Suicide bombing not confined to Muslims: Israeli expert
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: An Israeli expert on terrorism said on Thursday that Islam was not a factor when it came to suicide bombings, as the phenomenon was not confined to Muslims alone.
This was stated by Dr Ami Pedazhur of the University of Haifa, who has written extensively on the subject, at a meeting held at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. His talk was entitled ‘The culture of death: terrorist organisations and suicide bombings’.
The Israeli academic pointed out that 20 years ago, suicide bombings were associated with only three countries, a number that had now risen to 23. He called suicide bombings a “tactic” to create an atmosphere of terrorism. Figures for 2004, he added, were worse than those of earlier years. He stressed that suicide bombings should not be seen as a Middle East phenomenon or something that was Islamic in nature. The Tamil Tigers were not Muslims and the Kurdish PKK was ideologically Marxist. It would, therefore, be misleading to treat the phenomenon as Islamic or Middle Eastern.
He said 95 percent of suicide bombings were initiated by organisations that inculcated in their followers a “culture of death”, something that was not integral to Islam or part of its teachings. Religion and religious symbols were pressed into the service of what essentially were political causes. Those who ran terrorist organisations were politicians. However, in order to promote these acts, their organisations needed popular and community support. Suicide bombers were trained psychologically. Detonating a device was not hard.
Pedazhur said countries or groups that sponsored suicide bombings were made up of those who felt powerless and saw little hope in the future. They were victims of oppression who were deluded into believing that terrorist organisations offered them a solution or a way out. By hurting the enemy, a suicide bomber was made to believe that he had gained empowerment. This culture of death was carefully marketed and in the Middle East, the suicide bombers were treated as “shaheeds” and eulogised as heroes who had brought honour to their families. He said only those individuals could be mobilised for suicide missions who had suffered and who felt weak and without prospects.
Suicide bombings, he added, took place in three-year “waves”. A look at Islamic history, for instance, would show that the phenomenon of terrorism had come and gone. Islam, he stated, had merely been “incorporated” in this culture of death and its marketing. Suicide bombings, however, declined when they did not work any more.
Turning to Palestine, he pointed out that the first wave of suicide bombings occurred before Oslo and was an attempt to sabotage the process. Today, it was in decline because of the fence Israel had built, the launch by Tel Aviv of ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ and targeted assassinations by Israeli security forces. He said studies done of suicide bombers showed that they bore no distinct features. Individual motivation varied.
For instance, women suicide bombers were found to have been either dogged by scandals in their personal lives or to have suffered tragedy. Those who were mired in some scandal were able to redeem themselves as a consequence of their act and their families’ honour was in the process fully restored.
Citing an example, he said the 29 year old Palestinian woman lawyer who became a suicide bomber had suffered much family tragedy. Her fiancé had died, her brother had been shot dead and her father was gravely ill. She had calmly walked into Maxim’s, a Tel Aviv restaurant, eaten a hearty meal and when given the bill, detonated the explosive belt she was wearing, unconcerned with the fact that a four-month old child sat next to her.
Dr Pedazhur stated that 71 percent of suicide bombers in Palestine were found to have had some kind of a police record. There was also the phenomenon of “bonding” in Israeli jails and there was one instance where four Palestinians who were in prison together had staged suicide attacks on the same day. Another instance involved suicide bombings by seven members of a local football team. “Buddyism” was a powerful factor, he added. Asked about the “lone wolf” terrorist, he replied that lone wolf acts were rare.
He concluded by stressing that suicide bombing was a symptom, a manifestation of a grievance or something else; it was not a problem. In the war against terrorism, the victimisation of civilians spawned people who could be indoctrinated to become suicide bombers. Terrorism, he added, was cyclical. Islam, he emphasised, was not at war with the West; in fact most Muslims favoured Western values and wanted their countries to become like Western countries. The basic human instinct, he added, was to live, not to die. If people felt that they had a stake in the future, nobody would be able to persuade them to blow themselves up.