July 14, 2005

ROOT CAUSES (via Ed Driscoll):

Are you ready? Tomorrow you will be in Paradise . . .: What motivates a suicide bomber? Our correspondent talks to a young Muslim who survived his intended 'martyrdom' and describes the terrorists' rigorous training (Nasra Hassan, 7/14/05, Times of London)

S had just turned 27. He is slight, and he walked with a limp, the only trace of his near-death. He invited his wife to join us, and he answered my questions without hesitation.

I asked him when, and why, he had decided to volunteer for martyrdom. “In the spring of 1993, I began to pester our military leaders to let me do an operation,” he said. “It was around the time of the Oslo accords, and it was quiet, too quiet. I wanted to do an operation that would incite others to do the same. Finally, I was given the green light to leave Gaza for an operation inside Israel.”

“How did you feel when you heard that you’d been selected for martyrdom?” I asked.

“It’s as if a very high, impenetrable wall separated you from Paradise or Hell,” he said. “Allah has promised one or the other to his creatures. So, by pressing the detonator, you can immediately open the door to Paradise — it is the shortest path to Heaven.”

S was one of 11 children in a middle-class family that, in 1948, had been forced to flee from Majdal to a refugee camp in Gaza, during the Arab-Israeli war that started with the creation of the State of Israel. He joined Hamas in his early teens and became a street activist.

In 1989, he served two terms in Israeli prisons for intifada activity, including attacks on Israeli soldiers. One of his brothers is serving a life sentence in Israel.

I asked S to describe his preparations for the suicide mission. “We were in a constant state of worship,” he said. “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.”

“What is the attraction of martyrdom?” I asked.

“The power of the spirit pulls us upward, while the power of material things pulls us downward,” he said. “Someone bent on martyrdom becomes immune to the material pull. Our planner asked, ‘What if the operation fails?’ We told him, ‘In any case, we get to meet the Prophet and his companions, inshallah.’

“We were floating, swimming, in the feeling that we were about to enter eternity. We had no doubts. We made an oath on the Koran, in the presence of Allah — a pledge not to waver. This jihad pledge is called bayt al-ridwan, after the garden in Paradise that is reserved for the prophets and the martyrs. I know that there are other ways to do jihad. But this one is sweet — the sweetest. All martyrdom operations, if done for Allah ’s sake, hurt less than a gnat’s bite!”

S showed me a video that documented the final planning for the operation. In the grainy footage, I saw him and two other young men engaging in a ritualistic dialogue of questions and answers about the glory of martyrdom. S, who was holding a gun, identified himself as a member of al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, which is one of two Palestinian Islamist organisations that sponsor suicide bombings. (Islamic Jihad is the other group.) “Tomorrow, we will be martyrs,” he declared, looking straight at the camera. “Only the believers know what this means. I love martyrdom.”

The young men and the planner then knelt and placed their right hands on the Koran. The planner said: “Are you ready? Tomorrow, you will be in Paradise.”

SINCE 1982, I have been an international relief worker. In 1996 I was posted to the Gaza Strip during one of the most vicious cycles of suicide bombings. To understand why certain young men voluntarily blow themselves up in the name of Islam, I began, without official sponsorship, to research their backgrounds and the beliefs that had led them to such extreme tactics.

I was warned that my interest in trying to understand the suicide missions was dangerous. But eventually, when the people who were observing me had assured themslves of my credentials — an important one was that I am Muslim and from Pakistan — I was allowed to meet members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad who would help me. “We are agreeing to talk to you so that you can explain the Islamic context of these operations,” one man told me. “Even many in the Islamic world do not understand.”

From 1996 to 1999, I interviewed nearly 250 people involved in the most militant camps of the Palestinian cause: volunteers who, like S, had been unable to complete their suicide missions, the families of dead bombers, and the men who trained them.

None of the suicide bombers — they ranged in age from 18 to 38 — conformed to the typical profile of the suicidal personality. None of them was uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle-class and held paying jobs. Two were the sons of millionaires. They all seemed entirely normal members of their families. They were polite and serious, and in their communities were considered to be model youths. Most were bearded. All were deeply religious.

I was told that to be accepted for a suicide mission the volunteers had to be convinced of the religious legitimacy of the acts they were contemplating, as sanctioned by the divinely revealed religion of Islam. Many of these young men had memorised large sections of the Koran and were well versed in the finer points of Islamic law and practice. But their knowledge of Christianity was rooted in the medieval crusades, and they regarded Judaism and Zionism as synonymous.

