ireland in 1990, we demonstrate how complex these operations are in reality. A plausible assumption for most observers of terrorist move­ ments is that such groupings, given their tendency to frequently oper­ ate outside societal norms, are relatively immune to the vicissitudes and pressures of public opinion. In fact, most terrorist movements, like political parties, are ultimately power seeking, perceiving themselves as the future leaders of their respective community. This is especially the case when the conflict in question relates to ethnoreligious and territorial disputes. Consistent with Mao’s theory that guerrillas must live among the people as a fish moves through the sea, terrorists oper­ ate within certain parameters of the public and, for reasons explored social research Vol 75 : No 2 : Summer 2008 579 in this article, are both cognizant of and susceptible to how they are perceived by members of their ethnic-religious community and by rival groups as well as international public opinion. This sensitivity to public support occasionally means that when the terrorists engage in tactics that are perceived to be more radical or violent than that which their publics have become used to tolerating, the movement risks the consequences of backlash. It thus would seem to follow that terrorists may be circumscribed not only in the kinds of strategies they can pursue but also in the immediate tactical methods they can deploy. The main problem to date with analyses of terrorist incidents has been that we often take the event at face value and work backwards to determine motivation and intention when in fact, the reality might be quite different. The term “suicide bomb” or “martyr­ dom operation” gets thrown around far too easily to encompass many behaviors that may not in fact be voluntary. This paper challenges the way martyrdom is and has been constructed and forces us to examine terrorist events without precon­ ceived notions. It is important to note that when we witness an event that on the surface appears to be an instance of martyrdom, the reality might be far more complex. Part of the problem has been the current inductive logic associated with the study of terrorism in which attacks are a given and experts will engage in a psychological autopsy to trace perpetrators’ intentions and motives after the fact. If they are religious, we assume that this act was one of self-sacrifice for a reli­ gious cause. However, this is not always the case. We argue that we need to question the intent of the action rather than assume that the event is automatically an act of martyrdom. While attacks in Kabul or Baghdad may appear as deliberate jihadi operations by the Taliban or by Al Qaeda in Iraq, our investigation has determined that a portion of such attacks are the product of coercion and not martyrdom in the traditional sense although observers may understand them to be martyrdom operations. The use of martyrs represents a strategic choice that can either mobilize large numbers of recruits and invigorate the support base of a 580 social research community, or enrage the rank and file to such an extent that it under­ mines the group’s very credibility. The example of the IRA provides an interesting case in point. Although the IRA embraced many differ­ ent concepts of martyrdom and linked them to the historical struggle against the British, the term “martyrdom” itself was used selectively. Martyrdom and self-sacrifice encompassed high-risk missions, includ­ ing the use of hunger strikes in which the strikers...


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pp. 579-614
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