Meditations: Jihadist Assailants, Flaming Suicidal Protest & Gandhi Within the Same Frame

Michael Roberts

Early in the month of February 2023, I was invited by a young friend, Dr Geethika Dharmasinghe, to deliver a Zoom Video Lecture to a small class of her students at Colgate University in New York. These students were following her course on “Religion and Violence in Asia.”

Gandhi speaking and Zahran Hashim in pact with fellow Lankan jihadists …. Zahran was one of the two suicide bombers at the Shangri La Hotel in Colombo on Easter Sunday 2019 where where 36 people died

Zoom Lectures are a medium that are quite foreign to me … in fact, so foreign as to be alien. But the topic was attractive because Geethika indicated that she had “assigned them” the following articles as readings for that week:

  1. Roberts, 2020Allahu Akbar! Missing Dimensions in Contemporary Reportage,” Shimazono Susumu and 島茴進, 1995. In the Wake of Aum: The Formation and Transformation of a Universe of Belief.

My Allahu Akbar article was just one of a whole series from a diverse collection of writers focusing on the background and implications of the Easter Sunday attacks  on a cluster of Catholic churches and prominent hotels in Sri Lanka in April 2019 – horrendous assaults on innocent people mounted by a body of Muslim jihadists who were mostly from the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.[1]

In taking up this challenge, I decided to deploy an article that I had presented as Chapter 19 in the book Fire & Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010. All the essays in this book, I stress, were “popular articles”—meaning articles that had not gone through the academic vetting process exercised by august academic journals.

I will devote subsequent essays in Thuppahi to clarify the concept of “sacrificial devotion” which I deployed from circa 2003 to encompass instances of suicide killers deploying themselves and/or planes, trucks et cetera against enemy targets (including civilian entities). The work involved the reading of many books on what was seen as “suicide terrorism” and embraced such topics as the Al Qaida attacks of 9/11. Several of my articles were accepted by academic journals (see Special Note below).

Here, however, let me spice your interest by repeating some of the classic quotations relating to individuals or organised groups whom I embraced (and continue to encompass) within the concept of “sacrificial devotion” when I introduced my Fire & Storm essay (chapter 19).

  • “Gandhi tried for years to reduce himself to zero” (Dennis Hudson, 2002: 132)
  • Hitler: “You are nothing, your nation is everything” (quoted in Koenigsberg 2009: 13)
  • LTTE: “the martyr sacrifices himself for the whole by destroying the I …………..,” (Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam‘s interpretation of a Tamil Tiger supporter’s poem; 2005: 134)
  • Spokesman for Al-Qaida after Madrid Bombing: “you love life and we love death”
  • Col Karuna ex-LTTE: “Death means nothing to me …”
  • The Hagakure is “a living philosophy that holds that life and death [are] the two sides of the same shield’ (Yukio Mishima in his The Way of the Samurai … see xx in End Notes)
  • “Bushido means to die” (Emiko-Tierney 2002: 117)

These juxtapositions from diverse quarters and spokespersons may surprise many readers maybe even stun some of you readers. They are so designed. That is why I utilised this essay as my starting point for the Colgate Zoom lecture …. And, then, in the course of my talk, I also introduced photographs of personnel who deployed public acts of suicide as a means of political protest.

These instances were highly varied. Any study must attend to the different contexts and ideological inspirations that inspired such acts. Indeed, Yukio Mishima’s act of seppuku was a violence upon himself after he had launched a violent attack that failed to achieve its goal.[2] 

Thus, his public suicide was completely different in inspiration, context and goal from the acts of self-immolation in protest against superpower military action: such as Jan Palach’s self-immolation in protest against the invasion of his Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union on the 19 January 1969[3] and the self-immolation protest against American politico-military action in Vietnam launched by Thich Quang Duo in Saigon on 11 June 1963[4] and Norman Morrison in front of the Pentagon offices in Washington on 2 November 1965.[5]

Yukio Mishima exhorting a crowd from the balcony of  a military establishment

Thich Quang Duo alight at a junction in Saigon, 11 June 1963

Norman Morrison



Jan Palach Memorial in Prague


In introducing these incidents during my Lecture and adding fiery photographs to the intended impact, I was attempting to shock the American students: to shock them into analytic thought rather than driving them away in disgust. In this objective the introduction of Norman Morrison’s immolation was especially important because he was a fellow American. But he was also an unusual American because he was from a strong Quaker background.

In this background of a self-denying peaceful lifeworld as a Quaker, Morrison – in my presumption – shared world space with Mahatma Gandhi – who also figured in my list of headline quotations: to reiterate Dennis Hudson’s striking note … “Gandhi tried for years to reduce himself to zero.”