Most of the men I interviewed requested strict anonymity. The majority spoke in Arabic and they all talked matter-of-factly about the bombings, showing an unshakeable conviction in the rightness of their cause and their methods. When I asked them if they had any qualms about killing innocent civilians, they would immediately respond, “The Israelis kill our children and our women. This is war, and innocent people get hurt.”

They were not inclined to argue but they were happy to discuss, far into the night, the issues and the purpose of their activities. One condition of the interviews was that, in our discussions, I not refer to their deeds as “suicide”, which is forbidden in Islam. Their preferred term is “sacred explosions”. One member of al-Qassam said: “We do not have tanks or rockets, but we have something superior — our exploding Islamic bombs.”

My contacts told me that, as a military objective, spreading fear among the Israelis was as important as killing them. Anwar Aziz, an Islamic Jihad member who blew himself up in an ambulance in Gaza, in December 1993, had often told friends: “Battles for Islam are won not through the gun but by striking fear into the enemy’s heart.”

Military commanders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad remarked that the human bomb was one of the surest ways of hitting a target. A senior Hamas leader said: “The main thing is to guarantee that a large number of the enemy will be affected. With an explosive belt or bag, the bomber has control over vision, location, and timing.”

As today’s weapons of mass destruction go, the human bomb is cheap.

Gotta love Democrats grandstanding about how more budget appropriations for mass transit security will stop these guys. You bet.

Support for bin Laden falls in Muslim countries (Alan Elsner Thu Jul 14, 2005, Reuters)

Support for Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings have fallen sharply in much of the Muslim world, according to a multicountry poll released on Thursday.

The survey by the Pew Research Center examined public opinion in six predominantly Muslim nations: Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan and
Lebanon. It also examined views in nine North American and European countries as well as in India and China. In all, more than 17,000 people were questioned either by telephone of face-to-face.

"There's declining support for terrorism in the Muslim countries and support for Osama bin Laden is declining. There's also less support for suicide bombings," said Pew Center director Andrew Kohut.

"This is good news, but still there are substantial numbers who support bin Laden in some of these countries," he told a news conference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 14, 2005 10:20 PM

Everyone expects a dirty, drooling, sweaty, jumpy, nervous psycho. But no.

Are they crazy? Not like we would define it. But a 'sacred explosion' means their lives on earth end in sin. Yahweh might forgive them; Allah won't. That is the message the Muslims need to hear.

Posted by: ratbert at July 14, 2005 10:35 PM

Notice the contradiction inherent in this portion of the interview: Our planner asked, What if the operation fails? We told him, In any case, we get to meet the Prophet and his companions, inshallah.

On the one hand, the "matyr" feels ensured of going to Heaven -- Allah has no choice but to reward him. On the other hand, he believes as most Muslims do, that Allah is supreme and has control of every facet of existence. The Taliban taught along these lines: "Water freezes at 32 degrees, inshallah." To believe this, that Allah is involved in the freezing of every ice cube, is to suggest that man controls god. If I set up the right conditions, I force G-d's hand. I can force Him to create ice; I can force Him to admit me to Paradise. God as valet.

Judaism and Christianity have, by and large, resolved this issue. Christianity has even clawed its way back from the most extreme edges of the Reformation by abandoning predestination, which was part of the response. (Any believers in predestination out there?) Islam must also reform.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 14, 2005 10:52 PM


Well, there's predestination, and then there's Predestination.

Little "p", simply stated, is that in the business of salvation, God makes the first move, turning the heart of man. Kind of like the way OJ writes about Hitchens these days. It's not like people are coerced into belief, but more that they no longer resist (grace, love, however you might define it).

I don't know how a sober reading of the Bible (OT and NT) can avoid the subject, because in the OT, God starts all the dialogues and makes all the 'rules'. In the NT, the same is true (with a slightly different flavor).

Big "P", full determinism ("I'm chosen [and you're not]"), leads to many errors (in my opinion) - a lack of personal responsibility, a lack of love and awe for God, smugness, and a general lack of maturity in general. I suspect this what you meant in your comment.

Regarding the 'martyrs', Islam seems locked into a spiral of seductive conformity. The offering (or lure) of purpose is given through a very harsh prescription (go and kill), and it gets the attention of someone who is empty.

Of course the suicide bombers are going to come from the 'middle' and 'educated' classes. The working class is too busy to be drawn in. For example, the most militant Muslims in Iran in 1978/79 were the students. Osama is another example, as are Zawahiri, Atta (and the other 9/11 crew), probably the Egypt Air pilot, and even Qutb.

