Affluent Genocide
By: Robert Spencer
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Are suicide bombings really a last desperate resort of the poverty-stricken oppressed?

"At first blush,” says Fawaz Turki of Arab News, “one is tempted to wonder . . . why Hanadi Jaradat, a young law school graduate, who had her whole life ahead of her, would choose to become a suicide bomber.” Jaradat was the Palestinian in her late twenties who murdered 19 people and wounded 40 by blowing herself up in a Haifa restaurant on October 5.

I do wonder. But Turki’s explanation is wanting. He says not a word about Islamic justifications for suicide bombing. Jaradat, he says, “had her whole life ahead of her . . . But what kind of life are we talking about when you have to go through any of the hundreds of checkpoints, manned by foreign troops, to get anywhere — in your own homeland?” Yet one need have no sympathy for the Israelis at all to recognize that the Palestinians are quite far from the first people ever to have suffered in that way — but they are among the first to resort to the wholesale murder of civilians as a plan of resistance.


Jaradat’s father adds: “I can tell you that our people believe that what Hanadi has done is justified. Imagine watching the Israelis kill your son, your nephew, destroying our house — they are pushing our people into a corner, they are provoking actions like these by our people.” Hanadi Jaradat, we are told, turned to suicide bombing after her brother and cousin were killed by the Israelis. But Fadi Jaradat and Saleh Jaradat were not innocent bystanders in a restaurant; they were already at war with Israel as members of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, which recruited Hanadi after their deaths last June. Islamic Jihad, for its part, said the attack was revenge for Israel’s attacks on movement leaders. But again: leaders and soldiers in a movement that is opposed to all negotiations and dedicated to the death of Israel by any means necessary are not equivalent to patrons in a restaurant. To suggest that they are is to do the gravest disservice to the Palestinian cause, by associating that cause indelibly with terror, mayhem, and the intentional murder of innocents.


We are told Palestinians turn to suicide bombing because they are poor. Left-wingers speculate that since they can afford no other weapons, terrorists make themselves weapons against the oppressor. Again, one need have no sympathy whatsoever for the Israelis to recognize the Saudi oil billions that have funded terrorist groups such as Hamas, the blood brother of Islamic Jihad and the chief obstacle to all peace accords.


Moreover, study after study has shown that Jaradat, with her law degree, was no anomaly. On August 19, Raed Abdel-Hamed Mesk, an Islamic Studies teacher who was working toward his master’s degree, murdered 21 people on a bus in Jerusalem. Mesk, a Hamas member, had everything to live for: not only was he professionally successful, but he was the father of two young children. Hiba Daraghmeh, who murdered three people and wounded 48 at an Israeli shopping mall on May 19, was a student of English literature at Al Quds Open University in the West Bank.


Yet when research scientist Scott Atran published in the New York Times findings that showed that suicide bombers were actually most often from educated and relatively affluent backgrounds, he provoked a hail of indignant letters to the editor. “Scott Atran may be right that many suicide bombers are educated, not impoverished and asocial,” huffed one, “but this does not rule out ignorance, poverty and alienation as underlying causes of terrorism. Nor does it mean that religious martyrdom is the main motivation of these attacks.” Another sniffed: “It should be obvious by now that the most effective way to deal with terrorism is to deal with the injustices that motivate so much of it.”


Face it: Jaradat was not poor and ignorant. Most likely she was motivated by precisely the thirst for religious martyrdom that the Times reader above cannot or will not understand. The Times is no doubt listening to moderate Muslims in the United States, who assure them that suicide bombing violates Qur’anic strictures against suicide, and is thus un-Islamic. One of these is journalist Amir Taheri, author of Holy Terror: The Inside Story of Islamic Terrorism. Taheri has noted that “Islamic religious law . . . does not permit suicide under any circumstances. In Islam, suicide is an ‘unpardonable sin’ (zunb layughfar lah), in the same category as denying the Oneness of God. People who commit suicide cannot be buried in a Muslim graveyard and are put to rest away from human habitation and in unmarked tombs.”


