November 15, 2007


Deadly Embrace: How much of the war on terror is blowback from U.S. policies?: a review of SUICIDE BOMBERS IN IRAQ: The Strategy and Ideology Of Martyrdom By Mohammed M. Hafez (Fawaz A. Gerges, Washington Post)

The old Iraq, though a place of stunning brutality and repression, never saw suicide terrorism and shunned al-Qaeda's ideology and tactics. But in the last 15 months, I have interviewed scores of Arab and Muslim teens all over the Middle East and Europe who say they want to join the fight against the American "occupiers." They say their local clerics tell them stories about atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers and instruct them that jihad is an individual obligation. These teenagers -- whom I met in the Gulf states, Lebanon, Palestinian refugee camps, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Spain, France and Italy -- are trying to raise several hundred dollars each to make their way to Iraq through Syria. Most have no previous connection to Islamist militancy or al-Qaeda, but many talk about sacrificing themselves in "martyrdom operations."

In Suicide Bombers in Iraq, Mohammed Hafez seeks to understand what drives such men and, in rare cases, women. He believes they are mainly non-Iraqis, though he warns that it is impossible to reach firm conclusions about where, precisely, they come from, what motivates them and how recruiters have mobilized so many in a short time. "It is not clear who is carrying out most of the suicide attacks in Iraq," he admits.

The uncertainty is widely shared. Analysts worldwide have been unable to arrive at a useful socioeconomic or psychological profile of suicide bombers in Iraq. Some are from poor families in developing countries such as Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Morocco and Pakistan, while others come from affluent homes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, England and Italy. They are educated and uneducated. The bulk seem to be in their teens and 20s, but more than a few are in their 30s to 50s. And while some bombers have had previous links to violent activism, for others the suicide attack is their first (and last) offense. The only consensus among analysts, Hafez says, is that suicide bombers are not simply crazy or born violent.

A small bit of good news is that al-Qaeda in Iraq and its ideological allies face growing indignation from fellow Sunnis fed up with the toll on Muslim civilians. Last month, one of bin Laden's most prominent Saudi mentors, the preacher and scholar Salman al-Odah, wrote an open letter reproaching him for "fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families." Similarly, in early October Abdulaziz Al-Ashaikh, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudis from engaging in jihad abroad and accused Arab regimes of "transforming our youth into walking bombs to accomplish their own political and military aims."

Additional factors are, of course, involved, but the simplest explanation seems the most likely: they commit suicide because they don't think their own lives have much value or are worth living and they seek to take others with them because they have such low regard for the value of their victims' lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2007 12:00 AM

They are taught that submission brings a welcome to paradise. The hatred (of Jews first, and then everyone else), the moonbat theology, the conformity to a mythical 8th century ideal, the grievances dating back to the Crusades - that comes next.

But you are probably right about the first feeling. I'll bet most of the bombers (no matter their social, educational, or economic strata) are losers with women, losers within their own substructure (family, village, town, mosque, company, whatever), and are ultimately seduced by this one great act of "submission" that will wipe the slate clean.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 15, 2007 8:25 AM

Shorter and sharper Occam: they believe they are doing god's work.

Posted by: ghostcat at November 15, 2007 2:32 PM