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Martyrdom is for lesser men
The apparent flaw within Palestinian polity is their inability to perceive the ground realities

By Iqbal Latif
April 3, 2002
The Iranian

Abu Abdullah, cry like a woman for a Kingdom you could not defend as a man.

This article was inspired by someone who wrote to me "Martyrdom is for lesser men!" It is written in the memory of a wasted life of a 16-year-old girl and the other innocents in Israel whose lives were taken prematurely by this wanton act of aggression.

In April last year, the grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, declared that "Any act of self killing or suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam"; consequently "the one who blows himself up in the midst of the enemies is also performing an act contrary to Islamic teachings." The grand Mufti elaborated by adding that suicide attackers "should not be buried with Islamic rituals and should not be buried alongside other Muslims."

But the Grand Imam of Islam's top seat of learning at Egypt's Al Azhar University, Mohammad Sayed Tantawi, issued another opinion; stating suicide bombings were legitimate, but only if directed against Israeli soldiers, not women and children.

Another reputed Egyptian clergyman Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi said such attacks were "among the greatest forms of holy struggle against oppression." He was even quoted as saying the ruling against suicide bombings were issued by "people who are alien to Sharia (Islamic law) and religion."

Even Jerusalem's top cleric and the Imam of Al-Aqsa mosque, Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, affirmed in an interview, "Muslims believe in the Day of Judgement and that dying as a martyr has its reward going to heaven " and that "a martyr is alive in the eyes of God." In 1997 before the current upheaval in the Levant, he had commented, "The person who sacrifices his life as a Muslim will know if God accepts it and whether it is for the right reason. God in the end will judge him and whether he did that for a good reason or not. We cannot judge. The measure is whether the person is doing that for his own purposes, or for Islam."

In spite of contrary interpretations on the significance of life in Islam the ideological support of suicide bombings in the Middle East is not hard to come by. While the Quran in Surah an-Nisaa (Chapter: "The Women"), verse 29 seems specifically forbid suicide; the chapter's 75th verse enjoins that fighting oppression is commendable.

Thus the present debate is centred on whether the bombing is in fact a suicide or related to a Jihad against oppression. The fact that suicide militancy is fundamentally against the injunctions of Quran, as taking ones life is categorically forbidden, spurs some scholars to label the present attacks in Palestine as effective missions of martyrdom that is targeted toward undermining oppression.

Why is suicide militancy becoming such a popular tool with insurgencies across the world? Can militants belonging to suicide squads be dismissed as irrational zealots? Suicide operations have inherent tactical advantages over "conventional" tactics. It is a simple and low cost operation requiring no escape routes or complicated rescue operations. It guarantees mass casualties and extensive damage since the suicide bomber can choose the exact time, location and circumstances of the attack, and there is no fear that the bombers will be caught and interrogated (because their deaths are certain).

When the enemy possesses the most sophisticated weapons in the world the weapon of martyrdom is easy and costs the lives of young gullible people, who volunteer for such undertakings. Human bombs cannot be defeated as it is an instrument of the ultimate terror. What volunteers do not realise is that not only is suicide bombing futile and inhuman, however it is the negation of the fundamental human contract, that we respect our own life and that of others, the dissolution of which is inevitably castigated by the tides of history.

History has many a lesson; the nation that produced the defeated Kamikazes is now a significant constituent of the global economy. The Nizari Ismailis, renowned as one of the most peaceful of the sects of Islam are the spiritual descendants of the "assassins", the sect based on which the word assassin originated and whose numbers were severely decimated by the Mongols.

From an Islamic perspective Abu Abdullah's misfortune is particularly poignant. The defeat of his kingdom, Granada was the beginning of one of the greatest Muslim tragedies. In 1469, Christian Spain had united with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. As the two continued their re-conquest of Spain was swift, they entered the magnificent palace of Alhambra in full glory and crosses were placed on the highest minarets.

