Part Six – Axis of Honour Final: Palestinian Suicide Terrorism

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six – Axis of Honour Final: Palestinian Suicide Terrorism

The aim of this series has been to demonstrate a universal framework for understanding suicide terrorism, dismantling the notion that such tactics could only emerge from Islam. At the same time, I have been extremely critical of those wanting to downplay the prevalence of Islamism in suicide terrorism, because prioritising hurt feelings over open inquiry inevitably stymies genuine understanding.

The final instalment of this series will focus on the role of honour, humiliation and the breakdown of old social orders in Palestinian suicide terrorism.

Muslim Palestine represents a highly communalised social structure, in which Western notions of individualism are quite alien.

Dr Khalil Shiqaqi, in a reference to Emile Durkheim, claims that because individualism leads to suicide and because of Islamic prohibitions against taking one’s own life, suicide bombing in Palestine is a puzzling phenomenon.

This series would argue, however, that actual suicide (in the sense intended by Durkheim) and martyrdom are distinct phenomena.

This has been confirmed by various religious leaders, such as the chief Mufti of Jerusalem, the Mufti of Egypt, and the Imam of al-Aazhar university in Egypt, all of whom support “martyrdom” operations.

Indeed, it is largely because Palestinian society is not individualistic that such operations are possible.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is perhaps the most publicised ongoing conflict in recent decades.

Because of this, there is a broad, global awareness of Palestinian grievances. These grievances, while providing crucial historical background, do not, however, provide an analytical framework that might explain why suicide bombing emerged as a tactic, when conventional terrorism had been employed for so many years.

The rationalist approach to the use of suicide bombing in Palestine contends that suicide terrorism has been the Palestinians’ only means of achieving any sort of parity with a foe that has access to the sophisticated weaponry against which the Palestinians have no conventional defence.

While suicide attacks did not garner majority Palestinian support before the Al Aqsa Intifada, after the 2000 outbreak of hostilities, and the consequent escalation in Israeli military response, Palestinians increasingly viewed such attacks as a necessary mechanism in their defence.

By October 2003, 74.5% of Palestinians were expressing support for suicide bombing. (see Mohammed Hafez 2006: 172)

Such support existed in the context of the narrowing gap between the numbers of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the conflict – a gap which initially shrank after the deployment of suicide bombing.

At the outset of the Al Aqsa Intifada of 2000, for every Israeli killed, five Palestinians were killed. Since march 2001, however, suicide bombing became habitual and the ratio contracted sharply to only 1.7 Palestinian deaths to every Israeli. (These figures are from Weinberg et al 2003: 139-141)

While this made suicide terrorism a successful tactic in terms of reaching parity with the Israelis, this “success” in itself cannot explain what might impel people to suicide – especially considering the attendant cultural prohibitions. As has been discussed in previous instalments and comments, any short term tactical gains the Palestinians might have enjoyed from suicide bombing never eventuated in the realisation of actual strategic goals.

Palestinian desperation and despair are beloved among leftist commentators to explain the phenomenon; however, desperation can not explain the absence of Christian Palestinian suicide bombers. Also unexplained is their concurrence with the rise of suicide bombing in Egypt and the transnational Islamists.

Anthropologist, Arthur Saniotis believes that the apparent contradiction in Muslim Palestinian eagerness to embark on self-annihilation while also seeking status and self esteem is explicable in that martyrdom provides the means to the attainment of “symbolic capital” for those who cannot find it elsewhere.

While this argument might seem to concur with my own arguments about the roles of honour, shame and changing social configurations, by itself it doesn’t explain the Islamic component of the terrorism. Why do Christians not feel similarly compelled to martyr themselves? Is there something inherently different in the martyrdom cultures of Muslim and Christian Palestinians

I have argued in the comments sections throughout this series that the specifics of various societies’ attitudes to martyrdom are too flimsy a basis on which to rest any theory of ultimate causation, if only because suicide terrorism has never been the sole preserve of Palestinians, Arabs or even Islamism.

There are also crucial differences in the Christian, as opposed to Muslim experiences of the establishment of the State of Israel. These are particularly important to bear in mind when considering the place of honour and shame in radicalisation.

Whereas once Islam enjoyed dominance in historical Palestine, its hegemony and then majority was removed by Zionism. Christians, meanwhile, were accustomed to their minority status and did not have as much to lose in terms of sectarian prestige.

