Verena Straub
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The making and gendering of a martyr
Images of female suicide bombers in the Middle East
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‘I am the living martyr.’ As part of most video testimonies of suicide bombers, this locution confronts audiences with an unsettling situation: a ‘living dead’ is talking to us on TV after his/her suicide attack. Initiated by secular Lebanese militants in 1985, videotaped testimonies of suicide bombers to-be have proliferated in the Middle East and established a new genre of images with recognizable iconography and aesthetics. By visually anticipating their status as martyrs, the assassins not only manufacture their own death sentences, but fabricate their new identity as immortal martyr in front of the camera. Interpreting the act of suicide bombing as a contract between individual and organisation to trade ‘life for identity’ (Harrison 2006), ‘living martyr’ images become the stage where this transformation of identity takes place. This chapter is both concerned with the active stake suicide bombers’ videos have in the ‘making’ of a martyr (building on Horst Bredekamp’s concept of the ‘image act’) as well as with their iconography, particularly in relation to gender differences, with the aim to expose prejudices and preconceptions that underpin general western discussions of female suicide bombers.

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Image operations

Visual media and political conflict

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