As the last monarch of the ruined Granada, he and his family were exiled to the hills. As he looked at the majestic palace of Alhambra, a name still linked to Spain's Islamic Era, for the last time tears came into his eyes. At this, his aged mother Aisha said scornfully, "Abu Abdullah, cry like a woman for a Kingdom you could not defend as a man."

Rather then weep for the loss of their state; the Palestinians should heed the fall of Muslim rule in Granada, Spain, in 1492. It provides a good example of the elimination of a system not keeping pace with the march of events of the period. The Muslim rule over the bulk of Spain spanned over seven centuries (711-1492) The orthodox Muslims would say that Granada collapsed because the Muslims there had deviated from their faith and had become corrupt and luxury loving; they were weakened by internecine struggle for power. That is correct but only partly.

Factually the decline was not so much due to the inadequacy of the Moorish Kingdoms but their inability to progress, along with the rest of Europe, onto a new era. New ideas, new technologies and new political systems were beginning to herald the new age. The Reformation had taken roots and the concept of the nation state was developing rapidly. This new concept was supplanting the system of different, often warring, tribal lords and kings.

The inability of Ameer Abul Hasan of Granada to discern this new reality and adjust his response accordingly in his domain, which was already suffering from a triangular strife for power, ensured the end of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula. Similar patterns can be noticed in the false glory of the Palestinians.

The apparent flaw within Palestinian polity is their inability to perceive the ground realities, their innate frailty. They are unable to grasp that their wrong stance in the 1990 Gulf War made the Saudi-Kuwaiti contingent highly sceptical of their cause. No oil embargoes imposed, political lobbying or peace settlement can be imposed by a several diminished Saudis; moreover in the present globalized epoch, for pressure groups like OPEC, the difficulty in maintaining an oil embargo is all too palpable. The tragic event of September 11 dissolved the fragile political capital the Saudis had with the United Stated, which further imperilled the Palestinian's leverage.

The fluidity of Palestinians today is the result of the failure of policy and blunders of the past. The present leadership must stop this game of deprivation and realize that the circumstances have radically altered. The effort to strip these Palestinians from any desire to reconstruct their lives and that of their nation was due to the politics perpetrated by the Grand Mufti Hussieni. This policy was continued by the successive Palestinian leaderships who viewed Israel as a dagger in the heart of the Arab world and a target of scorn and destruction. The unhealthy obsession with destruction, cultivated over a half-century, takes nations and their citizens nowhere.

This stratagem within religious teeming refugee camps induces intense ideological struggle within diverse personalities, who have very little to loose, and imbues in them the willingness to sacrifice their lives. Religion alone does not play the key role; it can only offer a partial explanation. Recruiters will often exploit the religious beliefs when indoctrinating would-be bombers, using their subjects' faith in a reward in paradise to strengthen and solidify pre-existing sacrificial motives.

But other powerful motives reinforce tendencies towards martyrdom, including patriotism, hatred of the enemy and a profound sense of victimisation. Yes the potential victims have nothing to loose but Chairman Arafat cannot absolve himself of the responsibility of extreme poverty within Palestinian society.

If nearly 10 million displaced refugees from the partition of the Sub-continent in 1947 could have settled in their new lands which in some cases were culturally and geographically far more remote, it is illogical why the Palestinians who were made refugees in 1948 in close proximity to their own historic land could not have assimilated in their neighbouring nations populated by their kinsmen. The very reason that these refugee camps were encouraged, created and left to proliferate poverty was due to the inability of leadership to acknowledge that they had lost the war against Israel. The grand standing and continuation of the mythical dream of greatness is a fundamental reason why this sad saga continues up to the present day.

After 54 years of losing territories and incessantly shrinking the territory of a potential Palestinian state; the Arabs states and the Palestinians leadership, strive for the agreement proposed by Ehud Barak in 2000 but summarily rejected by Yasser Arafat. A stark contrast to the time when they were pledging to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth. The recent Arab summit, calling for a recognition of Israel within the 1967 borders, epitomised the doctrine of diminishing returns of 300 millions Arabs to Israelis through a half-century of failed promised and ill-begotten pride.

To be continued
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