The more intense Muslim humiliation might go some way to explaining the increasing “conservatism” (really, a political re-imagining of the past) of Muslim Palestine, while Christian Palestine never sought any comparable transformation. Indeed, Christian flight from historical Palestine, while it has many causes, might be interpreted in a similar vein.

So, while martyrdom culture is certainly a crucial component in understanding suicide terrorism as a proximate factor, it is better understood if placed in a broader framework.

Weinberg and his co-authors begin to construct just such a framework when they distinguish between fatalistic and altruistic suicide.

They believe that a form of altruism is a key motivator in suicide terrorism because the positive communal response to martyrdom reinforces the existing perception that self-sacrifice will provide long term benefits for the community.

In the case of Muslim Palestinians, this means reclaiming Muslim Palestine. They contend that communal recognition is pivotal “in a society where ‘honor is regarded among the highest virtues.”

Because Muslim Palestinian society is inherently collectivist – more so than the Christian community – consequently, the status of the individual and his/her family and society is indivisible.

Communal recognition and veneration of the individual martyr extends beyond his/her death to benefit his/her family and community.

This is how we might answer the question posed by Saniotis: how can self-annihilation and the attainment of status can co-exist in a society that abhors non-political suicide?

The death of the individual, in the collective society is the death of just one component of a greater entity: his/her family and society. The manner in which one dies has direct consequences for the status of one’s family and one’s broader community.

Thus, any status that is accrued is not lost upon the individual’s death, but is rather shared among surviving relatives and the community as a whole.

There is considerable literature on the phenomenon of martyrs’ families benefiting both socially and materially from suicide attacks.

Substantial cash rewards for a suicide attack can completely transform the living standards of one’s family.

When such a powerful incentive as dramatically improving one’s family’s standard of living is combined with the considerable elevation of the family’s status due to the “virtual cult of the suicide bomber among many Palestinians,” the attraction of martyrdom, becomes clearer.

Assaf Moghadam states, “…The Palestinian shaheeds [martyrs] are raised in a culture where honor and dignity are highly treasured… and where becoming a martyr is among the highest, if not the highest, honor.” (Moghadam 2003: 72)

Moghadam also concurs with those theorists who draw a direct link between humiliation and terrorism – that suicide terrorism in the Palestinian case has been seen as a necessary act to remedy shame.

There are abundant references in Palestinian radical politics to the humiliation of occupation. Various recruits to radical Islamist organisations have spoken in interviews of the primacy of avenging this humiliation, reclaiming Palestinians’ “stolen land and dignity.”

The late Hamas co-founder Abdul Aziz Rantisi, agrees that “dishonoring someone is the worst act that can be done, the only remedy being the regaining of one’s dignity.”

Ironically, the Israeli response to Palestinian attacks often involved collective punishments, such as curfews and other limitations on Palestinian freedom and mobility. While such policies most certainly do not cause suicide attacks, they likely further cemented the collectivist mindset so crucial to the suicide operation.

Hafez believes that collective punishment is perceived by Palestinians as, “an attempt to humiliate Palestinians in their own land,”  first and foremost. This is distinct from a perception that Israel is acting in the interests of its own security.

The close proximity of Israeli prosperity to Palestinian penury has further exacerbated feelings of humiliation.

That it was left to Hamas and Islamic Jihad to create an ad hoc social service sector, provided another pathway to radicalisation.

Religiosity in Palestine increased significantly as a result. Within this environment, the prospect of the peace offered by the Oslo accords not only threatened radical Islamist control over many of the internal workings of Palestine, but what was on offer was an affront to the Islamist construction of dignity.

It was inconceivable – within the Islamist honour paradigm – that Palestinians would concede Israel’s superiority as its stronger, wealthier neighbour that still occupied what they considered Palestinian land.

What began as Islamist rejectionism in the name of honour metastasised into a widely held nationalist ideology.

Against this backdrop, all recruits to terrorist organisations enjoyed increased social standing. Indeed, not joining terrorist groups during the first Intifada was viewed as deviant and often led to ostracism.

A similar environment emerged during the second intifada. The result is that groups like Hamas have been inundated with potential recruits.

