[Marxism] Cult of the Suicide Bomber

Louis Proyect 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 
hundreds wounded.

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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