While British Foreign Minister Jack Straw’s unequivocal condemnation of the recent suicide bombing in Tel Aviv as “a senseless and totally unjustified terrorist attack” was very welcome, one could not help remembering his much more ambivalent remarks about a similar outrage four years earlier. Asked for his reaction to the bus bombing at the Patt Junction in Jerusalem in June 2002 which left 19 dead and 74 injured, Straw said that while it was “an evil and despicable act,” he felt a “degree of compassion” for the Hamas suicide terrorist, Muhammad al-Ral, whom he said must have been “so depressed and misguided” to perpetrate it. His view was shared by Tony Blair’s wife Cherie who later the same day told reporters that “young people [like al-Ral] feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up.”
However, with the advent of the UK’s first home-grown suicide terrorists, such beliefs have become impossible to sustain. For not even the liberal New Labour establishment could credibly attribute the April 2003 bombing of the Tel Aviv bar “Mike’s Place” by two British Muslims to the “hopelessness” of life in urban England while last July’s massacre of over 50 commuters on the London transport network was clearly not the result of “depression.” No, the emergence of British suicide bombers underlines the fact that Islamist terrorists are driven, not by despondency or despair, but by fanatical hatred and religious zealotry harnessed to a political cause. Whether the target is a shawarma stand in Israel or an underground train in London their motivation to murder is the same – “to spread the concept of death for the realization of Allah's way.” And as Hizballah leader Sheik Nasrallah has stated, “without the act of suicide, this struggle is meaningless.”
The fact is that the decision to use suicide bombers is a strategic one, taken by paramilitary commanders in the context of their terrorist campaigns. They often see the suicide bomber as the most powerful weapon they possess, one which effectively neutralizes the superior military strength of the infidel and gives them some chance of success. Therefore, to compare the act of suicide with that of suicide bombing, as Jack Straw and Cherie Blair have implicitly done, is to confuse two unrelated phenomena. For psychologically speaking, a suicide is an exercise in total self-effacement while a suicide bombing is the supreme Islamist act of narcissistic self-glorification. The objective of the suicide terrorists is not to extinguish their lives but to extend them forever through achieving hero status on earth and immortality in Paradise. Unlike suicide victims, they perceive their deaths, not as the outcome of a failed and worthless life, but as the apogee of their worldly achievement. They are motivated, not by despair, but by their hatred of the infidel and their love of themselves.
As Islamic law expressly forbids the act of suicide, there can be no doubt that these devout young men do not themselves see their deaths in such terms. In fact, Islamist organizations are at pains to deny that their members are suicidal in the conventional sense. According to a spokesman from Islamic Jihad; “we do not take depressed people. If there were a one-in-a-thousand chance that a person was suicidal, we would not allow him to martyr himself. In order to be a martyr bomber, you have to want to live.” Hamas recruiters follow a similar line, rejecting anyone “who commits suicide because he hates the world.”
And the Islamists have been successful in keeping the suicidal from their ranks. In a London Times’ article published in the wake of the July 2005 attack on the city, Nasra Hassan wrote that of the 250 men involved in perpetrating suicide operations that she had interviewed, “none ... conformed to the typical profile of the suicidal personality. None of them was uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded or depressed.” One man who survived his attempt at death revealed to her the suicide terrorist's true state of mind; “we told each other that if the Israelis only knew how joyful we were, they would whip us to death. Those were the happiest days of my life.”
The only ‘despair’ in this equation is that which the suicide terrorists attempt to instil in the minds of their prey. For instance, Islamic Jihad hopes that its sustained assault on Israel will break the national spirit and cause its society to implode. As spokesman Abdullah Al-Shami explained in December 2002, the use of suicide terrorism “strikes at the feeling of security and places a deep threat in the Israeli heart ... it frustrates the plans of settlement and immigration to Israel ... it prods Israelis to move abroad, it hurts the Israeli economy and brings battle to the heart of the enemy ... the future of the Hebrew state is currently in danger due to its inability to deal with suicide attacks”
Israel has, however, weathered the worst of the suicide terrorist storm. But the Tel Aviv attack illustrates that Islamic Jihad hopes that it will, through the strategy of suicide, realize its ambition of obliterating the Jewish national presence in the Middle East region. As it said in a statement on Saturday, “the Zionist enemy only understands the language of bullets and explosive belts. The war will carry on until the purification of Palestine from the impurity of the Jews.”
The Blair administration’s belated acknowledgment that it is this hope of a world without Israel and not mythical hopelessness or despair which drives Palestinian suicide bombers is an encouraging development in the global war against terrorism.
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