Suicide Bomber in a Cracked Mirror

What makes a person blow himself up in a crowd?

Khalid Akhter Delhi

Today, in the eyes of several people across the world, especially in the West, Islam and terrorism are synonymous. In the wake of 9/11 attack, Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations theory has found widespread acceptance, leading several sections to equate Islam with jehad, and giving rise to the belief that Islam is incompatible with peace and progress. Many believe a violent conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable.

However, contrary to these images, the Muslim world has far more in common with the western world than is generally assumed. Islam's concept of God, equality of man and righteousness are based on Judeo-Christian traditions. A faithful Muslim could, with few scruples, subscribe to most tenets of Christian belief. In contrast to the current western propagation of 'Self and Other', the Arab world's road to modernisation and progress is intertwined with American educational institutions such as the American University at Beirut.

An important component of the anti-Islamic polemic in the contemporary era is the contention that Islam is a religion of violence and its followers are suicide bombers. That there is no place for peace in the religion.

The word 'Islam' comes from the root 'slam', which means 'peace'. 'Islam' means the peace that one gets after submission to the supreme creator.

Jehad is often mistranslated as 'holy war'. A more accurate translation would be 'struggle'. In the broader context, one of its meanings is a defensive war conducted within the limits of justice. It refers to the struggle to establish justice in the world and the struggle to surrender one's consciousness to God. The Quran describes jehad as a system of checks and balances, as a way that Allah set up to "check one people by means of another". When one person or group transgresses the limits and violates the rights of others, Muslims have the right and the duty to "check" them and bring them back in line.

Theoretically, Islam does not allow unprovoked aggression from its own side. Muslims are commanded in the Quran not to begin hostilities, embark on any act of aggression, violate the rights of others or harm the innocent. War is waged only to defend the community against oppression and persecution, because the Quran says that "persecution is worse than slaughter" and "let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression" (Quran). In stark contrast to the idea that Islam had theoretical injunctions to be spread through sword, the Quran says: "Let there be no compulsion in religion"

Today, the dangerous escalation of violence, especially in the form of suicide bombers, is a disturbing reality. Varied acts of terror suggest that Muslims are fanatics, terrorists and suicide bombers, and the Quran is their inspiration. This is far from true. The Quran forbids suicide. It says:

O ye who believe!...   do not  kill yourselves, for truly Allah has been to you Most Merciful.  If any do that in rancour and injustice, soon shall We cast him into the Fire..." ..." (Surah an-Nisaa 4:29-30).

'Suicide terrorism' is not a new phenomenon. It stretches back to the 'Assassin Movement' of the 11th century. Called the 'new propaganda' by its members, the Assassin Movement was founded by al-Hasan ibn-al-Sabbah, probably a Persian, who claimed descent from the Himyarite kings of south Arabia. Assassins conducted suicide raids on neighbouring fortresses. The modern-day suicide terror phenomenon surfaced with the appearance of the first suicide terrorists in Lebanon, more than two decades ago.

Today, there is a war on terrorism going on. In the fight against terrorism of all forms, it is important to understand its root causes.  We can only fight this horror if we understand its causes and motivations.

These issues are being blurred by anti-terror propagandists. What makes a person blow himself up in a crowd?  Is it just religious upbringing or being brain washed by fanatics with the promise of paradise in return for acts of martyrdom, or is it real economic and political hardship combined with mass alienation, tragedy and injustice?

Come to think of it, suicide bombing as a murderous phenomenon in Iraq began only after the American invasion and occupation which killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. And is the world not aware of the infinite injustice and suffering faced at the hands of US-backed Israel by the people of Palestine, exiled and condemned in their own homeland? So should we not turn the cliché of 'clash of civilisations' upside down and look for the deeper truth in the cracked mirror of modern politics?