Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Death Of Suicide Bombings?

Ronen Bergman, a correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, has an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times where he claims:
Seven years after 9/11, it may well be that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of suicide terrorism and a shift toward advanced technologies that will enable jihadist bombers to carry out attacks and live to fight another day.
Apparently, from an Islamist perspective the very existence of an option for carrying out terrorist attacks that do not require them to give up their lives would render suicide bombings forbidden:
This turn to technology, however, is not devoid of religious aspects: although dying in battle is undisputedly holy, many scholars claim that any intentional taking of one’s own life is forbidden, thus outlawing suicide attacks altogether. Even religious rulers who endorse suicide attacks consider them to be a last resort, to be used only when all other means are exhausted.

“Martyrdom operations are legitimate, and they are among the greatest acts of combat for Allah’s cause,” said Bashir bin Fahd al-Bashir, a Saudi preacher and one of Al Qaeda’s most popular religious authorities, in a recent sermon. “But they should not be allowed excessively. They should be allowed strictly on two conditions: 1. The commander is convinced they can definitely inflict serious losses on the enemy. 2. This cannot be achieved otherwise.”

The meaning of such dictates is clear: carrying out suicide attacks when there are alternatives that would allow the bomber to survive should be considered “intihar,” the ultimate sin of taking one’s own life without religious justification.

Bernard Lewis, in The Crisis of Islam, questions what these religious authorities have been saying till now about suicide bombings:
All these different extremist groups sanctify their action through pious references to Islamic texts, notably the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet, and all three claim to represent a truer, purer, and more authentic Islam than that currently practiced by the vast majority of Muslims and endorsed by most though not all of the religious leadership. They are, however, highly selective in their choice and interpretation of sacred texts. (p. 138)
Up until this point, these same authorities who are advocating the use of new technology have been out on a Koranic limb in permitting suicide bombings, according to Lewis:
Those who are killed in the jihad are called martyrs, in Arabic and other Muslim languages shahid...The Arabic term shahid also means "witness" and is usually translated "martyr," but it has a rather different connotation. In Islamic usage the term martyrdom is normally interpreted to mean death in a jihad and reward is eternal bliss, described in some detail in early religious texts. Suicide, by contrast, is a mortal sin and earns eternal damnation, even for those who would otherwise have earned a place in paradise. The classical jurists distinguish clearly between facing certain death at the hands of the enemy and killing oneself by one's own hand. The one leads to heaven, the other to hell. Some recent fundamentalist jurists and others have blurred or even dismissed this distinction, but their view is by no means unanimously accepted. The suicide bomber is thus taking a considerable risk on a theological nicety. (p38-39 emphasis added)
Having now bypassed the issue of suicide, there still remains a question of sharia that these same 'religious authorities' seem to ignore:
Because holy war is an obligation of the faith, it is elaborately regulated in the sharia. Fighters in a jihad are enjoined not to kill women, children, and the aged unless they attack first, not to torture or mutilate prisoner, to give fair warning of the resumption of hostilities after a truce, and to honor agreements.
Unfortunately, Lewis does not give a source for where Muslims are enjoined to 'honor agreements'. Pity.

Even assuming the focus turns from suicide bombings to more technologically advanced methods, certain religious issues supposedly remain according to Lewis.
...The medieval jurists and theologians discuss at some length the rules of warfare, including questions such as which weapons are permitted and which are not. There is even some discussion in medieval texts of the lawfulness of missile and chemical warfare, the one relating to mangonels and catapults, the other to poison-tipped arrows and the poisoning of enemy water supplies. On these points there is considerable variation. Some jurists permit, some restrict, some disapprove of the use of these weapons. The stated reason for concern is the indiscriminate casualties that they inflict. [emphasis added]
Of course, these days, the concern of Islamist religious authorities about indiscriminate casualties centers on whether there is enough!
At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point--as far as I am aware--do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.
Sometimes you have to wonder if Bernard Lewis is reading the same texts that the Islamists are. This supposed theological wrangling by these imams seem to be more just rubber stamping than anything else.

In any case, the fact that Islamist terrorists are moving away from suicide bombings is a two-edged sword according to Bergman:
The good news is that suicide bombing seems to be on the wane. The bad news is that Western forces will almost certainly face a new breed of highly educated Qaeda terrorist.
Unqualified good news is hard to come by in the Middle East.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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Anonymous said...

Bernard Lewis has done incalculable harm by his influence on both policy and impressions of the general public regarding Islam and the war on terror. One of my least favorite writers ever. He's just so wrong about so much.

Daled Amos said...

I've seen Andrew Bostom criticize Lewis on the way he downplays the Muslim attitude towards 'dhimmis' in general and Jews in particular--but I don't know that Bostom criticized him across the board.

Were there other areas you had in mind?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I am not sure these good news from NUT is not just more of typical NYT wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

Daled, the excerpts you've quoted are examples of Lewis' consistent misrepresentation of the true nature of Islam, particularly its teachings about nonMuslims, and this is no minor or pocket area of disagreement w/Lewis, since given that Islam is very much a political ideology, an entire relio-socio-political worldview, Lewis' errors do have across-the-board, as you say, implications.

His erroneous teachings about Islam have been part of the basis for or at least largely contributed to the moderate vs extremist paradigm that's (1) so influenced our flawed and failed neoconservative foreign policy re: the WOT and Middle East, and (2) misinformed the general population about the threat of Islam, thus anaesthesizing the masses that are so critical to success on the WOT, and consequently lulling us into complacency (or worse: supporting dhimmi policies and attitudes) while the stealth jihad encroaches.

I've seen a few good critical articles on Bernard Lewis in The Iconoclast blog of The New English Review that could probably be pulled up in a Google search, but here's a recent (Aug 25), though brief, one:
Bernard Lewis, Clinging to a Dream"

Daled Amos said...


Apropos of what you write about Lewis' bias, I found the following that contradicts what he claims to be the general Islamic opinion on women and children in time of war.

Raymond Ibrahim, editor of The Al Qaeda Reader, writes:

For instance, based on the words and deeds of Muhammad, most schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that the following are all legitimate during war against the infidel: the indiscriminate use of missile weaponry, even if women and children are present (catapults in Muhammad’s seventh century context; hijacked planes or WMD today);

Of those last 2 examples, Lewis will say that extremists are behind the second one--but I don't know how he would respond to the former one.

Anonymous said...

"Prooftexting," Daled, that's how Lewis responds to such accusations that Islam (not just Islamists like Zawahiri) allows for the killing of women and children, torturing, breaking agreements, etc. Lewis lifts out of context parts of the Quran, Hadith, and Sira that seem to support his position if read in isolation, rather than in context.

The Quran must be read in the light of Sunnah, otherwise it can be made to support any position.

Gary Baumgarten said...

Ronen Bergman will be my guest on News Talk Online at 5 PM Wednesday September 17.

To talk to Bergman please go to and click on the Join The Show link. There is no charge.