Death-seeking turns political: A historical template for terrorism

Anna Geifman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Political extremists in early 20th-century Russia were the first modern practitioners of suicide terrorism. Forging their bodies into “human bombs, " radical socialists and anarchists used the language of martyrdom, as do their counterparts across the globe today. There is plentiful evidence, however, about Russian suicide terrorists’ urge to end their lives for non-political reasons. The upsurge of politicized self-destructiveness coincided with the country’s sociopsychological crisis, often manifesting itself as violent nihilism. Radical leaders and recruiters looked for and manipulated the suicidal tendencies and supplied lofty ideologies to validate self-annihilation. Terrorists perished in acts of “covert suicide”-a phenomenon which has persisted worldwide for over a century. This comparative analysis links perpetrators of modern-day suicide attacks to their Russian forerunners and proposes a paradigm that crosses temporal, geographic, and ethnic boundaries.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge History of Death since 1800
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780429643019
ISBN (Print)9780367137168
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 selection and editorial matter, Peter N. Stearns; individual chapters, the contributors.


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