Monday, October 09, 2006

Few personal notes on the making of suicide bombers

Much has been written and said about the phenomenon of suicide bombing recently, and though only recently launched, the Tharwa Commentary could not but address the issue. For this reason, I thought, it might be useful to share the following thoughts with a wider readership in order to shed some lights on this important phenomenon, which I primarily view as being quite psychological in nature.

Indeed, spoken as a former Muslim extremist, I think I can probably contribute a few personal insights into the making of the would-be suicide bomber– the fate that I was lucky enough to elude.

The disaffected, the maladjusted, the alienated, the outcasts, the neglected, the oppressed, the maltreated and the marginalized, who come from a certain community, will always find ways and means derived from the basic traditions of their community to express and vent their frustration. People always feel the need to justify and legitimate their actions to others, especially when their actions come to disrupt certain accepted norms, or fly in the face of accepted values. It’s no surprising that the first thing they would do in this case is to look for whatever precedent, quotes or duly forgotten and neglected aspect of the common faith and traditions and use that to justify their actions.

Once such internal modes of justification are absent, or, once they prove insufficient, they would then turn to external sources, or invent their own arguments. The absence of justification will not cancel out their desire to rebel, reject and protest. The desire, the readiness and the willingness come first. Then comes the justification.

The process is not always so well-thought out, intentional and willful of course, but it is all too real and, to me, quite familiar.

Naturally, the reasons for the disaffection, maladjustment and resentment differ from one person to another, but there are several traits that are quite common to all: jealousy, covetousness and a desire to belong, to be accepted, and to shine.

We (if I am allowed a momentary lapse into my old frame of mind) want what others have, that sense of empowerment they appear to have, that sense of ownership over the world. We say that we rebel against injustice, and perhaps we do, but only in part, the other part side of our rebellion is our desire to trade places with our oppressors and become ourselves the oppressors. Hence the violence we are willing to reek upon the world. And hence our animosity towards the US, the most powerful country in the world. The fact that it has interests in our region and that it is often willing to pursue them even at the expense of our basic rights sometimes is an additional, albeit important, element behind our hatred. But the willingness to hate America because it is powerful is far more guttural really.

But, even in the Brotherhood of the Faithful, as the disaffected will soon find out, to their utter horror and dismay sometimes, there is still a lot of room for disdain, ostracism and stratification. One’s position is not always so empowering and does not always mean that one can be part of the inner circle where all the important decisions are made. Transparency is almost completely absent here, despite an occasional, and necessary, show at consultation of the wider membership, a fact that is justified on the not so unusual grounds of necessity and security. After all most circles are either being hunted down or operate under severe restriction and duress. Yet, and while this justification is accepted by many, the same people who would not accept such a justification when deployed by the ruling regimes, others will still seek a greater access into the decision-making circle, or they will opt to form their own circles which may or may not continue to remain affiliated with the original circle. Interrelations are not always that friendly either, and mutual recriminations are more the norm than the exception.

But radical groups have a heightened sense of danger and purpose, this allows for the adoption of certain transitional arrangements where focus of all cells remain focused on the external enemy, most of the time.

Once violence is adopted by a group of the disaffected as a legitimate means to express frustration and deliver the message, violence becomes also a way for one to gain greater legitimacy and credibility and move up the ranks within the group. The greater the disaffection, the greater the violence and the nihilism involved. Living in this world is the closest thing to a worldly Paradise the believer can ever have. To most, this will satisfy and suffice. The risk and hardships involved will only sweeten the deal by serving as a further evidence that salvation and purification are actually being earned with every passing moment, regardless of how mundane the effort is. Even the simple (or usually simple) act of defecation becomes actually “holy” here, not only because one has to observe the usual rituals and ablutions involved, but because the entire context is now holy.

Living as part of the Brotherhood is like living on the periphery of the real heavenly Paradise itself, you can smell the scent of it on almost daily basis, and the yearning for final acceptance will only grow with every passing day.

But and for the more idealistic members, the fake nature of it all, is bound to strike them sooner or later, the contradictions between the more criminal aspects of the entire enterprise, in which most other members will revel, and their romantic notions and desires will continue to haunt them, until they either lead them out, or further in.

The first alternative is the more difficult one, of course, as you end up losing everything, with no guarantees that the real world, which you so willingly abandoned at one point, will be so welcoming and accepting, or that you can adjust to it somehow this time around. But in order to have the luxury of even contemplating such an option, luck and time are needed. Yet often, time and luck are but luxuries which many the many young jihadis are deprived.

This brings us to the second path, the path of martyrdom through the suicide attack. For, in order to move further in, and the talk here is about the condition, the mental framework and the frame of mind that lead one to this path to begin with, not the group as a structured entity, one has to become a more perfect embodiment of the ideals one’s preach, but necessarily practice.
For, one might be dejected with oneself as well, and this is not to be taken lightly as a factor. Sexual urges, for instance, will continue to bedevil one, and no matter how many ways the jihadis find to accommodate this within the limits of the Sharia, sinning, in one’s mind and heart at least, is all but unavoidable, and the weight of this sin within the holy context in which one now lives, is that far more heavy. Reconcile yourself to dying through a suicide operation though, and the whole burden might seem a bit lighter for the interim.

A martyr is often then, but not always, an individual who is dejected with the very cause he espoused and the very people with whom he threw his lot in this world, and often, he is dejected with himself as well. But his desire to commit this ultimate act of "sacrifice" is not necessarily fueled by despair and guilt. More often, hope plays a more motivating role, hope that through this act (and only through this act for those driven by guilt) one can actually cleanse himself, cross that bridge and earn entry into the real Paradise, where one's belonging is eternal, and, more importantly perhaps, unconditional. Well, at least, once you are in.