Designating Jihad as the sixth pillar (the other five pillars refer to the five foundational obligations Muslims must fulfil), Hamas has declared Jihad as a personal duty which is incumbent on every Muslim.

Another crucial component of this peer pressure, not only in Palestine, but in almost all non-Western radical organisations is the “macho” youth culture that prevails.

On January 27, 2002, the obligation of Jihad was extended to women.

Wafa Idris was Palestine’s first female suicide bomber, contravening various fatwas prohibiting female Jihadis. After Idris, many of these decrees were amended to allow women to martyr themselves.

The advent of female suicide bombers would seem to indicate a transformation of traditional gender roles in a collectivist society. Such societies are almost always characterised by stark delineations and prescriptions of gender roles – most often relegating women to the private sphere.

So how might such an ostensibly, “feminist” development occur within a highly collectivised society in which women had been largely absent from the public stage?

While certain leftist individuals and organisations leapt on the female Palestinian suicide terrorist as a glorious example of radicalism’s ability to transform oppressive norms, in this case, we can be quite certain that the female suicide bomber was not the harbinger of a Palestinian women’s movement.

There would seem, in the selection of women who have so far carried out suicide attacks, something of a pattern of attempted honour restoration. This restoration absolutely requires the subservience of women.

Wafa Idris was divorced and infertile (two highly problematic issues connected with honour), while the fifth female suicide bomber, Andalib Suleiman al-Taqatiqah and the seventh, Reem al-Riyashi, were believed to have been involved in illicit sexual activities.

Terrorism analyst, Cindy Ness, contends, “The implicit message was that terrorist organizations do not cross the line to recruit ‘true’ Muslim women.”

Another possibility is that these were examples of the institutionalisation of honour killings by terrorist groups.

Glorifying the deaths of women who contravened Palestinian moral codes presents a public message of radical Islamist intent on “restoring” old moralities, and entrenching such codes.

***

Throughout the Muslim world, as elsewhere,  the glorification of martyrdom presents a distraction from – and a seeming answer to – a variety of crises which stem from the challenges posed by encroaching modernity and globalisation.

These phenomena threaten the basic structures of communalist societies, while such threats are often perceived as humiliation by members of societies in flux.

Humiliation is a potent emotion that is the necessary fuel for any large-scale desire for vengeance. Humiliation is particularly potent in those societies which remain bound by honour codes.

These honour societies, have not made the transition to a human rights based or individualistic system for structuring human behaviour. These are not societies in which self-worth can be determined on the individual level.

The corollary is that feelings of humiliation and shame are generalised throughout communities, and those most affected by such emotions are more likely to engage in acts of vengeance.

In the case of Egyptian Jamaa Islamiyya, the breakdown of old tribal systems, government neglect, and humiliation at one sector’s inability to attain dignity, created an environment conducive to radicalism.

Transnational Islamist terrorists similarly encounter a variety of dislocations and decaying social structures that remove old certainties without replacing them with a workable socio-ethical substitute.

Palestinian radicals, meanwhile, their social order transformed and disrupted through the establishment of the State of Israel, view their situation through the lens of humiliation as well.

Perceiving Israelis as outsiders with no legitimate claim to the area, who practice a religion that has usurped Islam, Palestinians similarly seek the restoration of honour through martyrdom.

It is precisely the confluence of decaying communal authority, the absence of a suitable replacement structure (such as human rights), and the desire to maintain or reclaim disappearing codes of honour that make vengeful martyrdom a desirable possibility.

Unanswered in this series – and I certainly hope we can discuss the matter in a civilised and productive manner in comments – is the why the Muslim world seems to struggle disproportionately with transforming societies and the evolution of old honour codes.

The Muslim world’s over-representation in suicide terror, if viewed through this series’s framework, indicates a particularly problematic relationship with modernity. I would like to hear readers’ thoughts on why this may be. I am utterly uninterested, as always, in anything that gratuitously insults Islam or Muslims.

Finally, I began this series condemning the mindless political correctness of the Lexicon of Terror project and its focus on “de-Islamising” language connected with terrorism.

We must be able to ask questions of various religious, ethnic, and political groups (mindful that we as Jews will also be asked uncomfortable questions at times, that should be answered in good-faith, wherever possible).

A true spirit of inquiry demands that we be able to ask such questions without being called, “racist.” It also requires us to abandon evidence-free presuppositions about the nature of Islam and Muslims.

