Saturday, February 06, 2010
Islam's stockpile of human bombs
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had promised his people and the Muslim ummah the ‘Islamic Bomb’. He didn’t live to see his promise fulfilled by a thieving AQ Khan. But given the reality of mutually assured destruction just in case someone is tempted to push the button, Pakistan has to perforce keep the ‘Islamic Bomb’ in safe custody, a useless totem of power. But there’s a far more easily accessible variant of the ‘Islamic Bomb’ which is used with sickening regularity by those who are thrilled at the sight of human gore and flesh, preferably that of women and children. It is called the ‘Human Bomb’.
Before Islamist suicide-bombers became dime-a-dozen, theorists would agonise over what made a man or a woman voluntarily pull the trigger of an explosives laden belt or jacket, thus blowing himself or herself up along with unsuspecting victims, for instance children in a school bus in Israel. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had perfected the art of using the ‘human bomb’, despatching young men and women to commit dark deeds of mass murder or targeted killings, as in the case of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. But the LTTE’s suicide-bombers were driven by ideology, no matter how twisted and perverse it may have been. The cadre followed the leader’s command, or were executed for defiance.
It could be argued that the Islamist ‘human bomb’ is equally driven by ideology — the ideology of hate which fuels jihad in our times. But that would be a simplistic explanation. Perhaps a more abiding reason could be found in the faith they seek to espouse through their ghastly expression of fealty to Islam. The Quran variously praises the “man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of Allah...”, men who “fight in His cause, and slay and are slain…”; it promises rewards for the martyr, “be he slain or be he victorious”. The Hadith (Bukhari) extols the virtues of the ‘martyr’: “I would love to be martyred in Al1ah’s cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.” That and the promised pleasures of zannat with doe-eyed virgins.
The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, a kindly man of wisdom with whom I had several enlightening conversations during my stay in Egypt, would often point out the fallacy of quoting scripture to justify terror, especially suicide-bombing. “Those were different times, we live in a different world. We must understand the text in its context.” Grand Sheikh Tantawy, despite heading Sunni Islam’s most famous theological centre and the world’s oldest surviving centre of learning, had nothing but contempt for those who sought martyrdom through terror. While preachers of hate like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who runs the most popular portal on Islam, have glorified suicide-bombers and exhorted followers to tread the path of violence as it leads directly to heaven, Grand Sheikh Tantawy has unhesitatingly described them as “enemies of Islam”.
Much as we would like the voice of Grand Sheikh Tantawy to drown the murderous discourse of lesser imams and self-appointed standard-bearers of Islam, unfortunately he and his tribe are in an awful minority. What prevails over the faithful who are easily persuaded by chapter and verse is the constant chant of the virtues of ‘martyrdom’, of becoming a shahid for the cause of faith: They are brainwashed into believing that the road to heaven is made shorter for those who “slay and are slain”, who are “martyred in Allah's cause”. Many of the suicide-bombers are illiterate or semi-literate, but there are also those who have not allowed their education to come in the way of their belief. Mohammed Atta, who flew a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center, was not educated in a madarsa, nor did Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian ‘underpants bomber’ who almost brought down a trans-Atlantic flight last Christmas, suffer denial and deprivation.
Yet, there is no single pattern or explanation to what drives men and women into committing a horrific act of self-destruction aimed at killing innocent people. Reem Riyashi, a 22-year-old mother of two toddlers, blew herself up at a check-post on Israel’s border with Gaza in January, 2004. It was publicised by Hamas as the ultimate expression of loyalty to Islam and sacrifice for the ummah. In a video tape recorded hours before she became a ‘martyr’ and which was shown on a television channel controlled by Hamas, she was heard saying, “I have always wished to knock at the door of heaven carrying skulls belonging to the sons of Zion.” Later it transpired Reem Riyashi’s husband had discovered that she was having an affair with a senior Hamas office-bearer. The hapless woman was given the choice of death due to infidelity at the hands of her enraged husband or death as a ‘martyr’ by becoming a suicide-bomber. She believed the latter would fetch her redemption in the eyes of god, her family and society; her children would respect her.
How, then, would we explain why an Iraqi mother strapped her unsuspecting little child with remote-controlled explosives and blew her up as she raced to collect chocolates from an American soldier who would visit the neighbourhood every day to play with the children? Or the sheer cruelty of a Taliban commander who trains young boys and girls to become suicide-bombers? The BBC recently ran the story of a 13-year-old girl who escaped from home, terrorised by the prospect of being turned into a ‘human bomb’. She told the BBC how her brother, who is a Taliban commander, trains ‘human bombs’, among them his own sisters. Nor is it easy to explain why Humam Khalid Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, an educated Jordanian who is believed to have been on the CIA’s payroll and was given the task of tracking Ayman al-Zawahiri, apart from being trusted by the Jordanian authorities, blew himself up at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan, killing seven CIA agents. His family had no clue about what he was planning to do; they thought he had gone abroad to study medicine.
Explanations are not easy to find for a phenomenon that defies logic. We are now told that MI5 has come across evidence to believe Muslim doctors who trained in British hospitals have returned home and joined jihadi ranks with the task of preparing ‘bosom bombers’ — women who volunteer to have explosives implanted in their breasts that cannot be detected by scanners and X-ray machines at airports. Technology and theory spun around a terrorist’s psychoprofile — there cannot be a psychoprofile to profile all terrorists — can help us only up to a point. Beyond that, it’s a grey area, a no-man’s land where logic is replaced by the illogical urge to die and destroy.
-- Kanchan Gupta.
[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on 07/02/10. (C) CMYK Printech Ltd.]