But you are right - they turn God into a vending machine. "Bless me, for I have killed (in Your name)".

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 14, 2005 11:41 PM

This is bart/Harry/Jeff bait, right?

Posted by: ghostcat at July 15, 2005 1:10 AM

So much for the Pape thesis that they are all policy wonks.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 15, 2005 1:37 AM

A perfect God knows the orbit of every electron about every atom in the universe from the beginning onward, those electrons and electronics themselves having their existence from an act of His mind. Thus He knows that has happened, happens and will happen, including which men will accept His grace and be saved and which will not enter by the narrow gate.

God knows these things, men do not. While the end is predestined, we do not know what our choices will be. If anyone says otherwise, we would do well to clutch our wallets, for those who preach that predestination is knowable usually say that thwe elect are cheerful givers. In fact, holding that one knows in advance that he is saved is presumption, which like its oppposite, dispair, is a spiritual sin itself.

The Catholic Church taught these things of old, and Vatican II and the Catechism of JPII have not changed them, although they are now rarely spoken of.

The separated brethern, particularly the Lutherans and Presbyterians place a great deal of emphasis on predestination, often teaching a couple of different forms, whose distinction I may leave to them. Evangelicals speak of "being sure" that one is saved, which sounds like presumption to me.

Jim is correct in stated that predestination is scriptural. It is one of those doctrines that cannot be made to go away, despite what the spirit of an age may think about it.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 15, 2005 6:41 AM

Jim & Lou have stated the doctrine of predestination quite well; thanks guys.

Lou: "separated brethren"? Please resist allowing your Roman Catholic zeal to divide the body of Christ.

Posted by: Dave W. at July 15, 2005 7:25 AM

Jim's distinction between big P and little p predestination is useful. Fundamentalist Islam is stuck on big P Predestination.

Lou: I agree. G-d comprehends all of creation, from beginning to end, as one fact, wholly known. On the other hand, we do have free will. There is a tension here. We can get all Einsteinian about it and say that it depends on where we are standing: from our point of view we have free will, but from G-d's point of view, everything is known and thus predestined. But there are hints in the Torah that more is going on and that sometimes we surprise G-d. That depends on the extent to which Torah is meant to be heuristic.

I fairly certain that OJ would argue that we surprised Jesus.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 15, 2005 8:38 AM

The important analogy here is with the Battle for Okinawa in the Pacific Theatre during WWII.

The US military encountered intense resistance on the part of civilians who knew they were going to die but made a conscious decision to do so because it was the will of the Emperor. To Americans, this is just plain nuts. There's not a whole lot you can do in response to that. You can surrender, you can slog forward taking huge amounts of casualties or you can change the rules of the game.

When we were contemplating an invasion of the Home Islands, our sense was that the ferocity of resistance from ordinary Japanese would only increase, and the casualties of Americans would be astronomical. Thus, we chose to change the rules of the game and drop a couple of nukes on mid-sized population centers to show we meant business. Enough of the Imperial High Command got the message and Japan surrendered without our having to fight in the Home Islands.

Islam has a tradition of using suicide attacks but it is hardly a universal one. More than likely what goes on is that one guy gives money to a second guy so that he can pay some third guy to blow himself up for Allah. Neither of the first two guys have any more intention of blowing themselves up for Allah than does Alan Alda. We can use this simple fact to our advantage. If we make the Islamic World that supports and pays for suicide bombers suffer economically, we can knock out the means by which the suicide bombers can harm us. That requires an end to the use of Middle East oil as a start. Dropping nukes on mid-sized Islamic cities would work too but that seems to me to be unnecessary at this point, when less draconian, better directed measures are at hand.

Posted by: bart at July 15, 2005 10:12 AM

No, the Emperor changed his mind. Islam has none.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2005 10:22 AM

Bart: What a rational, reasonable comment.

Two quibbles: First, the Okinawans had been told that the Americans were going to massacre them. How much that added to their resistence is unknowable. On the other hand, as Okinawa is a special case and only demi-hemi-semi part of Japan, it is almost certainly true that we would have faced fiercer resistence in the home islands.

Second, we use relatively little middle eastern oil and relatively little oil for electricity generation, which is where the growth is. Even if, through substitution or conservation, we could lower the price of oil, it is unlikely that we could lower it enough to eliminate terrorist financing, given how cheap it is to get oil out of the ground and how little terrorism costs.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 15, 2005 10:28 AM


There are other places like Europe and Japan and China that use lots of OPEC oil and would similarly be interested in applying technology to end the terror problem. There are al-Qaeda operatives blowing themselves to bits in Sinkiang too.

