This article is a response to a comment I’ve heard too many times. The comment is another one of those ‘facts’ spouted by media casualties throughout the land. Of them all “suicide bombers only do it because their religion promises them that they’ll go straight to heaven and have more virgins than they can shake a stick at”, (or words to that effect), irritates me the most.
The comment shows a complete lack of thought and awareness on the subject. I feel assured when I assume that the person hasn’t thought the statement through, because it doesn’t have to be thought about much before its dubiousness is revealed. For one thing, not all those who have carried out suicide operations have been men. From Palestine and Lebanon to Chechnya and Tamil Eelam, some of those involved in suicide operations have been women.
The following entry is from a list compiled by Palestinian Women Martyrs against the Israeli Occupation:
January 27, 2002
Wafa Idriss was a nurse with the Red Crescent, the Palestinian version of the Red Cross. On January 27, 2002, the 28 year-old nurse walked into a shopping district on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road and detonated a bomb killing herself, an Israeli and injuring 150 others. Red Crescent Society officials said that Idriss had been on the front line of clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops, tending to the wounded. About two weeks before her suicide operation, they said, she cradled a 15-year-old boy, Samir Kosbeh, who was hit in the head by a bullet fired by the Israelis soldiers. The clash took place just outside the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. The boy lapsed into a coma for a week, then died, two days before Idriss detonated her bomb. Wafa Idriss lived at the Amari Refugee Camp near Ramallah.
I think it fair to suggest a causative link between the killing of the boy and the nurse’s killing herself and injuring others. Too often the cause is ignored by a media that consistently presents the effect in an out of context and misrepresented way.
Note the word ‘martyr’ in the title of the group. In Britain and Ireland in the 1970s when the British killed a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (who were fighting what they saw as a military occupation of their country), IRA family and supporters would talk of the death of a soldier. It’s a fact that the ‘terrorist’ label is applied by some to individuals considered by others to be freedom fighters and martyrs, giving rise to the saying ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’.
To forestall any ideas that may be forming about my stance on the subject, I’ll stop here and state that I am, very strongly, against the killing of innocent people, non-combatants, in the course of political, ideological, or any other kind of conflict; whether those deaths be caused by the homemade device or the professionally made type legally manufactured and/or bought and used by government and military.
Suicide operations aren’t a recent phenomenon. They’re a recourse that’s been taken when one side in a conflict is humanly or technologically outnumbered by the other side, as noted by Robert Pape of the New York Times in his article regarding the Hezbollah resistance.
Historically, it’s a recourse that’s been adopted, not just by individuals from relatively small ethnopolitical groups, but also by at least one country’s military forces themselves. The actions of some Japanese Air Force pilots of the Second World War brought the word Kamikaze into common western use. Togubetsu kogeki tai, is the Japanese name for the units that carried out suicide operations and means ‘special attack units’. As the Japanese forces became outnumbered and technologically surpassed by developments in the USAF, the Japanese took to deliberately using a tactic first used by pilots of hit and damaged aircraft, namely crashing the aircraft into US forces.
I would point out that the above actions were between two military forces, combatants.
Regarding the ‘professionally made type’ of bomb, the ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing campaign carried out against the innocent population of Baghdad was to my mind an immense act of terrorism. (It also constituted a War Crime and Crime Against Humanity, as defined by the Nuremberg Principles: VIb – “murder of civilian population…wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages.” VIc – “Murder…and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population.”) According to the United States own Federal Criminal Code, (Chapter 113B of Part I of Title 18), terrorism is defined as “activities that involve violent … or life-threatening acts … that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State and … appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction…”
The publicly-voiced intentions of the US administration were to “deter and overpower the adversary through the adversary’s perception and fear of his vulnerability and our own invincibility…This ability to impose massive shock and awe, in essence to be able to ‘turn the lights on and off’ of an adversary as we choose, will so overload the perception, knowledge and understanding of that adversary that there will be no choice except to cease and desist or risk complete and total destruction…You take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In 2, 3, 4, 5 days they’re physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.”
I’m sure that being bombed day and night for 48 hours, (with cruise missiles and nuclear-tipped ‘bunker busters’!) did have the city’s population “physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted”, not to mention in a critical state with no clean drinking water, no sanitation, no power, nowhere to live for months, and a newly radioactive environment to struggle in.
Anyone who hasn’t experienced the trauma of being carpet-bombed can’t begin to get close to the horror. Anyone who hasn’t given birth to a child chronically deformed as a result of nuclear attack can’t begin to get close to that pain. And I’m not referring to the bombs that were tested on Japan at the end of WWII, (Japan having been undeniably beaten on every front before that point), I’m talking about the effects of US Weapons of Mass Destruction in, for example, Afghanistan.
Anyone who hasn’t had their country invaded by a military force can’t get close to how it feels and what it makes you want to do. As one GI recently in Iraq put it:
“Fair is fair. Let’s bring 150,000 Iraqis over here to the USA. They can kill people at checkpoints, bust into their houses with force and violence, butcher their families, overthrow the government, put a new one in office they like better and call it “sovereign,” and “detain” anybody who doesn’t like it in some prison without any charges being filed against them, or any trial. Those Iraqis are sure a bunch of backward primitives. They actually resent this help, have the absurd notion that it’s bad their country is occupied by a foreign military dictatorship, and consider it their patriotic duty to fight and kill the soldiers sent to grab their country. What a bunch of silly people. How fortunate they are to live under a military dictatorship run by Barack Obama. Why, how could anybody not love that? You’d want that in your home town, right?”
