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The Cult of the Suicide Bomber
The Cult of the Suicide Bomber
Actor: Robert Baer
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
NR     2006     1hr 36min

Features Robert Baer, former CIA Agent and the man whose book See No Evil was the basis for the film Syriana, and the man George Clooney?s character in the film is based upon. Their devastating and deadly actions punctua...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Robert Baer
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
Studio: Disinformation
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 06/20/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 36min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Good Intro, Lacking Explanation
Joseph Young | Tallahassee, FL | 01/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"As a researcher interested in terrorism and political violence, I watched this movie to gain a different perspective on the origins of suicide bombing. The documentary has some amazing interviews of both bombers/martyrs and counterinsurgents. How the filmmakers were able to get these people to speak on tape is incredible. This alone made the film worth watching. The movie is chock full of history and facts about how suicide bombing has evolved since its intial use in Iran.

My only complaint relates to the notion that suicide bombing is a "cult" that lacks ideology and is spreading. What the filmmakers learn through their interviews is that the bombings are a tactic used by weak actors to impose costs on the stronger opponent. Robert Pape's book "Dying to Win" makes this point. In addition, Mia Bloom's book, "Dying to Kill" provides an even deeper description of the process involved. I encourage anyone interested in understanding why the tactic of suicide bombing has been replicated in recent conflicts to read these two books. Paradise Now, a drama about a potential suicide bomber, is also worth watching. If the goal is to understand the process so that this tactic of resistance can be countered/eliminated, consulting all of these sources will help you put together a better explanation for why suicide bombing is on the rise.

Outstanding documentary - hugely recommended!!!
Manfred Zeichmann | Austria | 09/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Hosted by former CIA agent Robert BAER (according to the sleeve of the DVD box George CLOONEY`s character in the SYRIANA movie is based upon him)the feature-length documentary THE CULT OF THE SUICIDE BOMBER provides viewers with an in-depth look at the horrifying phenomenon known in the West as "suicide bomber".
After a brief introduction concerning the July 2005 suicide attacks on London subway trains and a bus, which claimed over 50 deaths and hundreds of injured, BAER visits Iran. The concept of matyrdom, which is derived from the Shiite form of Islam is explained. The commander of the Iranian armed forces is interviewed and he states that, "they ( = the Americans) know that no army can stand in the way of martyrdom, so the Americans should know if they try to interfere with Iran they will dig their own graves". BAER details the story of the first known suicide bomber, 13 year old Hossein FAHMIDEH, who in 1980 in the battle of Kerbala during the Iran/Iraq war took explosives and threw himself in front of an advancing Iraqi tank. The explosion destroyed the tank and FAHMIDEH`s comrades, impressed by his act of self-sacrifice, were able to halt the Iraqi attack. (In my view the film makers fail to point out that this anti-tank tactic was also widely used by the Japanese in the later stages of the war in the pacific.) As is shown in the documentary, FAHMIDEH is celebrated as an Iranian hero to this very day.
Following the Israeli intervention in Lebanon in 1982, the concept of suicide bombing was introduced in that country by the Shiite Hezbollah resistance movement. On 11th November 1982 Ahmad QUASSIR drove a car, filled with explosives into the Israeli army HQ at Tyr - 74 Israeli soldiers died in the blast. QUASSIR became the first suicide car bomber. Many were to follow him.
As the documentary points out suicide bombing was considered a military tactic by Hezbollah at the time. It also shown that this tactic was also used by non-Islamic groups like the Lebanese pro-Syrian SSNP (Syrian Socialist National Party). Being a secular organisation there were also no objections against female suicide bombers. There is an interesting interview with the commanding officer of two female suicide bombers in the documentary. We get to see the last video message of 26 year old Norma Abi HASSAN (nicknamed "Hurricane Norma"), an attractive young woman, who does not appear to be coerced or brainwashed into the operation. Shortly after the video was shot, she drove a pick up truck filled with explosives into an Israeli army convoy, killing 10 soldiers in the process. It was in Lebanon, where the practice of the suicide bomber's last video messages and the filming of the attacks itself originated. These videos are then used for propagandistic purposes and often disseminated over the internet.
You also get to see in the documentary the horrible attacks on the US embassy and the US Marine barracks in Beirut. As BAER comments, almost all of the Beirut CIA staff was wiped out and he only survived because he was out of town at the time.
As is shown in the documentary, the suicide tactic proved to be successful. In excess of 350 Israeli soldiers died. BAER: "Southern Lebanon had become Israel's vietnam", and by 2000 Israel withdrew her forces.
In the Palestinian people's fight against Israeli occupation suicide bombing turned from a weapon of war into a weapon of terror. Starting in 1994 until now there were over 200 suicide attacks. It has to be said in the documentary`s favour, that, while it of course does NOT condone or even glorify suicide bombers, it does not demonize them either. In my view it is clearly shown who started this never ending cycle of violence. It should not be forgotten that the first suicide bombing in Israel was a reprisal for the murder of 29 Palestinians in a mosque (!) at the hand of militant Jewish settler Baruch GOLDSTEIN. There is a very moving interview with one of the few remaining Palestinian shop owners in Hebron, who says that the Jewish settlers who live in the apartments above his shop are in the habit of throwing rocks and pouring down boiling water (!) I mean, how can one live like that?
The documentary also details the hunt for Yahya AYYASH, a suicide bomber mastermind, who orchestrated a dozen or so attacks. Israeli intelligence Shin Beth only managed to kill him when a Palestinian traitor put an explosive device in his cell phone. Detonating, it decapitated AYYASH.
The docmentary concludes on the sombre note that suicide bombing is here to stay and has not lost his allure.

