[Marxism] Cult of the Suicide Bomber
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 3 13:13:14 MDT 2006
Although I generally have little use for Robert Baer, the former CIA agent
who served as a model for the character George Clooney played in "Syriana,"
I certainly can recommend "Cult of the Suicide Bomber," a British
documentary written and narrated by Baer. It is, if nothing else, a good
introduction to some of the politics surrounding the current war in Lebanon.
Baer was stationed in Beirut in 1983, when a suicide bomber blew up the
American embassy. Just by happenstance, he was not on the premises at the
time. That event spurred him to look into the whole question of terrorism
and suicide bombing. Unlike a Philip Agee, Baer is fixated on improving the
quality of services delivered by the CIA rather than on its role in
subverting third world struggles for democracy and economic development. In
a very real sense, this documentary reflects his efforts to better
understand the "enemy".
With his command of Arabic and Parsi, Baer is well-equipped to conduct
interviews throughout the region. He also has a way of softening people up
for interviews, another skill no doubt learned in the CIA. Many years ago,
when I was in the Trotskyist movement, a party leader advised me never to
speak to the FBI because they have received special training in how to
extract information even during what appears to be a casual conversation.
Since I would have soon kept a rattlesnake as a pet as chat with an FBI
agent, that never presented itself as a problem.
Baer argues, with some degree of plausibility, that the first suicide
bomber was Hossein Fahmideh, a thirteen year old Iranian boy who threw
himself under an Iraqi tank in 1980 during a climactic battle. Shrines were
erected to the youth all over Iran in a gesture that Baer sees repeated
throughout the region. Suicide bombers become "exemplary figures" whose
likenesses dot the walls of buildings and billboards, like Che's in Cuba.
Fahmideh's parents, like the relatives of all suicide bombers interviewed
in the film, are deeply proud of his heroism. As devout Muslims, they are
sure that he has merited entrance into Paradise. Unlike the Christian true
believers, whose theology is based on the notion that good acts can't buy
you a ticket into heaven, Muslims are much more results-oriented.
Baer maintains that suicide bombing was marketed by the Iranians to the
Lebanese in the 1980s. Despite the tendency to explain this tactic as a
function of Shi'ite fanaticism, Baer makes clear that it was used across
the board by the Lebanese resistance, including the secular Syrian National
Socialist Party. When Baer asks its leader if his members expected to gain
entry into Paradise after blowing themselves up, he shrugs his shoulders
and says that their Paradise would be on Earth, a liberated Lebanon.
The role of secular activists in the Lebanese resistance is confirmed by
suicide bombing expert Robert Pape in an op-ed article that appears in the
August 3, 2006 NY Times:
"In writing my book on suicide attackers, I had researchers scour Lebanese
sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and the
biographies of the Hezbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names,
birth places and other personal data for 38. Shockingly, only eight were
Islamic fundamentalists. Twenty-seven were from leftist political groups
like the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union. Three were
Christians, including a female high-school teacher with a college degree.
All were born in Lebanon.
"What these suicide attackers -- and their heirs today -- shared was not a
religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a
foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not
root out Hezbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks,
in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force."
After leaving Lebanon, Baer travels to Gaza and the West Bank where he
interviews Hamas activists who differ significantly from their counterparts
in Iran and Lebanon, where the suicide bomber functioned more or less as a
Kamikazi fighter in combat situations involving unequal forces. Hamas
operated less against the Israeli army than it did against Israeli citizens
in a kind of vendetta.
To Baer's credit, he makes clear that the Hamas campaign was inspired by
the February 1994 attack of Zionist fanatic Baruch Goldstein on unarmed
worshippers in a Hebron mosque. Forty were shot to death by Goldstein, a
transplanted Brooklynite and follower of Jewish fascist Meir Kahane. In the
ensuing riots by Palestinians, another 53 were killed by Israelis and
In an effort to break the cycle of suicide bombing, Israel has been
constructing a massive fence to pen in Palestinians. Baer concludes the
film with the mordant observation that as long as there is despair and
inequality, there will be suicide bombers.
("Cult of the Suicide Bomber" is available at video stores and on the Internet.)
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