Friday, February 2, 2007

On suicide bombing

The recent suicide bombing in Israel set me thinking. I have recently been reading around in Israeli and progressive literature, pro and anti the occupation. I realise I disagree deeply with a fondly held view of some progressives, because it is based on untruths.

The line that I find difficult is this: suicide bombers represent the only means for a liberation movement to fight an oppressor and these poor boys are just so humiliated and downtrodden that they feel there is no other way for them.

Neither of these things is true. That the left, with its long history of protest and activism, can believe the first, is simply astonishing. I have a single word of admonishment for those who find themselves supporting the murder of civilians: Gandhi. Gandhi faced a murderous and oppressive imperial force, a coloniser more brutal than Israel has ever been, and stood against them with what? A loincloth and a steadfast belief that presenting their wrongness to them would shame them into doing the right thing. He did not urge the bombing of anyone.

I think it is important, given the current political climate, given too that the left has slid into a quasi partnership with some horrible people (in some cases, sharing a platform with Islamists who would, given the chance, remove the very rights and privileges we fought so hard for!) to say that we do not condone the murder of civilians in any cause.

I am not driven to my views by Islamophobia. Far from it, I'm fairly sympathetic to Islam. But I am not at all sympathetic to the view that the correct way to structure a society includes the repression of women, the smothering of dissident views or the hatred of outsiders that has seen Jews and other nonMuslims often suffer as badly at the hands of Muslims as they did at those of Europeans through the centuries (regardless that the Jewish experience in the Muslim world has not been as bad as it has in Christendom -- and it hasn't -- it still has not been a joyful union of people; and the knowledge that at any time, you can be scapegoated for all things unfavourable and hurt, punished or murdered does not allow people to live in the security that should be afforded all of us).

So the first untruth that I deny is that suicide bombing is a legitimate means of fighting oppression. I do not believe it. I believe it is a shock tactic, a means of creating outrage, that some men have created because of its psychological effectiveness. (What better way to hurt Jews than to force them into wrongness by making them fear and despise all Arabs as potential murderers -- and in recent times, has the use of the tactic not made us susceptible to the same thing? By making death something that anyone can deliver, people are forced to fear everyone of a particular type. I do not believe that Israelis, or us, can be considered solely culpable for fearing Arabs, wanting them controlled, holding them in suspicion. This is one of the aims of suicide bombing, and it is very effective.)

The second is that it is carried out by the downtrodden, the humiliated, those with nowhere to go. But studies of suicide bombers (particularly the work of Scott Atran) do not bear this out. (Nor does simply looking at the biographies of those involved: more often than not middle-class, educated men, angry but not necessarily personally affected in the deep way that the stereotype suggests.) They may feel that this is the most effective way they can use themselves in the cause they believe in, but they are not generally desperate men who feel they have no future.

Here is the thing. We have a one-eyed focus on the wrong the Israelis do the Palestinians, and become wrapped up in our desire for a narrative with good guys and bad guys. (This is how human beings are, a natural thing. We are hardwired to divide the world into ingroup and outgroup, and we find it hard not to categorise people in these simple terms. But once we are aware that we do that, we can try to move beyond it, of course.) And Israel has done bad.

But the other day three human beings were murdered in Eilat, three more families were robbed of people they loved. My mind wanders to the Israeli girl I met in Xi'an, gentle, bewildered by the hatred she felt not only from the Palestinians but from the West, towards her personally, someone who wanted justice for all and felt frustrated that she must bear the burden of association with those who do not. I think, I cannot believe in the rightness of her being killed. I cannot twist anything I hold dear into a belief that that would be right. I do not care who is oppressing you. It will never be right to kill the innocent to gain your freedom.


Anonymous High-in-the-sky said...

I like that reference to Gandhi, most people have been so captivated by film imagery of armed struggle that they forget that simple solutions often work better. What would you choose to confront the enemy with, an AK47, or St. Michael's underpants?

I note that the only other major use of suicide tactics failed to achieve anything. Japan tried to pit spirited individualism against industrialised masses and failed.

February 2, 2007 at 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

"the only other major use"? One notes that the LTTE, or Tamil Tigers, in Sri Lanka, invented the idea of strapping explosives to the body, and had long practised it before anyone did in Palestine. Whether they achieved anything is another question.

February 2, 2007 at 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whats the kill ratio Palasinian to Israel? Terror is an effective weapon the Isrealis built a country on the back of it. Isrealis are oppressors that have been practicing (slowly) genocide and ethnic cleansing for decades. When ever a peace process appeared to be going well, the Isrealis stiffled the process, by acts of provocation or assination. You can't generalis on the motive of suicide bombers, for some its a family tradition, some its revenge for a killing, for others its for 40 virgins. Some are peasants others are the priveledged and educated. If they had F15s and Abrams Tanks i'm sure they would be the wepons of choice.

February 3, 2007 at 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Looney said...

More fucking excuses, anonymous. Hezbollah, Hamas, PLO, Fatah, and the rest, have consistently sabotaged every peace process that made any progress. You're full of crap.

And regardless, it's still NO excuse to target innocents. Ever. It's cowardly, it's evil, it's in every way wrong.

Every Palestinian militant knows that the bombing isn't going to bring peace. They don't want peace. They want wholesale genocide of the Jewish race.

If they had F15s and Abrams Tanks i'm sure they would be the wepons of choice.

Absolutely, and they'd be using them to murder innocent Jews wholesale.


February 3, 2007 at 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

"Whats the kill ratio Palasinian to Israel?"

One is too many.

"If they had tanks..."

What Looney said. They do not use suicide bombing from lack of means. They use it for the reasons I suggested.

I am not generalising about the motives of suicide bombers. You'll note that I suggested that the generalisation that they are poor and desperate was wrong.

However, Looney, you are also wrong. Mostly, they do want peace. They want a just settlement. And Israel have by and large destroyed the peace talks in each instance. Both sides have men who are not interested in peace; both have men whose idea of justice would never be acceptable to the other side.

February 3, 2007 at 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Looney said...

Mostly, they do want peace.

Palestinians in general? Yes, I agree.
Militants? No. I think we say the same thing here except for this:

And Israel have by and large destroyed the peace talks in each instance.

This is not true, Zen, and you know it. This past 7 year run of violence came on the heels of probably the most progress toward a peaceful settlement seen since Camp David, and included the most significant territorial concessions Israel had made to date (and this was, I believe in 2000, but I'm not looking at the archives right now.) And of course, just as was being predicted, Palestinian militants stepped up their activities and renewed the sending in of suicide bombers, precisely because they do not wish the peace that the average Palestinian desires. They're out for genocide. A lasting peace settlement would deprive militant organizations of their reason for being, the impetus to raise funds, and the excuses to commit the violence they wish upon the innocent.

If there's a point of argument, it would be whether Israel was right to withdraw from talks until the bombings stopped. In my opinion they were. In yours perhaps they were not, and from that point of view I could see them shouldering blame for that failure.

Anyway, we probably agree on more of this than you think, until it comes to that last point.

February 3, 2007 at 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Israel have by and large destroyed the peace talks in each instance.

This is not true, Zen, and you know it.

It is true, enlightened Jews tell me it is.

I personally know some members. One is a well know journalist. A Jew currently living in Isreal.

February 5, 2007 at 10:13 AM  

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