Thus, it was via the juxtaposition of contrasting biographies in contrasting circumstances that I endeavoured to stimulate the Colgate students to decipher the political world of “sacrificial devotion.” ….. and to avoid the easy paths that placed such suicidal operations as the work of nut-cases and terrible “others.”



Ameer Ali, ACL 2019b “How Extremisms have fed off Each Other in Sri Lanka, 1950s-to-2019 … and still proceeding,”  6 May 2019,

Flintoff, Jean-Paul 2010  “I told them to be brave,” ………………………………………..

Hellmann-Rajanayagam, Dagmar 2005 “And Heroes Die”: The Tamil Liberation Movement in Northern Sri Lanka,” South Asia, vol 28, pp.112-54.

Hudson, Dennis 2002

Jan Palach n. d. “Jan Palach,”

Koenigsberg, Richard 2009 Nations have the Right to Kill. Hitler, The Holocaust and War, New York, The Library of Social Science.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko 2002 Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese history, University of Chicago Press.

Oliver, Mark [??] “Thích Quảng Đức And The True Story Of The Burning Monk Photograph,”

Roberts, Michael 2019  “”The Clash of Civilisations and Hate at the Heart of 21/4 in Sri Lanka,”14 May 2019,

Subramaniam, Nirupama 2019 “Nirupama’s Incisive Appraisal identifies Islamic Jihadist Patterns in Easter Sunday Terror,” 22 April 2019,  lm-sunday-terror/

Yukio Mishima:

Yukio Mishima speaking in English, On The Samurai Spirit on YouTube, from a 1980s BBC documentary (9:02)


2005 “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict  & Terrorism 28: 493-514.

2005 “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites”, Social Analysis 49: 67-93.

2006 “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 50: 73-102.

2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30:  857-88.

2007 “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Online publication within series known as Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP), ISSN: 1617-5069.

2008 “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, 24/3: 22-23.

2010 “Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture Vol 1, No. 1, pp.25-41.

2010 “Self-Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 161-201.


[xx] See item on Mishima in Wikipedia: “On 25 November 1970, Mishima and four members of the Tatenokai—Masakatsu Morita (森田必勝), Masahiro Ogawa (小川正洋), Masayoshi Koga (小賀正義), and Hiroyasu Koga (古賀浩靖)—used a pretext to visit the commandant Kanetoshi Mashita (益田兼利) of Camp Ichigaya, a military base in central Tokyo and the headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Inside, they barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. Mishima wore a white hachimaki headband with a red hinomaru circle in the center bearing the kanji for “To be reborn seven times to serve the country” (七生報國, Shichishō hōkoku), which was a reference to the last words of Kusunoki Masasue, the younger brother of the 14th century imperial loyalist samurai Kusunoki Masashige (楠木正成), as the two brothers died fighting to defend the Emperor.[177] With a prepared manifesto and a banner listing their demands, Mishima stepped out onto the balcony to address the soldiers gathered below. His speech was intended to inspire a coup d’état to restore the power of the emperor. ….. {but the soldiers jeered].” …. That was when Mishima proceeded to commit ritual suicide namely, seppuku.

1 There are a whole range of articles on these attacks and the Thuppahi web site has presented quite a few : for starters, see

[2] See item on Mishima in Wikipedia

[3] See Jan Palach in Wikipedia. Smong the references cited in this Note, the following may be worth pursuing: (A)  Jan Palach: A multimedia project of Charles University in Prague … & “Jaroslava Moserova – remembering Jan Palach – Radio Prague”. 21 January 2003. Retrieved 14 April 2011.

[4] See

[5] …AND See

6 …ANDst

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One response to “Meditations: Jihadist Assailants, Flaming Suicidal Protest & Gandhi Within the Same Frame

  1. Sachi Sri Kantha

    Hello Michael,
    Thanks for your continuing interest on the theme related to Tamil Tigers, suicide and sacrificial devotion. I’m not sure, whether you did check my criticism of your views, posted 23 years ago. The link is as follows:

    Splendid that you had given a zoom lecture to the students of Colgate University, New York, They would have appreciated more, if you had included Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’ and Winston Churchill’s thoughts on sacrifice during war times.

    Now that, you had come incorporate Yukio Mishima’s seppuku act of 1970, in your theory of ‘sacrificial devotion’. Here is my critical comment. You must be joking, when you compare Mishima’s minimalized army of Tetenokai (which didn’t see any military action of merit!) to that of Prabhakaran’s LTTE, that took on the armies of two countries!

    Also, you need to include General Marasuke Nogi’s (1849-1912) seppuku act, after the death of Emperor Meiji, to your suicide database as well. While Gen Nogi was an authentic military hero, writer Mishima is NOT.

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