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rhinoceros
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My point is ...

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My Life is a Weapon
« on: 2004-10-31 13:47:22 »
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<quote>
"Behind the argument that suicide bombers should not, or cannot, be understood lies a subtext of dehumanisation."
<end quote>


http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n21/rose01_.html
Deadly Embrace, by Jacqueline Rose
Two book reviews from "London Review of Books"


My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing by Christoph Reuter trans. Helena Ragg-Kirkby
Princeton, 246 pp, 15.95

Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers by Barbara Victor
Robinson, 321 pp, 8.99

<snip>

At the end of Anna Karenina, Vronsky, Anna's lover, responds to her suicide by joining the thousands of volunteers leaving Russia for Serbia to protect the Slavs against the Turks. He had already tried to kill himself when, much earlier in the novel, Anna was assumed to be at death's door after the birth of their illegitimate child. Tolstoy's novel is riddled with suicidal moments. But this final one - since it is clear that Vronsky wishes only to die - is different. These men are sacrificing themselves for a noble cause, as Anna's brother, on his way to the war, insists when he converges both with Vronsky and with Levin - the inspired man of the countryside - on the same train. 'But it's not just to sacrifice themselves,' Levin responds, 'it's to kill Turks.' Levin will not accept that the 'fine-talking' volunteers and the newspapers reporting them truly speak for 'the will and thought' of the people - 'a thought that expressed itself in revenge and murder'. Sacrifice, even in a noble cause, is an ugly affair. Today in Britain there is outrage, especially among their parents, that soldiers have been sent to Iraq for a lie. We can also see the injustice of the tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, especially civilians'. But that war is murder, whatever the cause, as Levin insists, is not something that any of us is encouraged to contemplate.

By sending Vronsky off to fight in Serbia, Tolstoy brings suicide into the public domain. The last suicide in the novel is not Anna's: it is that of a man, already being feted as a hero by many, who wants to kill and die in the same breath. Suicide bombing is a recent phenomenon, but it's an illusion to believe that it's only in the mind of Islam that a link has been made between war and suicide, murder and martyrdom, killing the enemy and killing yourself.

Suicide bombing is most often considered a peculiarly monstrous, indeed inhuman aberration that cannot - or must not - be understood. When the Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge observed, 'If I had to live in that situation - and I say that advisedly - I might just consider becoming one myself,' the Israeli Embassy responded with this statement: 'We would not expect any human being - and surely not a British MP - to express an understanding of such atrocities.' Tonge was sacked from her party's front bench. We can be fairly sure that had she expressed similar understanding of the policy of targeted assassination, or extra-judicial killing, in response to suicide bombings, she would not today be out of a job. The wording she used - 'If I had to' - is crucial. She was not sympathising: she was trying to imagine what it was like to be a Palestinian in the Occupied Territories. (She condemned the bombings.) When Cherie Blair said in June 2002, 'As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress,' Downing Street apologised. What need never be apologised for is the violence of state power. But perhaps there is a logic here. If the case for war is weak - or non-existent - then the ugliness and guilt of war rise perilously close to the surface of the public mind: war, in Levin's words, as murder and revenge. In which case, it helps to be able to point to something far worse, preferably from another culture or world, with which no reasonable human being could possibly identify. But apart from being evasive, this is inept. In the film The Fog of War, Robert McNamara presents the first of his 11 rules of war: 'Empathise with the enemy.'

Suicide bombing kills far fewer people than conventional warfare; the reactions it provokes must, therefore, reside somewhere other than in the number of the dead. It is, of course, feared as a weapon against which there appears to be no protection, and to which there is no viable response: targeted assassinations simply provoke further retaliation (and Israel's security wall is already proving incapable of deterring attacks). The horror it inspires cannot, however, be explained in terms of the deliberate targeting of civilians: according to McNamara, 100,000 people were burnt to death at the end of the war in the Allied attack on Tokyo, and in On the Natural History of Destruction, W.G. Sebald describes the ten thousand tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs dropped on the densely populated residential areas of Hamburg in the summer of 1943.

The horror would appear to be associated with the fact that the attacker also dies. Dropping cluster bombs from the air is not only less repugnant: it is somehow deemed, by Western leaders at least, to be morally superior. Why dying with your victim should be seen as a greater sin than saving yourself is unclear. Perhaps, then, the revulsion stems partly from the unbearable intimacy shared in their final moments by the suicide bomber and her or his victims. Suicide bombing is an act of passionate identification - you take the enemy with you in a deadly embrace. As Israel becomes a fortress state and the Palestinians are shut into their enclaves, and there is less and less possibility of contact between the two sides, suicide bombing might be the closest they can get.