That comment was printed in a magazine called Military Resistance written by GIs ‘on the ground’ in Iraq and other places in the Middle East. Here are two more:
“In the States, if police burst into your house, kicking down doors and swearing at you, you would call your lawyer and file a lawsuit,” said Wood, 42, from Iowa, who did not accompany Halladay’s Charlie Company, from his battalion, on Thursday’s raid.”Here, there are no lawyers. Their resources are limited, so they plant IEDs (improvised explosive devices) instead.”
“One day while I was in a bunker in Vietnam, a sniper round went over my head. The person who fired that weapon was not a terrorist, a rebel, an extremist, or a so-called insurgent. The Vietnamese individual who tried to kill me was a citizen of Vietnam, who did not want me in his country. This truth escapes millions.”
Mike Hastie – US Army Medic Vietnam 1970-71. December 13, 2004.
The media casualty who started this whole dialogue has probably never even thought of putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. To them the person isn’t a person, they’re a ‘suicide bomber’, faceless, fanatic, dark-skinned, maybe bearded and wearing a headscarf, a picture encouraged by the media. The reality is that there are lots of reasons why a person might kill themselves in the act of detonating explosives in a public or military situation. The action seems to me to be a back-to-the-wall, desperate reaction, even when supported with a religious faith (be it Shinto, Muslim, or Christian).
So where did the ‘virgins in heaven’ story come from?
The word Assassin is said to come from the word Hashishin, which referred to members of a secret politico-religious organisation led by Hasan Ibn al-Sabbah, who lived in the areas around present day Iran and Lebanon around 1100-1200. The historical account states that future assassins were initiated using similar methods to other historical and modern cults and drugged and made to believe that they were dying. Whilst unconscious they were transported to a place that had been made to look like the prevailing idea of heaven, a ‘paradise’ garden complete with sumptuous food and drink (laced with hashish which when eaten can cause hallucinations) served by ‘virgins’. Convinced of their situation and that Hasan-I-Sabbah was the representative of God, it was easy to convince them that by following his instructions, usually assassinations of political enemy figures, they would return to that heavenly splendour after death. The so-called ‘suicide commandos’ were usually killed by others around them during the assassination incident.
The above account is replicated with slight changes to detail by various scholars.
Misconceptions about this and other related issues are understandable given the amount of deliberate misrepresentation and misinformation in media. For instance, whilst researching this subject I noticed a subtle bias to the information being put forward by certain parties. Most people would, I hope, already be aware of the editorial bias in newspapers. Not so well known is that enforced through online research sources. The Wikipedia entries for ‘Suicide Attack’ and ‘Female Suicide Bombers’ show a definite and persistent skewing that favours the western party line rather than presenting impartial and balanced information, and a pattern of propagandistic manipulation in the language usage. One example in the latter entry states that “militant organisations use women to carry out suicide bombings”, a practice criticised by some for “the cruelty of tearing mothers away from their children and sending them to explode themselves”. Which could leave one with an impression of people being recruited and forced, ‘torn away from their children and being sent to explode themselves’, instead of what it statistically seems to be, namely ‘little people’ kicking back against a much bigger enemy who, more often than not, is occupying their home country or territory. The above quote is just one of a list of questionable definitions and opinions masqueraded as encyclopaedic knowledge, that generate wrong emotional and prejudiced impressions of what’s going on.
An important aside to the above is that having come across the described bias, I decided to investigate further and found the article Spies in Wikipedia from Wikipedia Watch, which relates to the possible use of Wikipedia by secret service agencies for ‘spin’/misinformation/propaganda purposes. The interference described includes positive propaganda for politicians, removal of entries, and other editing bias. An investigation into the identity of one administrator (Slim Virgin) showed her to be “an administrator with inhuman capacity for work. Over the past year, she edited nearly 35,000 articles (about 100 every day, without holidays and weekends). The same Slim Virgin also holds a record of continuous editorial work lasting 26 hours, with the longest break in editing not exceeding 40 minutes. These statistics from Wikipedia’s editing records suggests either a supernatural ability, or more likely that Slim Virgin is a convenient smoke screen for an entire team of specialists editing Wikipedia articles on behalf of intelligence services”.
Obviously, all is not what it seems.
I don’t claim to have all the information or the ‘true’ picture of any situation, (and that goes for the origins of the ‘virgins in heaven’ story too). Knowing that controls my forming judgments and opinions on a variety of issues, and stimulates a search for balanced data.
Further research into this particular subject recently led me to this shocking news article that reports how two British SAS soldiers disguised as Iraqis, driving a booby-trapped car (car bomb), opened fire when members of the Iraqi police force attempted to stop them.
Following their arrest, on the 20th September 2005 “British forces used up to 10 tanks, supported by helicopters, to smash through the walls of the jail and free the two British servicemen”.
Renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker, John Pilger, asks some pertinent questions regarding the incident in this New Statesman article. These questions remain unanswered so far after the senior British military police officer in Iraq, Captain Ken Masters, was found hung in his military accommodation. The Ministry of Defence said the ‘circumstances were not regarded as suspicious.’ The only explanation offered as a justification for suggesting that Masters took his own life is that he was suffering due to the stresses of his job. Masters, aged 40, had 24 years’ experience in the British Army. Married with two children, he was due to return to Britain in just two weeks. Reports indicate that he had displayed no signs of stress or illness and that no suicide notes were found at the scene.
The articles British military investigator found hung in Basra, and British Chief Police Investigator in Basra dies under mysterious circumstances cover little-known (suppressed) aspects of the case.
As I say, all is not what it seems. Think about that next time you hear a report of another ‘suicide bombing’.
I hope that this article, as with everything else on this website and in Psyclone, will stimulate some much needed thought and discussion on the subjects mentioned.