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Religion and suicide bombers

by Laurent GUERBY Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 03:30:48 PM EST

Via Jeffrey Alan Miron and Op-Ed from the NYT reminding us of old facts:


[...]
    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.

    Thus the new Israeli land offensive may take ground and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying the Hezbollah movement. In fact, in the wake of the bombings of civilians, the incursion will probably aid Hezbollah's recruiting.
[...]


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Oh, goody!  

Wikipedia Page of Robert Pape, author of your quote up there.

I won't debate Pape's findings, because I can't.  But here is a refutation of them.

I don't have the first clue who is right and who is wrong, but I have read some history of nations and nationalism, and I do believe that it is intellectually dishonest to divorce nationalism from religion given the history of nations and their grievances.  

Furthermore it can be proposed that nationalist ideology and religious ideology, particularly in their extreme versions, are not so dissimilar.  Or at least I'm not sure one can be more valid than another.  They are both in the business of championing/protecting one empire over all else.  And they probably both appeal to the same craving and tendencies of personality.  

I'll nab this bit of brilliance from ThatBritGuy:

The definition of ideology is any social narrative that creates and increases power imbalances among notional groups in a culture. The details of the narrative matter much less than the power imbalances they promote. The narrative itself is just a convenient rationalisation that provides intellectual cover for the exploitation and violence.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 04:32:25 PM EST
I love long refutation without any facts in them, especially when the original claim is fact-based, at least that settles it for me :).

ThatBritGuy proposes the definition "ideology = blah blah to promote the use of violence", why not but how do you label the narrative underlining the peaceful protests of the anti-war movement?

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 04:47:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but how do you label the narrative underlining the peaceful protests of the anti-war movement?

Well, first off, the antiwar protesters were not promoting the use of violence...

Secondly, everyone I know who protested did not do it out of some selfless pacifism but because they knew Bush was lying and we could not accept lies.  What's the narrative that values facts over lies?  You tell me.

Lastly,

Here's what I wrote in my diary:

Maybe the idea of Human Rights is also a mythology, or at least a matter of faith.  You can't prove things like souls and dignity.  But there is a demonstrable connection between the upholding of human rights and peace, dignity, prosperity and progress.  And since I know of no one who wants to be bombed, forced to live like an animal or in fear, I'm going to say that upholding human rights is not a matter of faith but of practicality.

Like I said, more than anything, my answer to all this is that I don't know.  I just don't know.  But if I were to pretend I see no blaring connection between those who profess their religion most loudly, and those who profess their patriotism most loudly, I'd be a liar.


Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 05:11:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, first off, the antiwar protesters were not promoting the use of violence...

True, but for me, the search for peace is an ideology, so if you reserve ideology for violence, you have to find another word :).

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Aug 5th, 2006 at 02:10:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Pacifism might be an ideology, because it's still a power struggle between those who believe in violence and those who don't. Pacifism could never be forced on arms dealers without recourse to law, threats of prison and other state-sanctioned violence. Pacifism would be a uniquely paradoxical case, but unless someone can persuade the military complex to give up war and weapons development with a stern talking to over a cup of tea and a sandwich, some kind of enforcement would be necessary.

Marching for peace wouldn't be an ideology. As Migeru said, there could be all kinds of reasons for going on a march.

And Martin Kramer - a prominent neo-con with a jihadist mentality probably isn't be the best way to debunk Pape.

I like Pape's take on things. I don't know if he's right or not, but his ideas make much more sense to me than neocon jihadist clash-of-civilisation fantasies do.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Aug 5th, 2006 at 06:20:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For the record, that's why I don't like your ideoly = violence definition.
by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Aug 6th, 2006 at 12:24:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but how do you label the narrative underlining the peaceful protests of the anti-war movement?

Well, first off, the antiwar protesters were not promoting the use of violence...

You know, I went to the Stop The War demonstration in London two weeks ago, and the front 1/3 of the demonstration was made up of people with Lebanase flags, mostly arab or muslim, but  there were sufficiently many Hezbollah flags taht it gave me the creeps and I left. I'm hesitant about going to today's demonstration demanding an immediate ceasefire (see the Breakfast). There are going to be even more angry arabs and muslims with "we are all Hezbollah" placards. I think Robert Fisk is right about a new 9/11 coming up.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Aug 5th, 2006 at 04:24:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I also liked Robert Pape's thesis, when I first heard about it.

On balance, I still find it very compelling.