But as I explain in my book Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery), Muslim defenders of suicide bombing brush aside such arguments by denying that those who blow themselves up in public places are actually committing suicide at all — since their intention is not to kill themselves but to use their bodies as an instrument to kill unbelievers. As such, the bombers are martyrs. Taheri himself encountered this idea in the person of Seyf al-Islam (“Sword of Islam”) Qaddafi, the son of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. In an interview, Seyf-al-Islam turned aside numerous invitations from Taheri to condemn suicide bombing. About Palestinian suicide bombers he declared: “They are acting in accordance with the holy Koran and the law of retribution.” When Taheri challenged this, invoking the Qur’an’s prohibitions of suicide and the killing of non-combatants, Qaddafi replied: “We obviously have different readings of the Koran.” He also echoed Osama bin Laden’s justification for attacks on American civilians:  “There are no civilians in Israel. All Israelis are either in the army or have been or shall one day be soldiers.”


Such ideas are widespread in the Islamic world. Last year a London-based Arabic-language newspaper carried an interview with Umm Nidal, the mother of Muhammad Farhat of Hamas, who carried out a suicide attack on March 3, 2002. Said Umm Nidal: “Jihad is a [religious] commandment imposed upon us. We must instill this idea in our sons’ souls, all the time. . . . What we see every day — massacres, destruction, bombing [of] homes — strengthened, in the souls of my sons, especially Muhammad, the love of Jihad and martyrdom. . . . Allah be praised, I am a Muslim and I believe in Jihad. Jihad is one of the elements of the faith and this is what encouraged me to sacrifice Muhammad in Jihad for the sake of Allah. My son was not destroyed, he is not dead; he is living a happier life than I.”


Umm Nidal was referring to the Qur’an: “And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead.’ Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not” (Sura 2:154). Umm Nidal continued: “Because I love my son, I encouraged him to die a martyr’s death for the sake of Allah. . . . Jihad is a religious obligation incumbent upon us, and we must carry it out. I sacrificed Muhammad as part of my obligation. This is an easy thing. There is no disagreement [among scholars] on such matters.”


Didn’t Umm Nidal know that suicide was forbidden in the Qur’an? How did she arrive at this serene certainty that all Muslim scholars agreed with her point of view? She viewed her son’s action from a perspective of deep Islamic piety: “I prayed from the depths of my heart that Allah would cause the success of his operation. I asked Allah to give me 10 [Israelis] for Muhammad, and Allah granted my request and Muhammad made his dream come true, killing 10 Israeli settlers and soldiers. Our God honored him even more, in that there were many Israelis wounded.”


Suicide bombing has a disturbingly wide appeal. According to Mahmoud Al­Zahhar of Hamas, a 2002 call for suicide bombers at the University of Alexandria in Egypt resulted in two thousand students signing up “to die a martyr’s death.” The sheer magnitude of the phenomenon of suicide bombing, the variance in the circumstances in which it is carried out, and above all its theological underpinnings should make clear that this is not simply a last desperate resort of the poverty-stricken oppressed; rather, it springs from an understanding of Islam that is, however much we would wish it away, founded on traditional concepts and rooted in the deepest longings of many Muslims. As such the debate within the Muslim world is at an impasse — and the bombings continue, not only in Israel but also in Kashmir, Chechnya, and other battlegrounds of jihad.


“The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death,” said Maulana Inyadullah of al-Qaeda in the aftermath of September 11. He and Hanadi Jaradat love death so much that they are ready to bring it upon others in line with their understanding of the ways of Allah: “Those who love the life of this world more than the Hereafter, who hinder (men) from the Path of Allah and seek therein something crooked: they are astray by a long distance” (Sura 14:3).


Until moderate Muslims drop their posture of denial about the Islamic roots and appeal of suicide bombing, there will be more and more deaths. Until they recognize Maulana Inyadullah’s strange love and work to eradicate it from Islam, we will see many more Hanadi Jaradats.


Robert Spencer is the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (new from Regnery Publishing) and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books, 2002). He is an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is available now from Regnery Publishing.