Filled with insightful interviews with surviving perpetrators and victims and their families, islamic scholars, intelligence personel and eyewitnesses, horrifying videos of suicide bombings and their aftermath and informative commentary THE CULT OF THE SUICIDE BOMBER is an outstanding and fairly balanced documentary. Hugely recommended - my only problem with the DVD is the complete lack of any extra features."
Technically mediocre; Intellectually a mess; Missing critica
Douglas B. Moran | Palo Alto, CA USA | 08/16/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)

"If you have been watching broadcast news over the years, there is little that you wouldn't have seen in a equivalent form (other than dramatic pictures of the Bek'aa Valley of Lebanon). If you are new to this, there are numerous valuable segments, but the ordering is driven by chronology rather than an attempt to build understanding. For example, the segment with the interviews with the imprisoned Palestinian bombers (chapter 16) is the first real attempt at explaining the bombers mindset, and should have come much earlier.

The documentary focuses more on an enumeration of the bombers and their attacks, and generally gives too little of the context needed for understanding events.

Many of the interviews are unrevealing - they seem to be the long established "party line" of the interviewee. Getting spontaneity or insights is difficult, but having time to do so is one of the aspects that distinguishes documentaries from news reports.

TECHNICAL: Baer's narration is very flat: he speaks very slowly and carefully. There are too many transition shots of Baer walking or listening (This is routine and acceptable in news broadcasts because they don't have the time to get interesting visuals). The pictures of martyrs and explosions are so many and so dominant that they became tiring, and many seem to be little more than unimaginative visual filler.

INTELLECTUAL MESS: Misleading labeling is an effective tactic in advocacy, but a major impediment to understanding: You fail to ask important questions and block linkages that would lead to insights.

The use of the term "suicide" is derogatory and highly misleading (a point one interviewee makes): It implies that one's own death is the primary motivator for the act. The bombers and those around them use the word "martyr" exclusively, and it better describes their mindset and motivations displayed.

In US mass culture, the term "cult" is derogatory, most commonly used for a group with extreme beliefs or mass adoration of an undeserving someone or something. However, what is presented seems to be the standard honoring of war heroes and the attendant PR for the war effort (from the perspective of the bombers' causes).

The association of "suicide bombing" with Islam is clearly nonsense - the modern version is credited to the Tamil Tigers (Sri Lanka).

Crediting the "first suicide bomber" to the Iran-Iraq war is also nonsense. That type of act is routinely found throughout the history of warfare and is celebrated in its mythology/PR. For example, in the John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees", the Wayne character becomes a suicide bomber to blunt a Japanese attack (and thereby redeems himself for earlier transgressions). The movie ends with the other characters at what is effectively a celebration of the martyr.

The Kamikaze pilots (WW2) provide so many useful parallels - both in their operation and their effect on the war--that it is incredible that they aren't mentioned.

Baer states that first suicide bombing by Palestinians was revenge for a massacre of worshippers at a Hebron mosque by an Israeli settler, but goes on to refer to the Israelis killed (in retaliation) as "the first victims." This dismissiveness of what motivated the bombers riddles this documentary. (Note: This is simply my judgment that the documentary should provide such a perspective and not a comment on the legitimacy of arguments and claims of the various parties. However, I expect to be attacked by those who believe that if you aren't 1000% in support of them, you are supporting their enemy).

A brief summary of the state of the Iran-Iraq war would seem to be critical to understanding "the first suicide bombing" but was not provided. Similarly, the first bombing in Lebanon is presented devoid of any context.

The Imam at noon prayers at Tehran University (Chapter 2) attacks "the White House" repeatedly (not America). When the crowd starts chanting "Death to America," it seemed that about a third were participating, and much of that was lackadaisical and mechanical. Both seemed worthy of a brief follow-up, even though they would have been digressions.

When the family of a bomber talked about motivation, they referred to Israeli terrorism against Palestinians. Some follow-up seemed to be warranted, to indicate how much of this was experience versus a rationale/general polemic.

Excellent Overview
S. B. Anderson | USA | 04/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Robert Baer's "The Cult of the Suicide Bomber" is by far the best documentary I have seen on the topic. Well researched and well presented, the documentary kept me interested for the duration, even though it is longer than an average History Channel documentary by far. Robert Baer went all out, and utilized his extensive experience with the CIA, as well as fantastic interviews with some of the world's worst terrorist extremists and would-be suicide bombers.

Watching the documentary, one almost thinks that Baer is on the side of the fundametalists, in his approach to better understand the acts of violence caused by various jihads over the years. In this Baer exhibits an extraordinary talent that every journalist needs - ability to penetrate the circles of the subject researched. I admire Baer for all the information he presented and all the fascinating interviews that I didn't think were possible. The viewer is reminded of Baer's stand on suicide bombings as he consistently refers to these attacks for what they are - suicides, even after being corrected by the fundamentalists interviewed that these terrorists did not commit suicides, but entered martyrdom instead.

A fascinating journey through the Islamic fundamentalism, bringing some valid grievances to the forefront, grievances that are normally not presented by the western media. Baer's documentary is truly one of a kind, a film that anyone can learn something from, and that everyone should watch."