Body as the ultimate weapon: Cultural roots of suicidal violence in Sri Lanka

Suicidal attacks have become established as a deadly weapon in the arsenal of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in its armed struggle against the government of Sri Lanka. The genealogy of suicidal missions, the hallmark of international terrorism in the modern world, is yet to be fully explored. While suicide as a means of protest against perceived injustices is well established in South Asia, planned suicidal attacks against political and military targets with disastrous consequences probably originated in the Middle East in the 1980s. In South Asia the LTTE has perfected the art of suicidal attacks, making them a cornerstone of its military strategy, political symbolism and mobilisation of cadres. This, in turn, must be seen in the context of a sharp rise in suicide, particularly among youth in Sri Lanka. The cult of martyrdom in LTTE has already received considerable research attention, but some critical questions relating to the body politics of LTTE remain unanswered. They include what relations exist between suicidal violence and the larger problem of suicide in the country; how the LTTE manipulates and mobilises the male and female body as a site of protest and the ultimate weapon; cultural predispositions towards self-sacrifice as also advocated by non-violent social activists like Mahatma Gandhi; and articulation and public / political expression of collective grievances and determination to overcome them. The present paper explores these questions, focusing on the cultural roots of suicidal violence in Sri Lanka.

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