Suicide bombers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Apr 3 09:33:36 MST 2002

Counterpunch, April 3, 2002

Lies of Desperation:  Answering Thomas Friedman
By M. Shahid Alam


It would appear that the deployment of 'suicide' bombers was a strategic
choice made by Japan when the odds against them appeared to be mounting. It
was a choice they implemented massively, mobilizing tens of thousands to
launch 'suicide' missions using airplanes, torpedoes, mines and small
boats. They were also quite effective. Warner and Warner, in The Sacred
Warriors, show that the Allies lost 65 naval and merchant ships to these
'suicide' missions, and 370 more were damaged. By comparison, the recent
'suicide' bombings are minor league distractions. At least until February
2000, the Palestinians were not the biggest players even in this minor
league. Hamas claimed only 22 'suicide' missions compared to 168 strikes by
Tamil separatists.

So why does Mr. Friedman raise this alarm about Palestinians "testing" "a
whole new form of warfare," "a new strategy of liberation?" Faced with a
second intifada against their deepening control over the West Bank and
Gaza--an intifada that was slowly replacing stone-throwing children with
guerilla warfare--the Israelis made a strategic choice. On February 6,
2001, they let loose Ariel Sharon, convicted by his own courts of personal
responsibility for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, to crush the new
intifada. But the Palestinian resolve, tested for 33 years under the
occupation of the world's most efficient military machine, refuses to
capitulate before yet another round of warfare. The people who should have
been "spirited across the borders" by beads and baubles have shown yet
again that their spirits will not be cowed: that they will rise to match
and neutralize the power of Israeli military.

Mr. Friedman admits this. The Palestinian resistance--he calls it 'suicide'
bombing--"is working." That is what alarms him. He thinks that Israel now
"needs to deliver a military blow that clearly shows that terror will not
pay." In other words, he wants United States to give Israel a free hand in
dealing with the Palestinian resistance. This might mean more Palestinian
deaths, more house demolitions, more incarcerations, and may be even
deportations on some significant scale. Everything that is necessary to
crush the resistance. Yes, the Europeans will make noises-and there will be
some noise in the Arab streets. But with solid American backing, none of
this should matter. At least, that is Mr. Friedman's fantasy.

I have been placing 'suicide' in 'suicide' bombings within quotes. This
requires an explanation. The Oxford English dictionary defines a suicide as
"one who dies by his own hand." This definition is clearly inadequate. In
the absence of a motive, we cannot distinguish between (i) a person who
takes his life because he wants to die and (ii) a person who takes his life
because this will save her soul-or her honor, her family, her friends, her
community, or her country. The first suggests suicide; the latter is
ordinarily regarded as a martyr. Judge for yourself then whether the
Palestinians are suicides or martyrs.

Although the Jewish tradition considers suicide reprehensible, it admits
exceptions. According to the Talmud-Kaplan and Schwartz, A Psychology of
Hope--"suicide can be permissible and even preferred" when the alternative
is forced apostasy or torture that is beyond endurance. Imaginably, the
Palestinians who choose to 'sacrifice' their lives might argue that the
pain and indignity of life under Israeli occupation exceeded their capacity
for endurance.

Use your imagination again. Consider a different history of Germany and
Europe-one without the Second World War, without the Final Solution,
without Auschwitz--all because a lone Jewish 'suicide' bomber in 1938 had
penetrated the inner chambers of Nazi leadership and blown them to
smithereens while also killing herself. Would this 'suicide' bomber--and
her likes--also be regarded as a threat to all civilization? What would Mr.
Friedman say about her?


Louis Proyect
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