The Culture of Martyrdom
We, in the West would do well to reflect on upon a culture that uses martyrdom as a strategic weapon.
Without any serious understanding of the religious component in Palestinian politics, American policy in the region will inevitably flounder on our secular Western illusions.
There is a powerful need in Western culture to ascribe something (desperation, inhumane conditions, occupation) other than simple hatred to explain a phenomenon as extreme as suicide bombings. So we look for â€œdesperationâ€, â€œhumiliationâ€ or â€œhopelessnessâ€, as the reasons because we have been brought up to believe there must be another rational explanation to the phenomenon. The idea that such acts are the result of an institutionally indoctrinated hatred of the West or of Jews is contrary to our rational and liberal thinking. So we reject it.
As a consequence, we deny the obvious. Despite ample evidence of virulent anti-American, anti-Jewish (read: anti-Israel) incitement emanating from Gaza mosques, Palestinian Authority television, Saudi, Syrian and Egyptian newspapers, and anti-American demonstrations throughout the Muslim world, the Bush administration approaches Middle East issues based on Western cultural values (such as even-handedness, equity and balance) to ascribe blame to the Israeli occupation and to see Palestinian terrorist bombers as essentially underdogs desperately â€œresistingâ€ the only way they can.
Western ignorance of the Muslimâ€™s duty to wage jihad against the infidel (Christians and Jews) leads Western scholars and diplomats to misunderstand what motivates these suicide bombers. We cannot comprehend how “rational” people can â€œjoyouslyâ€ destroy their lives and the lives of innocent civilians in America and in Israel. We cannot comprehend the psychology that drives suicide bombers to their deaths in order to bring honor and paradise to them, their families and Muslims everywhere. We cannot conceive of a culture that encourages young people to slaughter themselves for the perceived benefits of the afterlife. These concepts are totally alien to Western thinking.
To the Palestinian youth of today, however, the imagery of martyrdom and Jihad has become irresistibly magnetic. As such, there is no room for “negotiation”, and compromise is just another word for “weakness”. American students are taught to feel what they think. Palestinian children study maps with Israel deleted. Suicide bombers are nurtured on the glory of martyrdom, the religious satisfaction of killing innocent women and children in restaurants, discotheques, pizza parlors and even at synagogues and at celebrations of the rituals of faith. Those willing to become human missiles scorn our values (and Israelâ€™s values) having been persuaded that tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others are decadent and weak.
At recent meetings of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Muslim leaders sanctioned not only terrorism, but also suicide as legitimate political instruments, thereby applying a religious seal of approval to those Palestinians who have given their lives to destroy Israelis/Jews in cafes, discotheques and at Passover services. Arab schools and media glorify martyrdom by feeding the terrorist cause with anti-Western and anti-Semitic incitement, and their governments pay for such â€œeducationâ€ with donations to radical Islamic groups. Even now, Arab states are subsidizing the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, rewarding them for their acts of savagery (our word) thereby encouraging others to follow them. Jihad represents the chance to overcome the shame of Islam’s long slide from glory and superiority over the West into the decay and decadence represented by current Arab governments. As Thomas Freidman noted recently: “Palestinians feel a rising sense of empowerment (as a result of these acts).” They see them as a way “to bring the mighty infidel to his knees”. This rise of radical Islam among the Palestinians – especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad – has mixed with the PLOâ€™s revolutionary violence so that their victory and the slaughter of innocents can be justified for religious reasons. This has produced a Palestinian youth that knows nothing of our traditional concept of ethics. The failure of the Islamic world to loudly condemn this practice shows how brutal modern “ethics” has become in the Middle East.
It also shows how totally unrealistic American and European foreign policy in the Middle East have become. Despite the American experience in Iran that should have taught us that we cannot negotiate with such regimes, Washington still believes that the Israelis can somehow negotiate with a Palestinian Authority whose religious and political policies have become intertwined. Washington still operates on the assumption that if all Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Gaza were removed, and East Jerusalem became the capital of a Palestinian state, then these â€œmartyrsâ€ would cease their activities. It is a belief that flows from our culture – not theirs.
When Arafat rejected the July 2000 Camp David offer, he said he did so because his position reflected the sentiments of most of the Palestinians, and, if he crossed that sentiment, he remarked, he would â€œforfeit his lifeâ€. If that is so, then what has changed to make the Bush administration believe that Arafat would be more pragmatic now? Why should pro-martyr Palestinians stop their suicide bombings if they are rewarded by American pressure on Israel? Why should they cease suicide bombings if Israel withdraws from the West Bank and Gaza, when pro-martyr Hezbollah terrorists continue to attack Israel two years after it withdrew from Southern Lebanon? Is Arafat more willing today to die for â€œpeaceâ€ than he was in July 2000? He has consistently authorized, endorsed and funded suicide bombings as “blessed work”. The fact remains that, even if he wanted to quiet the passions that he has unleashed amongst the Palestinians, he is beyond the point of disclaiming the martyrdom in their hearts and minds. It is too well entrenched.
American â€œengagement” is premised upon a political culture among the Palestinians that simply does not exist. There are very different value systems operating here. The Bush administration seems to believe that Israel’s military response to terrorism actually provokes further terrorism, but the Palestinians have already elevated terrorism to icon status. Withdrawal would change nothing. The Palestinian death-wish is part and parcel of a perversion of Islamic philosophy that will continue either until the final destruction of Israel is achieved…or until this nihilism itself is expunged from the Palestinian mindset.
Translated into Palestinian terms, forcing Israeli concessions encourages more suicide bombings. The Palestinians see pursuing a policy of compelling Israel to make â€œunilateral concessionsâ€ as appeasement and weakness. “Negotiation” is not an attempt to achieve a compromise, but a tactic designed to extract further concessions. It all facilitates their “end game” for the destruction of the Jewish State.
That is why American foreign policy in the Middle East is misdirected. There is not one nation in the Middle East that was born of such radical religious revolutionary violence and became pro-American, peace loving and opposed to terrorism. Not one.
In wars against bombers and terrorists, the past teaches us that peace comes first through their total defeat – not out of negotiations among supposedly well meaning equals (as our moralistic cultural bent would have us believe). As Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal: â€œUnfortunately, it is only warâ€¦.not the well-intentioned, but meaningless Tenet and Mitchell plansâ€¦that can…… burn out (martyrdom) among the Palestinians. The sooner the Bush administration realizes this, the sooner the suicide bombers will cease. If the administration tries to â€œnegotiateâ€ with this syndrome, it will only fuel the fire and make America, not just Israel, look weak.”
As Osama bin Laden should have taught us, weakness in the Middle East never goes unpunished.