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Related posts:

  1. Part Two – The Axis of Honour: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism
  2. The Axis of Honour: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism – Introduction
  3. Part Four – The Axis of Honour: Honour, Modernity, and al Qaeda
  4. Part Five – Axis of Honour: Dislocation, Family, and Terror
  5. Part Three – The Axis of Honour: Honour and Shame

12 Responses to “Part Six – Axis of Honour Final: Palestinian Suicide Terrorism”

  1. TheSadducee says:

    Very interesting piece – I would like to throw in the following thoughts if I may:

    - if honour/shame is the primary motivator in these communalist societies then what hope is there for any peace in the ME while Israel exists? Wouldn’t all of Israel’s neighbours be shamed that they failed to prevent the usurpation of historical Islamic land/rule by foreign elements?

    - similarly, isn’t there then a greater focus of shame on the Palestinians because they could be considered primarily responsible for their failure to subjugate their Jewish population (unlike the rest of the ME) which led to the disaster of the independent state of Israel?

    -again, if honour/shame is the primary motivator for Palestinian suicide terrorism why don’t we see more of it in say Lebanon where the refugees are actively repressed/humiliated by the Lebanese state?
    (It could possibly explain the excess of Palestinian violence during the Civil War (against Lebanese of all factions/groupings) as they sought to humble those who had historically oppressed them?)

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  2. Michael says:

    I have often wondered…

    Why there are never ”Christian Palestinian suicide bombers’ ?

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  3. Morry says:

    Sj, woowwww! You’ve very obviously put a lot of work into this series and it is a remarkable accomplishment. The one thing conspicuous for its absence is the role of very old-fashioned antisemitism in the mix. It is hard to ignore the growth of antisemitic rhetoric that so closely parallels the growth of martyrdom, both being pushed very hard in most of the Islamist mosques. Such vilifying quotes as “The Jews are descendants of apes and pigs” have become grist for the mill throughout the Middle East, as have TV programs that present the worst of antisemitic blood libels. That it is not limited to the Palestinian experience should come as no surprise. There were next to no borders in the Middle East till after WW1, and Moslems saw themselves as a single nation “Ummah Islamiah”, sharing the same humiliation. But can we ignore that they actually suffered their humiliation at the hands of the allies, and it was those allies who gave away these Moslem lands to both Christians and Jews (mostly to Moslems, though). I think that trying to understand how and why this narrative changed would be very helpful, and I’m in no way suggesting that it is simply the result of antisemitism. Perhaps focussing on the Jews was seen as an easier target, amongst other things … I honestly don’t know. Certainly if the Jews were seen as relatively helpless and easy pickings the humiliation a being continuously beaten by them would represent intense humiliation.

    I don’t think we can ignore that Palestinian terrorism in general began in 1920, decades before before Jews actually took possession of anything or humiliated anyone. Nor can we ignore that it was instigated by the virulently antisemitic Haj Amin el Husseini. Whilst Britain deliberately elevated this convicted troublemaker to the position of Mufti of Jerusalem in the face of almost universal bitter objections by the Moslem population, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Britian saw the ensuing violence as a great plus for its own ME ambitions. That makes the mix very complex. What is certain is that it goes way beyond

    Sadducee raises some very relevant points. Lebanon would be an ideal sounding board, as it was created as a Christian state, with a Christian majority, carved out of the Syrian Mandate, in almost a direct parallel to the Jewish homeland being carved out of the Palestine Mandate. One of the obvious differences is that there was no movement of populations, so no great changes to contend with. But, whilst there were power struggles and civil wars, there was no issue of taking Lebanon back for Islam, no liberation movements, as there was with Israel. Yes Syria claimed it, but there was no popular move in the Moslem world to restore it to Islam. That only came in the wake of the establishment of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and his almost instant efforts to establish Hezbollah as a means of reclaiming Lebanon and destroying Israel concurrently.

    Just a final comment at this point. We may see it as “suicide”, but I think in that world they see it as a soldier dying in the battle, or at least have redefined it as such so that it doesn’t negate Islamic injunctions against suicide. It would undoubtedly be seen in the same light as we view many of our VC winners, who died taking on impossible odds in the face of certain death to save comerades and the war. We honour someone who has thrown himself on a grenade to save comerades … how can we be surprised that this rather grotesque parallel has been created?

