Monday, July 09, 2007

Female suicide bombers

Those who would have us dismiss Islam from the motivations for terrorism are basically saying, Close your eyes. Everything looks better that way. It is deluded. However, it would be equally deluded to look only at Islam. I would hazard a guess that in most societies, the proportion of truly religious people (ie people for whom religion is the well-spring of their whole being) is more or less the same. For the rest, religion is either an irrelevance, a nuisance or a more of less convenient vehicle. Now it may well be that Islam is a more convenient vehicle for certain actions than other religions, but that still leaves the question of what is fueling the vehicle.

Judith Miller has an article in Policy Review about 2 prisoners in Israeli jails, both failed suicide bombers and both women. The first, Shefa’a al-Qudsi, made her assault on Paradise when she had a 1-year-old daughter at home. She herself chose the target.

“The guys wanted me to do the operation in Hadera,” she said, referring to another neighboring seaside Israeli town. “But I had worked for eight years as a hair dresser, often in Israel. I had some Israeli clients and knew Netanya like the back of my hand. There was a hotel there with a dancing hall, a beautiful place by the sea. A lot of Orthodox Jews live nearby; it was usually crowded. Because the Israelis demolished everything beautiful in our lives, I wanted to do the same to them."
She wanted to kill people she knew. As she explains it, her motivation would more than satisfy most commentators. The intolerability of life under Israeli occupation, the promise of a better future because of her "martyrdom", the example of Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber, and the arrest of her 15-year-old brother in another failed suicide operation.

Yet there was more.
I sensed that al-Qudsi’s motives were more complex, and as we talked, this seemingly determined young woman’s confidence flagged as she recounted her failed marriage and the other disappointments that made martyrdom so attractive. While all of her siblings had finished college, she had dropped out of high school at 16 “to marry the man I loved,” her first cousin. But Essam had humiliated her by marrying a Romanian while working in Europe and asking her for a divorce. At 19, she returned to her parents’ home, rejected, a single mother with dubious remarriage prospects. Essam eventually asked her to remarry him after his second wife left him and their two children to return to Romania, she said. But she refused, “as a matter of dignity.”
Now, she is optimistic about her future.
Given her sacrifice, she says, “many jobs will be waiting for me.” She may work in the part of the Palestinian Authority still run by Yasir Arafat’s Fatah, or at the “prisoners club,” which has paid her family 1,000 shekels a month since her incarceration — about $350 a month, not an insignificant sum in economically hard-pressed Palestine whose average per capita annual income is under $1,000. Her father has opened a new cafĂ© in Tulkarem. With her enhanced social status as a would-be shaheeda, she looks forward to working with men now, she said. “I’ve had more than enough of women in jail,” she laughed. But she does not want to remarry, to go “from one prison to another.”
Note that. The choices available to a young woman who has been abandoned by her husband amount to less than a hill of beans. The choices available to a woman who has tried to murder tens of people make her savour the prospects.

Then there's Wafa al-Biss, 23 years old, sentenced to 12 years behind bars for another failed attempt to kill Israelis. The Israelis she was trying to kill were (probably) patients or workers in a hospital that had saved her life, Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. She had been very badly burned in a freak cooking accident and had been treated there for 3 months.

When arrested and paraded before the media, she shouted, “I believe in death” and “I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews. Yes, even babies! You kill our babies!”

A bad case. The inevitable product of oppression. And yet...
...“I don’t care about Jews and Arabs,” she told me in the prison; she had never been political. Israelis at Soroka, where she had spent three months with her burns, treated her with “respect and dignity,” she said. “They had been very kind,” she said. “But I still wanted to kill myself.”
Where had she come from? Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, one of 12.
Her father was “primitive.” He rarely let her go out except to school or the mosque. He and her brothers beat her. She tried to throw herself out a window at age 18 [ie before her cooking accident], but courage failed her. “Islam says you can’t kill yourself. I was afraid of the shame for my family,” she said.
Then she got engaged, and then she got burnt. And her fiance left her, repelled by her disfigurement. The Israeli doctors recommended counselling, but
her brothers had objected: neighbors might think she was crazy, bringing further shame upon the family.
He wasn't the only one who thought it'd be better if she were in Paradise.
Security sources told me that soon after her arrest she told them that although her parents had initially disapproved of her mission, they ultimately encouraged her. The video she told me had been made in the Al-Aqsa safe house, for instance, was actually taped on the second floor of her own home, with her parents’ approval. Her own mother had helped her dress the morning of her attack. When the zipper of the explosive-laden pants tore as she was putting them on, her mother sewed it back up.
The central problem here is not so much Islam the religion as that of a failed culture, of which Islam is an essential part, and a completely broken society. Its structures are completely inadequate for the world around them and the 'natural' reaction to this situation is the death wish. It is all very well to blame the West for this failure, but that doesn't solve anything. A healthy organism reacts to threat by adapting and growing stronger to meet it. This society refuses to, or cannot adapt and turns on itself in fury. It demands what it cannot have, and when the demand is not met, finds its justification in and for death.

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