August 04, 2005

Suicide bombs and myths

Ahead of his documentary tonight on suicide bombers, an interesting interview with former CIA agent Robert Baer by Andrew Billen in The Times on Tuesday. Choice cuts:

"We kept on asking the families the dream question: ‘Where do you see your son now?’ And none of them see them other than in Heaven. By the way, 72 virgins never came up. It’s a myth.

“The other one thing is, ‘they hate us’, which is just total bullshit.”

Is it? “Yes,” he says, “it is.”

In a school run by Hezbollah, he asked a class dominated by the daughters of “martyrs” if they watched US television. “Everybody raised their hand. And what did they watch? Oprah. I said, ‘How can you watch this crap?’ And they said, ‘No, she’s great. We love Oprah.’ So, it’s nothing to do with a hate for the West, or a cultural divide. It may have become that with bin Laden and the Sunnis, but for the Shia, it wasn’t.”

He points to Beirut, a surprisingly Western city. “It’s much more decadent than London. You can go into places in Lebanon where they still serve drugs across the bar. You’ve got all-night dancing, all-night partying. You’ve got very Western art. And it doesn’t seem to bother Hezbollah. So, it wasn’t our values. It wasn’t Western values. It’s Western presence. They want us to get out.”

... So, I say, if we want to stop being attacked, what do our governments have to do? “The first thing is get out of Iraq. To pretend this has nothing to do with Iraq is idiocy. I mean, I don’t know if it’s in the back of these people’s minds or if they think about it all day long, but what they see is that we attack Muslims, we provoke the killing of Muslims, Shia or Sunni, we provoke what they call ‘fitna ’, which is chaos among the Muslims. They see it as neo-colonialism, hate for Muslims. And the same thing with the Palestinians. They do not believe that Israel is an accident, that it was founded from a feeling of guilt after the Second World War. They think it’s an attack from the West, an outpost of Western colonialism.”

The abhorrence produced by suicide bombing is fascinating and, prima facie, puzzling: as if the annihilation of the terrorists by their own hand somehow made the atrocity worse. You would think that the objection to al-Qaeda style attacks is that they target civilians. Militarily, a willingness to die makes the enemy more difficult to fight - but ethically, surely there is little difference between a suicide bomber and a bomber concerned to preserve his own life. So it would seem. But if there are 'Western values' now, such values insist upon the sacredness of individual life; so that to willingly give life up 'strikes at the heart of western values' much more directly than does the taking of 'innocent' lives. From the POV of the self-styled guardians of the west, isn't this willingness to die - and to die for a Cause - one of the most disturbing features of what Blair calls 'these people'?


Reader David Sneek writes with a quote from Thomas Friedman which perfectly illustrates my point: "The Palestinians are so blinded by their narcissistic rage that they have lost sight of the basic truth civilization is built on: the sacredness of every human life, starting with your own."

Infinite Thought with some queries and extrapolations. I think that what interests me is the discrepancy between and what is 'really' objected to, ostensibly (i.e. the killing of civilians) and the language used ('suicide bombers'). Is there more at stake here than a rhetorical equivocation of the latter with the former? (One interesting thing to come out of Baer's documentary last night was the fact that suicide bombing originated as a technique used against military adversaries.) I think that it would be interesting to think through further the relationship between capitalism's systemic suicide and its sacramentalization of individual organic life. To what extent does capitalism's massive self-destruction depend upon positing respect for individual life as its core value? How necessary is this ruse?

Posted by mark at August 4, 2005 01:55 PM | TrackBack