    A more final comment that the last *grin*. Sadducee, great comments. The issue of “humiliation” doesn’t exist in Moslem to Moslem issues. Saddam Hussein may have run people through meat grinders, but that was “no humiliation”, neither is it in Lebanon, but being beaten by Jews is very hard to swallow. Whilst “humiliation” is cited as one of the fundamental reasons justifying Jihad, it seems to me that what we in the West would consider a “humiliating defeat”, say when the Moslems were stopped in France or in Spain, seems to have gone down in Moslem history as “worthy opponents” (I could be wrong) and am wondering if that concept of “humiliation” has ever been applied to anyone but Jews. Certainly not the WW1 allies, and, whislt there is a definte hatred of America as “The Great Satan” …. humiliation or shame?

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  4. If your analysis is correct, it may tie in with the Arab leadership’s desire to allow the Palestinians to continue to live their lives as “refugees” so as to perpetuate their humiliation, and continue to be the front in the war to destroy Israel.

    The current Netanyahu Govt short-term policy of “economic peace” is a move designed to mitigate this and show the Palestinians that they can have a decent life side by side with Israel, and that the issue of a state won’t make anything better of itself.

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  5. Morry says:

    Hi SJ, thanks for your response, if a little bemusing. You wrote:

    I did not include anti-Semitism because I do not see it as an ultimate cause of suicide terrorism. Again, we need only look to the Tamil Tigers, or sectarian, and anti-government Islamist attacks to see that suicide bombing did not develop as a response to a “Jewish problem.”

    I had assumed that this leg of the discussion was about “Palestinian Suicide Terrorism”, where antisemitism is a major factor, and everything I said was addressing Palestinians exclusively. The series to date has sought to establish common ground for terrorism, and a wonderful piece of work it has been, but that’s a far cry from assuming that now it is simply all common ground. Each conflict remains individual. It may be an interesting exercise to see how much of these common denominators exist in the Palestinian arena, but there is something very wrong in asuming that, since we’ve established that there is no antisemitism driving the Tamils, the same must hold true for the Palestinians.

    The 1920 massacre is also problematic inasmuch as it is difficult to cast it within the modern terrorist framework. It was certainly political violence; however, its nature resembles the communalist violence of post-partition India far more than it does modern suicide terrorism.

    We may have to disagree there. In my view there is an undivided continuum in which Palestinian terrrorism has changed and developed, beginning with 1920. From that initial killing of a few Jews it quickly escalated to massacring and evicting an entire Jewish population in 1929. By the 1960s it had taken on its international flavour in plane hijackings which have now been abandonned in favour of suicide bombings. The dogma that began with Haj Amin in 1920 continued through his nephew and disciple Arafat, and led to very many offshoots (PFLP, DFLP), as other ideologies like Marxism were incorporated. It seems that you look at the first point and the last and judge them to be different … perhaps because one involves suicide? I think it’s all about effectiveness. Suicide bombers are a better technology than massacres as they involve a single protaganist. The fence has made suicide bombing, at least in the Palestinian arena, ineffectual, so now it’s rockets.

    I sat up till 3am last night exploring these issues from a Moslem perspective on websites, chat rooms and advisory sites. We are all very much products of our society and our culture. The surprising degree to which that is true came from an experiment involving apes and bananas. Bananas were placed on a ladder, and every time and ape went for them, they were all hosed dowm with cold water. The group quickly learned not to approach the bananas. A new ape was introduced to the group, and when he went for the bananas he was beaten by the other apes, and quickly learned that the bananas were sacrosanct. New apes were introduced and eventually the entire population had been turned over to where not a single ape from the original group remained, but still, new arrivals trying for the bananas were beaten. So, despite the group no longer believing in a supreme power that would punish you if you sinned, the culture retained those values.

    The reason I brought this up is to try to make sense of what is happening. We have not discussed the Koran, nor Islamic belief in these issues, nor the core differences between Islam and Islamism, though these are the drivers for Islamist terrorism. I did explore some of this last night. First the issue of suicide. The responses were almost universal. The dividing line between suicide and martyrdom is incredibly fine, even in mainstream Islam. If there is no benefit to Islam, it is perceived as suicide, and a very selfish act. However, if it benefits the group, it is defined as martyrdom. The perception of benefit will vary, and is undoubtedly based on results, but even a small benefit seems to qualify.

