THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
May 9, 2002
The Wisdom Fund

What's Wrong With Suicide Bombing?

by Enver Masud

WASHINGTON, DC--What's wrong with "suicide" bombing? Like tanks, gunships, bunker-busting bombs, F-16s, and cruise missiles, it kills people. That's what's wrong.

The reported fatalities between December 1987--the first Palestinian intifada--and January 2002 were 2,166 Palestinians, and 454 Israelis. During this same period, the number of Palestinians seriously injured by live ammunition, rubber bullets, shrapnel, etc. were 18,761; the number of Israelis seriously injured 427. This from statistics reportedly endorsed by the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem.

According to University of California professor Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions: "The Koran's definition of a Holy War is virtually identical with that of a Just War in the Canon Law of Catholicism. It must either be defensive or to right an horrendous wrong."

Islam forbids killing except in certain circumstances such as in self defense, or in response to another killing. Even then Islam counsels forgiveness, or compensation for the victim's family.

What else is wrong with "suicide" bombing? Legally, less than what one might believe. While it may or may not be good strategy, it appears to be permissable under international law.

Most Israelis over the age of 18, aren't exactly civilians. All eligible men and women are drafted into the Israel Defense Force at age 18. Men serve for three years, women for 21 months. Upon completion of compulsory service each soldier is assigned to a reserve unit.

We Hold These Truths, a Christian organization, reports:

- All Israeli busses are owned and operated by the state, and each one serves as a military transport vehicle. Civilian passengers often find themselves riding next to an on-duty, rifle-carrying soldier being ferried to a duty station.

- Israeli pizzerias and McDonalds fast-food restaurants are teeming with off-duty and on-duty Israeli military men and women, many of both sexes carrying rifles.

Palestine is occupied land, and under international law, the Palestinians have the legal right to resist this occupation by any and all means. This may make busses, restaurants, discos--where Israeli military congregate, lawful targets.

But there's no excuse for killing children. And there's no excuse for either Israelis or Palestinians knowingly putting children in harm's way.

And what fuels the intifada, and the Palestinian "suicide" bombings, is Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards, Israeli settlements--a violation of international law, and President Sharon's desire to scuttle the peace process, and drive Arabs out of Palestine, permanently.

Suicide--the deliberate termination of one's life--for a greater cause is not an Arab monopoly.

The Japanese used kamikaze or "suicide" attacks in World War II; a woman belonging to the Tamil Tigers blew up herself, several others, and India's prime minister Rajiv Gandhi; and those who protect the U.S. president are taught to sacrifice their lives if necessary.

And what Western media call "suicide" bombings are generally viewed as martyrdom by Arabs.

Islamic scholars say Islam forbids suicide, but accepts martyrdom--suicide being a selfish act contrary to God's will, martyrdom being an act of courage, sacrifice, and faith.

In the end, whether it's "suicide" bombers, or tanks, gunships, bunker-busting bombs, F-16s, and cruise missiles, the end result is the same: people die. And Palestinians are the overwhelming victims.

So why does the media focus on "suicide" bombing?

Because it sets up Palestinian Arabs, Christian and Muslim, as the "other," therefore, a more legitimate target in the eyes of the American public, and it helps legitimize Israel's criminal conduct against the Palestinians, which, according to Francis A. Boyle, professor of international law, "has been financed, armed, equipped, supplied, and politically supported by the United States."

---
["Terrorism is a political act, a response to U.S. foreign policy. It is an act of war waged by people too weak to have a conventional army or one large enough to take on the United States."-- Charley Reese, "Face it: U.S. foreign policy contributes to acts of terrorism," August 18, 1998]

["Sixty years ago, both Allied and Axis soldiers set off on suicidal or near-suicidal raids. These men's bravery cannot be overestimated, nor can the resourcefulness and despair that led to the development of their crafts, . . . midget submarines (Japanese, Italian, German, and British), and manned aircraft, as well as human torpedoes, human bullets, and kamikaze aircraft. "--Richard O'Neill, "Suicide Squads," 1999]

[Whether they are "terrorists" or "freedom fighters" depends wholly one one's viewpoint, because those seeking to attain political goals fight with what they have: hijacked airplanes and concealed bombs or B-52s and laser guided rockets. But B-52s are far more destructive. For the innocent victim it is all the same, and it makes no difference how they are maimed or killed.--Gabriel Kolko, "Another Century of War?," The New Press (2002), p.13]

["Beginning in the late 1980s, Tamil nationalists adopted suicide bombing on a large scale, . . . From a Tamil population of roughly 2.5 million, the guerrillas mounted about 250 suicide missions, and some of their most audacious attacks were carried out by women, including the belt-bomb assassination of India's prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991."--David Von Drehle, " U.S. Fears Use of Belt Bombs," Washington Post, May 13, 2002]

[U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio): "I think that people of faith understand that for many of the terrorists, their actions are acts of sacred piety to the point of losing their lives."-- "Threat of War Spurs U.S. Soul-searching," Toledo Blade, March 1, 2003]

["I agree that it is a strategic mistake but I understand why they do it," she said.--Chris McGreal, "Ex-bank Manager Defends Palestinian Suicide Bombers," Guardian, March 1, 2003]

[Israel's history of assassinations stretches back decades. In the early 1970s, prominent members of Palestinian organizations were killed in rocket attacks and car bomb explosions in Lebanon. Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized hit squads to locate and kill members of the Black September cell responsible for the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Israeli undercover squads, dressed as Arabs, hunted down suspected militants in the Palestinian territories during the first uprising, or intifada, from 1987 to 1993.--Molly Moore, "Israel's Lethal Weapon of Choice," Washington Post, June 29, 2003]