The nations of the Middle East need money to help keep their populations relatively quiescent. Their only source for this money is oil. If you are a Saudi 'royal' and your revenues have dropped 50% due to falling demand for oil, due to ready substitutes and more efficient use precipitated by high taxation on your oil by foreign countries, and you spend your money on paying off the locals to keep quiet, going to the Cote d'Azur for whoring, gorging, gambling, and boozing, and on sponsoring terror attacks on Westerners, and you then need to cut back, where are you going to cut first?

Posted by: bart at July 15, 2005 11:05 AM

Sure, but terrorism doesn't cost much. The best estimate I've seen is that 9/11 cost about $500,000. 7/7 probably didn't cost $100,000. The best deterrent seems to be the Israeli deterrent: find the bomb makers and kill them, preferably messily and in public.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 15, 2005 11:51 AM

A key element in deterrence is ensuring that the bombers don't have a staging area. What we did in Afghanistan matters because now the terrorists don't have a 250,000 sq mile free parking zone.

Staging areas cost money, lots of money. If Iran were to set itself up as the new 'staging area' and the West rewarded it by no longer buying Iranian oil, the Iranian economy would collapse in short order and a new regime would arise that would be interested in generating oil revenue and would boot the terrorists out.

Now, there are other nations which are quite poor which could be terrorist staging areas, Somalia comes to mind. Even here, maintaining your terrorist base requires paying off the local potentate and that is not cheap. Western nations could also decide to pay other local potentates more money to wipe out the potentate on the receiving end of terrorist largesse and the terrorists along with him.

The Israeli method works once the bombers are in theater as it were. This addresses getting them before they arrive.

Posted by: bart at July 15, 2005 12:02 PM

But the bases in Afghanistan didn't dissappear because we stopped buying, um, poppies. They dissappeared because we invaded. One of the great successes of the GWOT has been to cut way back on state support for terrorism.

As for Saudi princes, killing them is perfectly ok with me. But short of that, we're not going to have much luck stopping them from financing terror. Either they act from faith or for protection. Neither of those is particularly elastic.

Oh, and the world is our theater. But the most important lesson from Israel is that we can't stop all the attacks.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 15, 2005 12:35 PM

Fill a rental truck with fertilizer and your garage is a staging area.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2005 12:48 PM

There is another alternative: when a bomb goes off in London (or Paris, or Madrid, or here in the US), set off 10 car bombs in Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh, even Mecca/Medina (if necessary). Use Russian or Indian explosives (surely we have access). Force the 'terror' governments to play defense, too. As Bart wrote, change the game.

Posted by: ratbert at July 15, 2005 12:59 PM

or just take their oil away and put them on subsitence rations (well subsistence - 1%). i predict the u.s. will in fact seize the middle eastern oil fields within 10 years.

Posted by: cjm at July 15, 2005 1:36 PM

We're never going to get rid of all the Muslims, but it might be possible to break their faith and turn them into milk-and-water Muslims the way secularism has turned (almost all) Christians into milk-and-water Christians.

The way you do that is the same way Boniface challenged the Frisians: challenge their god to perform.

If their god can no longer perform (in Boniface's case, could not protect his tree), then his adherents may not give up on him completely, but they will attain a somewhat less exalted notion of his ability to deliver 72 virgins or whatever.

People can be weaned off savage religion.

But not if you're an appeaser like Bush.

All he has to do is say, 'Trade you the Kabbah for good behavior.'

One cruise missile on the rock and Islam modernizes in a doublequick hurry.

There are other possible approaches in detail, but as long as you think Islam is not the enemy, you won't take any of them.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 15, 2005 4:17 PM

Islam isn't the enemy, secularism is.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2005 5:25 PM

Not your pick, Orrin, and they chose to be your enemy.

One thing appeasers never, ever understand is that when the appeased finally get around to them they will show no gratitude for the appeasement.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 15, 2005 8:05 PM


We had no economic leverage on the Taliban, and they were if anything as loopy or loopier than the al-Qaeda, so it might not have worked anyway. If Cuba got into the terrorist business in a big way, we'd have a similar problem.

But where we do have economic leverage we should use it, as a first step. If it doesn't work then we should use more draconian methods. There is no way to put boots on the ground and not have casualties, we have to make the calculus that those casualties are in fact worth the risk and in our kind of society those discussions need to be robust with a lot of folks on the record so they can't backslide later without looking really bad.