    It is generally accepted by experts that terrorism does not achieve its aims. The problem I have with this is the short-sighted definition of “aims”. It is Hamas’ aim to destroy Israel. Will a few firecracker rockets destroy Israel? Clearly not! So, why do they do it? I reject out of hand all the PC garbage like “poverty” … whatever. This series has covered that more than adequately. It’s worth looking tho the rhetoric, and I’ve mentioned this before, but was clearly misunderstood. We have recurring words and phrases in the Arab rhetoric regarding Israel … “aggression”, “oppressors”, “persecution”, and “been driven from their homes unjustly”. It is no coincidence that these all feature verbatim as Koranic permits for waging violent Jihad. What may appear futile to us, bringing crackdowns and responses such as Gaza recently, is in fact a very effective call to arms which has brought entire nations on-side in wars. The insurgency in Iraq is another example.

    That brings me back to the apes, because these strategies have become part of the culture and have even been adopted by secular and Marxist groups like Fatah, despite their Koranic sources, because that is the group think. Sorry … getting far too long. I’ll stop here.

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  6. Phill O'Semetic says:

    S.J, thanks for an enlightening and thought provoking series which deserves a re-read in the near future for full appreciation.
    From my position on the sideline, I stand ever ready to throw a red herring into the discussion. With a very superficial understanding of M.E politik, I was moved to apply your elegantly argued framework to our history of indigenous relations and the lack of religious radicalisation within that history, specifically, with regards to the Muslim faith. Plenty of humiliation, from the doomed processions and appeals of William Barak to the current intervention? Plenty of opportunity for Muslim recruitment, from the Afghan camel herders of central Aust. to the M.E migrants of Sydney’s inner south? However, little if any Muslim radicalisation, apart from the Cassius Clay antics of Anthony Mundine, though this may herald a new trend. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/a-new-faith-for-kooris/2007/05/03/1177788310619.html re: “New Faith for Koori’s”
    Do symmetries exist with the U.S.A where the African-American poulation has embraced muslim radicalism to some extent, but less so, the indigenous American peoples?
    I fear your framework may throw up insights both flattering and loathsome to all concerned within the Australian experience? Don’t wish to hijack yur blog, but wondered if this was in any way relevent?

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  7. sensiblejew says:

    Michael, read the post, and perhaps you can stop wondering.

    Sadducee, as always, you ask incisive and important questions. They deserve a considered response, so I’ll reply properly soon. Thank you, yet again, for your contributions here.

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  8. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Morry.

    Yet another wonderful comment! Thank you!

    Because of the demands of the Shabbat table (it demands my full attention in the areas of eating and talking at the same time) and other Shabbat related-activities, I will have to wait till later to answer people properly.

    Good Shabbes, everybody! :)

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  9. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Morry. Once more, you raise some fascinating issues.

    You write,

    Sj, woowwww! You’ve very obviously put a lot of work into this series and it is a remarkable accomplishment. The one thing conspicuous for its absence is the role of very old-fashioned antisemitism in the mix. It is hard to ignore the growth of antisemitic rhetoric that so closely parallels the growth of martyrdom, both being pushed very hard in most of the Islamist mosques. Such vilifying quotes as “The Jews are descendants of apes and pigs” have become grist for the mill throughout the Middle East, as have TV programs that present the worst of antisemitic blood libels. That it is not limited to the Palestinian experience should come as no surprise.

    Thank you for your kind words, Morry.

    I did not include anti-Semitism because I do not see it as an ultimate cause of suicide terrorism. Again, we need only look to the Tamil Tigers, or sectarian, and anti-government Islamist attacks to see that suicide bombing did not develop as a response to a “Jewish problem.”

    Of course, hatred of Jews can be a powerful proximate cause in motivating suicide bombers targeting Jews, and no one could seriously suggest that anti-Semitism is not a massive problem throughout the Islamic world.

    There were next to no borders in the Middle East till after WW1, and Moslems saw themselves as a single nation “Ummah Islamiah”, sharing the same humiliation. But can we ignore that they actually suffered their humiliation at the hands of the allies, and it was those allies who gave away these Moslem lands to both Christians and Jews (mostly to Moslems, though). I think that trying to understand how and why this narrative changed would be very helpful, and I’m in no way suggesting that it is simply the result of antisemitism. Perhaps focussing on the Jews was seen as an easier target, amongst other things … I honestly don’t know. Certainly if the Jews were seen as relatively helpless and easy pickings the humiliation a being continuously beaten by them would represent intense humiliation.