[Neither Israel nor America is bothering to ask why the Palestinians and Muslims of the Middle East are carrying out suicide attacks, something not previously seen in Islam or Palestine for the last 14 centuries.--Marwan Bishara, "The Israelization of American Policy," International Herald Tribune, June 27, 2003]

[In the past 20 years, 17 groups in 14 different countries have used suicide tactics. In less than 400 attacks, they have killed more than 5,000 people, maimed at least 20,000 more and inflicted economic damage estimated at more than 70 billion.--Dr Andrew Silke, "Profiling terror," Janes, August 7, 2003]

[Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.--Avraham Burg, "The end of Zionism," Guardian, September 15, 2003]

Ted Honderich, "Palestinian Terrorism, Morality and Germany," CounterPunch, October 25, 2003

["To say that I understand why they take this action does not mean that I condone it. The world is not listening to the plight of these people.--Ben Russell, "I would be suicide bomber in Israel, says Lib Dem MP," The Independent, January 23, 2004]

Orit Shochat, "Better off without ethical codes," Haaretz, March 3, 2004

Ellis Shuman, "Author Batya Gur "not angry" with suicide bombers, but with Israeli leaders," Israel Insider, March 10, 2004

[Suicide is forbidden in Islam, and very rare in Islamic societies, but if one must sacrifice one's life in order to help the oppressed (and when one reaches that point is a matter of interpretation), most religions consider it an heroic action.--John Alden Williams, "Misunderstanding Islam," israelshamir.net, June 2004]

Michael Takiff, "They Behead; We Do It With Smart Bombs", Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2004

[Once pariahs in Japan, 'kamikaze survivors' are now honored for their spirit of sacrifice. They resent being lumped in with suicide bombers.--Bruce Wallace, "They've Outlived the Stigma", Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2004]

[MILITANTS who attack military or state targets, even with suicide bombers, cannot be considered terrorists in times of war or occupation, an Italian judge said in a ruling today.--"Terrorism depends on target: judge", The Australian, April 22, 2005]

Madeleine Bunting, "Honour and martyrdom: Suicide bombing isn't as new or alien as westerners imagine", Guardian, May 14, 2005

[One of the worlds foremost authorities on the subject, Professor Pape has created the first comprehensive database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until today. With striking clarity and precision, Professor Pape uses this unprecedented research to debunk widely held misconceptions about the nature of suicide terrorism and provide a new lens that makes sense of the threat we face.

FACT: Suicide terrorism is not primarily a product of Islamic fundamentalism.
FACT: The world's leading practitioners of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka - a secular, Marxist-Leninist group drawn from Hindu families.
FACT: Ninety-five percent of suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of coherent campaigns organized by large militant organizations with significant public support.
FACT: Every suicide terrorist campaign has had a clear goal that is secular and political: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.
FACT: Al-Qaeda fits the above pattern. Although Saudi Arabia is not under American military occupation per se, one major objective of al-Qaeda is the expulsion of U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf region, and as a result there have been repeated attacks by terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden against American troops in Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole.
FACT: Despite their rhetoric, democracies - including the United States - have routinely made concessions to suicide terrorists. Suicide terrorism is on the rise because terrorists have learned that it's effective.--Robert Pape, "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," Random House, May 24, 2005]

[In all our societies we reserve the highest honours for those who have given their lives for their country.--Louise Richardson, "Blasts from the past," Financial Times, July 1, 2005]

INTERVIEW: Robert Pape, "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism: It's the occupation, not the fundamentalism," American Conservative, July 18, 2005

Loretta Napoleoni, "Jihad's Cheapest Weapons: Making sense of Female suicide bombers," antiwar.com, November 18, 2005

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, "Chinese farmer in suicide attack," BBC News, January 7, 2006

"Palestinian film on suicide bombers wins Golden Globe," Reuters, January 17, 2006

[Suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism. . . .

There is no better way to understand the enemy than to listen to how it recruits new suicide bombers to kill us. In July, Al Qaeda released its most recent recruitment video, encouraging Muslims to carry out new attacks similar to the July 7 bombings in London last year. The video is stunning in its absence of religious declamation.--Robert A. Pape, "5 YEARS AFTER 9/11: The growth of suicide terrorism," Chicago Tribune, September 11, 2006]

[What many Westerners dismiss as "terrorism," whether directed against Israelis, Americans, or others in the West, ought to be seen as a panoply of techniques employed to undercut the apparent advantages of high-tech conventional forces.--Andrew J. Bacevich, "The Islamic Way of War," American Conservative, September 11, 2006]

[ . . . younger Muslims in the U.S. are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defense of Islam can be at least sometimes justified. Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low--"Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream War on Terror Concerns," Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, May 22, 2007]

"Poll: Few Muslims 'back suicide bombs'," BBC News, July 25, 2007

Mia Bloom, "What the Tigers Taught Al-Qaeda," Washington Post, May 24, 2009

[In America's first war against Islam, we were the ones who introduced the use of suicide bombers.--John Feffer, "Our Suicide Bombers: Thoughts on Western Jihad," tomdispatch.com, August 7, 2009]

Robert A. Pape, "It's the Occupation, Stupid: Extensive research into the causes of suicide terrorism proves Islam isn't to blame -- the root of the problem is foreign military occupations," foreignpolicy.com, October 18, 2010

[ . . . the book highlights the dual legal regime in the West Bank, whereby Palestinians are subject to military rule and courts while Israeli settlers are answerable to civilian courts. At the same time, it argues, Israeli settlers are effectively allies of the military--Donald Macintyre, "'Our lives became something we'd never dreamt': The former Israeli soldiers who have testified against army abuses," Independent, December 12, 2009

Copyright © 2002 The Wisdom Fund - Provided that it is not edited, and author name, organization, and web address (www.twf.org) are included, this article may be printed in newspapers and magazines, and displayed on the Internet.
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