However, I agree that Martin Kramer's points in the article poemless cites below --

A most remarkable development has been the prominence of North Africans, especially Moroccans, in the "second wave"of Al-Qaeda suicide attackers. Even in Professor Pape's tables, they were right behind Saudi Arabia in numbers, and those numbers are growing. We have seen British-born Pakistanis undertake a suicide attack in Israel, and the 7/7 attacks in London. And we have seen dozens of suicide bombings of Sunni against Shiite, in Iraq but also across Pakistan. Professor Pape's thesis is just not elastic enough to accommodate all these evolutions.

-- are easily addressed by Pape's idea.

Can you frame them such that they are?  Are these suicide bombers all actually fighting ultimately to expel American/Israeli occupiers from the homelands of Arabs?

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 11:01:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you frame them such that they are?  Are these suicide bombers all actually fighting ultimately to expel American/Israeli occupiers from the homelands of Arabs?

Never mind.  I think I found the answer in this July 18, 2005 interview with Pape:

Al-Qaeda appears to have made a deliberate decision not to attack the United States in the short term. We know this not only from the pattern of their attacks but because we have an actual al-Qaeda planning document found by Norwegian intelligence. The document says that al-Qaeda should not try to attack the continent of the United States in the short term but instead should focus its energies on hitting America's allies in order to try to split the coalition.

What the document then goes on to do is analyze whether they should hit Britain, Poland, or Spain. It concludes that they should hit Spain just before the March 2004 elections because, and I am quoting almost verbatim: Spain could not withstand two, maximum three, blows before withdrawing from the coalition, and then others would fall like dominoes.

That is exactly what happened. Six months after the document was produced, al-Qaeda attacked Spain in Madrid. That caused Spain to withdraw from the coalition. Others have followed. So al-Qaeda certainly has demonstrated the capacity to attack and in fact they have done over 15 suicide-terrorist attacks since 2002, more than all the years before 9/11 combined. Al-Qaeda is not weaker now. Al-Qaeda is stronger.

It seems to me, the fundamental strategic raison d'être of suicide bombing is indeed to compel foreign occupiers to leave the bombers' homeland.  However, in the case of "Islamic militantism", there are two twists:

  • the instigators and organizers of these attacks, their "executive producers", so to speak, often use religion to recruit bombers and to give the attacks a supra-political sex appeal for these young men and women

  • through the use of religion, even people who are not part of the same political community (in the conventional, non-Islamicist sense) as those in the lands being occupied can still identify with them politically, since as Muslims they are part of the same ummah as the people in those lands (my understanding is that Islam does not really distinguish between the political and religious basis of the community of Muslims, and as such under an extreme interpretation, all Muslims could be viewed as being "occupied" by Americans on the Arabian peninsula and in Iraq, by Israelis in Palestine, by Indians in Kashmir, and so on.)

So, the primary cause of suicide by bombing may in fact be political (i.e. the desire to expel occupiers from one's homeland), but the abuse of formal religion intensifies and broadens the appeal of this strategy significantly.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 11:38:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, the primary cause of suicide by bombing may in fact be political (i.e. the desire to expel occupiers from one's homeland), but the abuse of formal religion intensifies and broadens the appeal of this strategy significantly.

In other words it's very similar to the way that the far-Right in the US has leveraged religious extremism for political power.

If the US were attacked again, how many fundies would be willing to die for the cause now?

I suppose at least there's a kind of psychotic symmetry to it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Aug 5th, 2006 at 06:23:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In other words it's very similar to the way that the far-Right in the US has leveraged religious extremism for political power.

Indeed.

But in the U.S. it is not yet acceptable to invoke religion to justify political actions.  Operative word being "yet".  We do have our proto-Bin Ladens.

And both American and Islamicist religious fundamentalists are scary.

Fortunately -- at least for now -- the former get marginalized when they start getting thumping their bible too loudly, while in multiple Islamic societies, they hold the reigns of power and wield them freely and openly.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Sat Aug 5th, 2006 at 12:28:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
    are easily addressed by Pape's idea.

Sorry, that should have been

    are not easily addressed by Pape's idea.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Sat Aug 5th, 2006 at 02:12:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Furthermore it can be proposed that nationalist ideology and religious ideology, particularly in their extreme versions, are not so dissimilar.

Can we talk then about a religion as nationalism? For example, there is a book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg. I recommend to google for its reviews.

I just saw a much less polite article on "crackpot christianity", but along similar lines. Here is one of the quotes it quotes:

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion.
 ----- Steven Weinberg
by das monde on Sun Aug 6th, 2006 at 05:00:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that is one HELL of a quote::: and yes, i think you can talk about religion as a form of nationalism.

both are virtual forms of identity, and while both can be life-enhancing in moderation, thy also both become deadly in excess.

      once you've decided upon authenticity, isn't the next step upriver identity?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 09:20:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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