    Actually, there were numerous identities that Muslims had (tribal, ethnic, linguistic, sectarian – among others) before decolonisation. The perception of the Ummah still exists, but there have always been serious divisions within it.

    Actually, the vast, vast majority of victims of suicide attacks have been other Muslims.

    I don’t think we can ignore that Palestinian terrorism in general began in 1920, decades before before Jews actually took possession of anything or humiliated anyone. Nor can we ignore that it was instigated by the virulently antisemitic Haj Amin el Husseini. Whilst Britain deliberately elevated this convicted troublemaker to the position of Mufti of Jerusalem in the face of almost universal bitter objections by the Moslem population, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Britian saw the ensuing violence as a great plus for its own ME ambitions. That makes the mix very complex. What is certain is that it goes way beyond

    Again, this is casting the framework too narrowly.

    When I write about humiliation, I do not define it as the active attempt by one party to shame another. I write about it as the emotion that engulfs someone who feels he/she has been shamed. Whether that feeling has any objective merit is immaterial. It is the presence of the emotion that is critical.

    The 1920 massacre is also problematic inasmuch as it is difficult to cast it within the modern terrorist framework. It was certainly political violence; however, its nature resembles the communalist violence of post-partition India far more than it does modern suicide terrorism.

    Sadducee raises some very relevant points. Lebanon would be an ideal sounding board, as it was created as a Christian state, with a Christian majority, carved out of the Syrian Mandate, in almost a direct parallel to the Jewish homeland being carved out of the Palestine Mandate. One of the obvious differences is that there was no movement of populations, so no great changes to contend with. But, whilst there were power struggles and civil wars, there was no issue of taking Lebanon back for Islam, no liberation movements, as there was with Israel. Yes Syria claimed it, but there was no popular move in the Moslem world to restore it to Islam. That only came in the wake of the establishment of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and his almost instant efforts to establish Hezbollah as a means of reclaiming Lebanon and destroying Israel concurrently.

    Lebanon was not created as a Christian state. It was created as a multi-faith entity in which positions of power were apportioned to various confessional groupings according to population size. The problem was, that at the time of its creation, Lebanon had a Christian majority, that was reflected in its greater proportion of power; however, as the Shiite community outgrew the Christian population, the old system became unacceptable to them. This is, of course, a very potted account, but it is a clear demonstration that the parallels do not exist with Israel’s creation.

    Just a final comment at this point. We may see it as “suicide”, but I think in that world they see it as a soldier dying in the battle, or at least have redefined it as such so that it doesn’t negate Islamic injunctions against suicide. It would undoubtedly be seen in the same light as we view many of our VC winners, who died taking on impossible odds in the face of certain death to save comerades and the war. We honour someone who has thrown himself on a grenade to save comerades … how can we be surprised that this rather grotesque parallel has been created?

    I agree.

    A more final comment that the last *grin*. Sadducee, great comments. The issue of “humiliation” doesn’t exist in Moslem to Moslem issues.

    It most certainly does. Please refer to the instalments in this series regarding Egyptian JI and transnational Jihadis.

    Saddam Hussein may have run people through meat grinders, but that was “no humiliation”, neither is it in Lebanon, but being beaten by Jews is very hard to swallow.

    This is simply not correct. Again, previous instalments amply demonstrate that there is no link between a specific religion and humiliation.

    Whilst “humiliation” is cited as one of the fundamental reasons justifying Jihad,

    No. It is not an issue of justification. The analyst (me) sees it as an ultimate cause, and the Jihadi does not feel any need for “justification,” so certain is he in the justice of his cause.

    it seems to me that what we in the West would consider a “humiliating defeat”, say when the Moslems were stopped in France or in Spain, seems to have gone down in Moslem history as “worthy opponents” (I could be wrong) and am wondering if that concept of “humiliation” has ever been applied to anyone but Jews. Certainly not the WW1 allies, and, whislt there is a definte hatred of America as “The Great Satan” …. humiliation or shame?

