Terry Eagleton has a piece on suicide bombers which makes a number of highly contestable points and which is overall I think a very flawed argument. Norm has paid a visit upon the piece already but there are a couple of points I want to add on what Eagleton doesn’t say.
Is it possible to write any kind of attempt to understand Islamist suicide killers without even mentioning the ideology that lays behind the action? As has been said on a number of occassions in reference to Islamism in general, there is much value to be had in taking our enemies at their word. The Islamist’s notion of martyrdom and the promised place in paradise which results from it is not examined by Eagleton. It is always mentioned by the killers in their farewell notes, despair rarely is.
Nor is there any examination of a tactic which doesn’t just occassionly result in the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians but which almost always does. In fact the suicide killer posseses an ideology which explicitly rejects the notion of innocent civilians.
I’m all in favour of trying to understand what is behind the actions of suicide killers but that must involve an examination of the ideology of the martyrs.
Gene adds: One of the most puzzling things about Eagleton’s piece is his failure to mention the division of labor between those who plan and provide the religious/ideological justification for suicide bombing and those who actually blow themselves and others to pieces.
Before his timely but non-suicidal death last year, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi scoffed when his own son, a medical student, said he would be honored to be a “martyr.” Rantisi said his son didn’t know what he was saying “because of his youth.”
Then: “Some men must grow up to become doctors. But for that to happen, others have to sacrifice themselves and become martyrs.”
With few exceptions, Palestinian suicide bombers come from among the deluded and the desperate. They do not come from among the leaders, organizers and propagandists of the organizations which claim responsibility for the bombings, or from among their children. When Arafat was praising the “martyrdom” of others, and proclaiming his greatest wish was to become a martyr himself, it never occurred to him to give up his bodyguards.
Surely a Marxist like Eagleton can find some significance in this.