the suicide bomb

Is the suicide bomb an ethical weapon?

Many believe that no weapon is ethical, that bred within it is the cause for violence. There are those, also, who scale the ethics of weaponry as something that can be civilized vs. uncivilized. There are clean(er) ways of killing people, for instance, a predator drone or a gun. One can hardly imagine a film like Rambo where, instead of killing hundreds with a gun he decides to take them all out with a knife or his bare hands.

As weapons evolve, so does the death count. If we look at the trajectory of human development, as the population increases, so does the weaponry increase to kill more and more people. A hydrogen bomb, for example, or the machinery of the Nazi holocaust. The more space you put between you and someone else, the easier it is to kill, the less you feel it.

Whereas man used to be in touch with his violent side, confronted every day with the torments of violence in his world, nowadays we can comfortably kill people thousands of miles away and not feel a thing. The violence of the industrialized slaughterhouse also comes to mind.

So where do we rate the suicide bomb? Go to Nablus and you are confronted with posters and shrines to those who died or are imprisoned, a few of whom were suicide bombers or accomplices. Someone recently told me this was a glorification of violence. Open a Jane’s Defense and tell me who’s glorifying  violence.

In a place like Nablus, death is all around you. It stares at you from the walls, the wreckage, the bullet holes in the walls. It echoes in the eyes of others as they tell you their stories. Each death is like a blow to the face here. Mao once said, “To die for the reactionary is as light as a feather. But to die for the revolution is heavier than Mount Tai.” Compare it to the nameless, faceless coffins shipped back from Iraq.

Suicide bombers are not mindless drones lured by the temptations of heaven. They are human beings with families. They have to say good-bye and make preparations for their violence. They look their targets in the eye. They smile. They decide to go home when they see a baby carriage in a cafe. Predator drones don’t back down – the victims of wedding parties and funeral processions can tell you that. The human being in Nevada fires a missile and goes home to his family. The suicide bomber feels the weight of his or her decision with their entire body. It is literally the most important decision of their lives. The soldier in the foxhole tossing grenades can hardly say that each pull of the pin requires such forethought and soul searching.

Why is it that killing someone with your body is considered more barbaric and more cowardly in western civilization than killing someone with a tomahawk missile? Does the violence tickle that part of us left behind since the industrialization of war? Perhaps once we start to analyze the methods of war as closely as we do the reasons for killing will we rediscover the horror of taking lives.

One response to “the suicide bomb

  1. I’m pretty sure that the primary criticism of suicide bombings isn’t that they are more “barbaric”. Obviously, as in all cases where someone is taking their own life, there is something that unsettles people about the idea. I won’t deny that. However, I think that the main difference is that in many (probably most) cases, the fact that the target is non-military and is primarily chosen for a body count, and that is really what gets under most people’s skin. That and the fact that in many cases, that bomber doesn’t back down, that in many cases, that baby in that carriage dies too.

    No need to tell me that military strikes affect innocents as well, that’s a given. It’s war, everything is terrible in war. But, whether we’re talking drone strikes or infantry assault, at least in these cases, most people (not me) are sated with an understanding that there was (ostensibly) a specific military objective in mind. We’ve come a long way from just demoralizing innocents with random shelling.

    Now, walking into a restaurant, or a bus, or a market, or a crowd and unleashing hell on everyone with the misfortune to be in the wrong place in the wrong time to deliver what, ultimately, is little more than a message: That’s something different. Not better, not worse, but certainly not directly comparable. And compare seems to be what you’re tried to do up there.

    A woman exploded herself in a restaurant in Haifa a few years ago, note that the four year old, the 14 *month* old, the nine year old, and eleven year old in her kill range didn’t slow her down:
    “The victims of the Haifa bombing are: Irena Sofrin, Kiryat Bialik; Nir Regev, 25, Netanya; Bruria Zer-Aviv, 49, Kibbutz Yagur; Bezalel Zer-Aviv, 30, Kibbutz Yagur; Keren Zer-Aviv, 29, Kibbutz Yagur; Liran Zer-Aviv, 4, Kibbutz Yagur; Noya Zer-Aviv, 14 months, Kibbutz Yagur; Mark Biano, 30, Hafia; Naomi Biano, 30, Haifa; Osama Najar, 28, Haifa; Matan Askarkabi, Haifa; Sherbel Matar, 23, Fassouta; Hana Francis, 39, Fassouta; Ze’ev Almog, 71, Haifa; Ruth Almog, 70, Haifa; Moshe Almog, 43, Haifa; Tomer Almog, 9, Haifa; Asaf Staier, 11, Haifa; Zvi Bahat, Haifa”

    But you’re right, she could have turned back. And a missile, after a certain point, is not going to be deterred. The difference here is, she is a cold blooded murderer about to blow up innocent families, elderly people, and children, and that missile is traveling to a destination that has been imaged, discussed, approved, and (I admit, sometimes errantly) identified as a suitable military target. Her motives are desperation, anger, fear, monetary gain and stability for her family, prestige, and religious reward. That jerk operating the drone from Nevada is doing something he hopes will have a positive impact, or at least avert something terrible.

    I also think it’s unfair to assume that that jerk in Nevada doesn’t have nightmares too, that you have to have blood on your hands to understand what you’ve done.

    A few other niggling points and then I’ll stop messing up your blog:
    – Your comment about Jane’s magazine glorifying violence: how does Jane’s magazine’s glorification of violence make Nablusi suicide bomber martyr glorification any different. One doesn’t negate the other. So they both do it. It’s ok to admit that the side you’re clearly on has some faults too.
    – “To die for the reactionary is as light as a feather. But to die for the revolution is heavier than Mount Tai.”: Doesn’t this remind you of what Lan always says in the Wheel of Time novels? Did Robert Jordan steal this from Mao or is this some older saying ?
    – Compare it to the nameless, faceless coffins shipped back from Iraq: Tell their families and the communities they came from that their children are nameless and faceless, I’m sure you’ll hear a different response. Larger pond here.

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