    Iraq (Sunni/Shiite), Afghanistan, Iran (democrats vs autocrats), Lebanon (Palestinian, Shiite, Sunni), Syria (massacring Palestinians at Hamaa), Turkey (Kurds), Egypt (JI), Saudi Arabia (al Qaeda)… there are so many more examples.

    For once, Jews are not front and centre on this one :)

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  10. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Sadducee. Again, many thanks for your wonderful comment.

    You write:

    - if honour/shame is the primary motivator in these communalist societies then what hope is there for any peace in the ME while Israel exists? Wouldn’t all of Israel’s neighbours be shamed that they failed to prevent the usurpation of historical Islamic land/rule by foreign elements?

    What hope there may be for peace is an enormous question. Obviously, no one can speak definitifively, but using my framework, it would seem that the Middle East is currently – and has been since WW2 – in transition from communalism to something ill-defined.

    The problem for Israel and the West is that this ill-defined new state has not involved liberal individualism, so that as old social constructs and compacts have collapsed, very little else of legitimacy has emerged to replace them.

    This does not mean, however, that the liberal tendency does not exist at all in the Middle East. Indeed, ordinary Iranians are currently at the vanguard. Islamism is a recent ideological construct, not an indigenous cultural phenomenon. It developed in response to modernity and is an artificial reconstruction of an imagined past. As it loses legitimacy – as it has in Iran – Islamism will have to make way for a new set of constructs.

    As for the degree/severity of the shame/humiliation felt by various Islamic societies towards Israel, and their consequent animosity – one must factor numerous domestic elements in the degree of radicalisation. Some societies have simply fared worse than others. Some have been more internally brutal than others. The ways in which people might feel humiliated in such a context are numerous.

    - similarly, isn’t there then a greater focus of shame on the Palestinians because they could be considered primarily responsible for their failure to subjugate their Jewish population (unlike the rest of the ME) which led to the disaster of the independent state of Israel?

    I agree with this statement completely. There have also been so many internal failures of Palestinian governance that have contributed to radicalisation.

    “-again, if honour/shame is the primary motivator for Palestinian suicide terrorism why don’t we see more of it in say Lebanon where the refugees are actively repressed/humiliated by the Lebanese state?
    (It could possibly explain the excess of Palestinian violence during the Civil War (against Lebanese of all factions/groupings) as they sought to humble those who had historically oppressed them?)”

    Suicide bombing is a learned tactic that had its Middle Eastern beginning in Lebanon (Hizbollah). But again, I agree with your suggestion about the Palestinian humiliation and violence in Lebanon.

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  11. sensiblejew says:

    David, I agree with you to an extent.

    I think it’s always been in the Arab leadership’s interest to use Palestinian suffering as a focal point for their own population’s anger, to distract from the appalling governance and lack of freedom in their own countries. Indeed, I believe such governemnts try – and often succeed – to direct their populations’ generalised humilation towards Israel. When they fail, groups like Egyptian JI emerge.

    As for “economic peace” – Israel’s in an impossible position because of its electoral system. There isn’t the requisite governmental stability to enable anythying other than piecemeal solutions. A government not constantly under threat from the implosion of an unworkable coalition would have a much better chance of developing and implementing a wide ranging strategy that deals less with issues of humiliation (the symptom) and more with creating new social structures to fill the vacuums that currently exist and to help delegitimise the Islamist social welfare system…

    But I hate talking about the minutiae of what Israel should do. Apart from the seeming intractability of it all, it’s just a difficult subject: I have a lot of family and friends whom I love, living there. Talking about – and defending – Zionism in the abstract is much easier than the tachles that affects the lives of those people.

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  12. sensiblejew says:

    Phil, thank you for writing such a fascinating comment. I do hope people with more knowledge than me on Aboriginal issues can answer your question. I have one or two ideas, but they are not sufficiently evidence based that I would argue them. One is that communalism as I describe it in the series is very much a product of an agricultural society. Because at the time of white settlement, Aborigines were hunter gatherers, there would be a social structure that would have been quite different. The fractures appearing as white culture infiltrated were of an entirely different nature from those fractures that occur at the transition point from pre-industrial society to modernity. Perhaps any form of radicalisation is unsuited to that first form of fracture.

    Of course, this is wild speculation, and it would be wonderful if someone who can provide more information and insight could comment on your question.

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