We can't stop two idiots, a pickup truck and 500 lbs of fertilizer all the time.

Posted by: bart at July 15, 2005 8:59 PM


Of course it's our pick. Islam is doung us no harm and can be largely ignored. The real struggle is here against secularism and is going rather well.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2005 9:33 PM

terrorism is making the world a stronger and healthier place. they are driving a whirlwhind of technological and sociological changes -- improvements as it were.

Posted by: cjm at July 16, 2005 2:07 AM

That's the pure voice of the appeaser. As I said, it will do you no good on Der Tag.

Historically, or course, Christianity was feeble vs. Islam, only with the rise of secularism was Islam left in the dust.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 16, 2005 3:35 PM

As soon as Christendom was firmly established it began winning back territory, such as all of Spain.

Posted by: oj at July 16, 2005 3:40 PM

Like Constantinople in 1453, OJ?

Posted by: bart at July 17, 2005 9:14 AM

Yes, the center of Christendom had shifted West.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2005 11:43 AM

Don't walk into your local diner and say that or you'll end up as the Blue Plate Special.

Posted by: bart at July 17, 2005 3:02 PM

Heck, these day's it's shifted South. It's in Africa, not Europe.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2005 3:19 PM


Or Vienna in the 1660s?

Orrin's just making stuff up again.

England was paying the Barbary Pirates not to attack it as late as the 1800s, and although it is true that the Christian Spaniards drove the Muslim Spaniards out of Spain in 1492, the Christians then had to evacuate their own coasts to a depth of 10 miles because they could neither defend themselves against Muslim raiders nor successfully attack them in their North African ports.

The Spaniards had to set up two orders of clergy whose sole job was to buy back Christian slaves from the Muslims, and these were still in business more than 300 years after the supposedly Christian victory of 1492.

Islam always conquered the Christians, up to, as Kinross noted, the limit of its logistical apparatus.

And if the center of Christianity is Africa, why is Africa the area where Islam is expanding the fastest?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 17, 2005 4:24 PM


Agree or disagree with you, I like and respect you. You're a man of the world, probably older than I am(41) and at least as well-travelled. Perhaps, you can explain OJ to me. When he is convinced of the truthfulness of one of his pet theories, he is as determined to ignore contradictory facts as any beret and black turtleneck wearing, pastis sipping, Gaulois smoking, Left Bank dwelling French 'intellectual' circa 1968. Hell, he's practically a clone of Sartre or Derrida. Yet, his Francophobia borders on the pathological.

Can you explain it?

Posted by: bart at July 17, 2005 4:57 PM


the point it that Christianity hads no limits--we made the Islamic world our colonies.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2005 5:04 PM

And they are currently making us theirs?

Posted by: bart at July 17, 2005 5:20 PM

Europe, yes. Europe isn't Christian anymore. Islam trumps secularism.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2005 9:01 PM

All ideologues are pretty much the same under the skin, bart. 'The True Believer' describes Orrin just as much as the people he derides.

(I am not well traveled. I've never been anywhere. I'm just a pore ol' redneck from the peckerwoods of east Tennessee. But I am old.)

Orrin, if Christianity had made Islam its colony, then there would have been some conversions. They were not.

Secularism made Islam its colony. Napoleon took 100 whores to Egypt, no priests.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 18, 2005 12:35 PM

Napoleon converted to Islam, but he was just French.

There's no need to convert Muslims, they're already Abrahamic. But Christendom did take over their countries. It was a terrible mistake, but there you go...

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2005 1:16 PM

The only significance of the crusades was that no Muslims converted to Christianity, wheras wherever Islam conquers, almost all the subject population converts to Islam.

'Abrahamic' is just another weasel word used by appeasers.

You should take Islam seriously. Muslims do.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 18, 2005 5:22 PM

I do. I look forward to an Islamic Europe.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2005 7:07 PM

Which indicates how much of a barbarian you are.

Posted by: bart at July 18, 2005 8:47 PM

I can always count on the good Christians to bail me out. Today's question on To Every Man an Answer' was 'how should we react to the marriage of our Christian sister to a Muslim?'

You're outvoted, Orrin. The good preachers at Calvary Satellite Network decreed this a mesalliance, a tragedy and something must be very disheartening.

Bottom line: 'Is there any chance your brother-in-law would convert?'

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 18, 2005 9:39 PM


It's monotheists vs. barbarians.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2005 10:18 PM


Voted? Did they poll all two billion of us?

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2005 10:22 PM