There is a historical aspect to that proximity. By fostering Shia resistance, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 created a space for Hizbollah, who carried out the first suicide bombings in the early 1980s. Israel began supporting Hamas in the late 1980s after the decision was taken to strengthen Islamic groups in order to weaken Arafat and divide the Palestinians among themselves. The Islamic University of Gaza was created, with the approval of the Defence Ministry; when cinemas in Gaza were stormed by Islamic groups and restaurants set on fire for selling alcohol, Israeli soldiers stood by and watched. All this is described by Christoph Reuter in "My Life Is a Weapon". Hizbollah in turn would gain a permanent foothold inside Israel when it offered vital support to the 415 leading cadres of Hamas and Islamic Jihad expelled into Southern Lebanon by Yitzhak Rabin following the abduction and murder of an Israeli soldier in December 1992. It has always been a paradox for Western observers that Hizbollah, which promotes an Iranian-style Islamic revolution for the whole of the Middle East (the organisation was created following the arrival in Lebanon of a thousand Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the early 1980s), is also the most efficient provider of welfare and support for displaced Palestinians in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories.

That Israeli policy engendered suicide bombing was acknowledged by Rabin. Having originally promoted indiscriminate bombing of South Lebanon 'until there's nobody left there' - he was defence minister at the time - he finally came to the view that 'terror cannot be finished by one war; it's total nonsense.' By replacing 'PLO terrorism' with 'Shia terrorism', he acknowledged, Israel had done 'the worst thing' in the struggle against terrorism: 'Not one PLO terrorist,' he said, 'has ever made himself into a live bomb.'

According to Eyad El-Sarraj, the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, today's suicide attackers are, for the most part, children of the first intifada. Studies show that during the first uprising, 55 per cent of children saw their fathers being humiliated or beaten by Israeli soldiers. Martyrdom - sacrificing oneself for God - increases its appeal when the image of the earthly father bites the dust. 'It's despair,' El-Sarraj states baldly, 'a despair where living becomes no different from dying.' When life is constant degradation, death is the only source of pride. 'In 1996, practically all of us were against the martyr operations,' Kamal Aqeel, the acting mayor of Khan Yunis in Gaza, explains. 'Not any longer . . . We all feel that we can no longer bear the situation as it is; we feel that we'd simply explode under all this pressure of humiliation.'

That life begins after death is a widespread religious belief, by no means exclusive to Islam. For those wishing to denigrate suicide bombers and their culture, which is not the same thing as condemning the act, it is easy to degrade that belief.

<snip>

Although Palestinian suffering under the occupation has a central place in "Army of Roses", at moments such as these Victor comes close to an idealisation of Israel not far from the myth that Israel continues to promote about itself. Put simply, the Israelis are better people. Faced with loss, they do not commit suicide, or kill, but care for their families, carry on with the business of living. The violence of the state is pushed aside. Life continues. Suicide bombing, on the other hand, involves abandoning limits 'as we understand them with the democratic mind'. Is it finally empathy at all if you enter a person's - a whole culture's - mind, only to make such a clean and confident exit?

One way of underscoring the precarious nature of such distinctions is to look back in time. Towards the end of Galoot (Exile), a remarkable documentary by the Israeli film-maker Asher Tlalim, Ariella Atzmon, a former lecturer in philosophy and education, recalls her life as the daughter of militant Jewish nationalists who arrived in Palestine in the late 1930s. She was named after Arie Itzhaki, who made bombs in his cellar. On the day she was born, he blew himself up, crying: 'Death to the British'. He was about to be arrested. As a child she sang songs to Shlomo Ben Yosef, who had lobbed a grenade onto an Arab bus, killing women and children: 'She will sit and weep, this woman who mourns for her son, so dear, so great.' We did not want peace, she says. The Palestinians will want peace when they have a country.

For years, Israeli secret service analysts and social scientists have been trying to build up a typical profile of the suicide 'assassin', only to conclude that there isn't one. It may indeed be that your desire to solve the problem is creating it, that burrowing into the psyche of the enemy, far from being an attempt to dignify them with understanding, is a form of evasion that blinds you to your responsibility for the state they are in. There is one thing that nobody will disagree with: the story of suicide bombing is a story of people driven to extremes. 'Children who have seen so much inhumanity,' El-Sarraj states, 'inevitably come out with inhuman responses.' We need to find a language that will allow us to recognise why, in a world of inequality and injustice, people are driven to do things that we hate. Without claiming to know too much. Without condescension.

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Blunderov
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"We think in generalities, we live in details"

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RE: virus: My Life is a Weapon
« Reply #1 on: 2004-10-31 16:53:43 »
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rhinoceros
Sent: 31 October 2004 08:47 PM

<quote>
"Behind the argument that suicide bombers should not, or cannot, be
understood lies a subtext of dehumanisation."
<end quote>

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n21/rose01_.html
Deadly Embrace, by Jacqueline Rose
Two book reviews from "London Review of Books"

[Blunderov] A matter of some surprise to me is that that the almost
DAILY suicide attacks in Iraq have gone unremarked by the Western media.
There was a time when the press considered this highly abnormal and
deeply immoral. Now, apparently, it is considered normal.

I wonder whether Japan ever had half as many kamikaze fighters as Al
Qaeda seems to have? Small wonder Bin laden wants Bush to win the
election.

Best Regards.


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