In 427 B.C., Diodotus of Athens in a speech to the Athenians asked: "The question for us rightly considered is not, What are their crimes? But, what is our interest? If I prove them to be so guilty, I will not on that account bid you put them to death, unless it is expedient."
This historical raison d'etre for man's inhumanity to man underlines the strategic thinking of contemporary terrorists. The explosions at the Moscow summer rock festival perpetrated by two Chechen women terrorists, killing 17 and wounding more than 60 innocent civilians, is the latest illustration of such brutalization.
Yet, it is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that provides the clearest record of the banality of suicide terrorism. More specifically, the "martyr" attack in Jerusalem last month is the most recent typical case in point. Abdel Madi Shabneh, an 18-year-old high-school student from the West Bank City of Hebron and member of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, blew up a civilian bus in the heart of Israel's capital. This "martyr" operation killed 17 and wounded 100 others.
Indeed, Hamas has been responsible for most of the 95 suicide bombings during the past 32 months of the Intifada ("uprising"), killing 243 Israelis and wounding more than 1,400. Encouraging future recruits to join the ranks of "martyrs" is becoming a "routine" way of life, even for the families of suicide bombers. As one father put it: "I am happy and proud of what my son did and I hope all the men of Palestine and Jordan do the same. ... "
What is of particular concern is that there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of potential "martyrs" who are ready to become human bombs in fulfillment of a religious duty. After all, "soldiers of Allah" are not born with a death wish, but are created by specific conditioning processes of indoctrination, recruitment and training.
In the first place, extreme Muslim religious leaders promote "martyrdom" among Palestinians from an early age. Hamas administers kindergartens, schools, summer camps, and youth clubs where education in hatred against the Zionist enemy is advanced daily. Also, the glorification of suicide operations as a prerequisite to "everlasting life in heaven" is an integral part of theological persuasion sessions. Sermons at mosques, radio and television, as well as intensive media and Internet propaganda efforts contribute to the expanding suicide terror culture.
The banality of this phenomenon is not limited to Hamas. Other religious and secular terrorist groups, such as Islamic Jihad and Fatah's al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, respectively, have also promoted and undertaken numerous suicide operations. Indeed, the concept and practice of sacrifice, death and glorification in the "name of God" has deep roots throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
For example, in April 2002 Iraqi Muslim clergy stated in a "fatwa" (religious decree) that suicide bombings by Palestinians against Israel were the "highest degree of Jihad" and called upon other clerics to support this "virtuous" modus operandi. Additionally, former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein continuously praised the suicide bombers as "champions of self-sacrifice" and offered each "martyr" family a $25,000 reward as an incentive for future operatives.
Indeed, the incitement for the deployment of human bombs and the legitimization of such practice is most disturbing on two levels. In the first place, this form of brutal terror is expanding rapidly throughout the world. During the past several months, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Chechnya, Indonesia, India and Pakistan have recorded suicide bombings. Secondly, it is possible, if not highly probable, that terrorist movements perceiving their cause as acting in the "name of God" will employ mass destruction human bombs — biological, chemical and radiological.
The recent videotape attributed to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, the international network operating in more than 80 countries, communicated a chilling message to its followers: "Oh our brothers in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq: We will have good news for you very soon. And it will be about our supremacy over the Americans. This will be in the shape of martyrdom attacks against Americans. ... "
In the face of these realities, what can the international community do to reduce national, regional and global risks?
First, Muslim religious and political leaders must expand their efforts to expose heinous suicide attacks as anti-Muslim.
Second, the global war against terror must continue with renewed vigor against "ticking bomb" perpetrators and the infrastructure of "martyrdom."
Third, an international convention against suicide terror should be drafted for the purpose of labeling such conflict as a crime against humanity and providing a mechanism for prosecution and punishment.
In sum, universal expressions of contempt and revulsion of these atrocities are only a first step. Both political resolve and concrete counterterrorism measures are required beyond any cease-fire temporary arrangements. Indeed, the message communicated by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons in October 1940 serves as a useful guideline for current and future strategies: "Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield. We must be united, we must be undaunted, and we must be inflexible."
Yonah Alexander is professor and director, Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies. Kerrie Martin is a research associate at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va.