An often unrecognized problem that Westerners face in dealing with the Muslim world is the yawning chasm between Western and Muslim concepts of good vs. evil or honor vs. shame; where the same words mean very different things in the two cultures.
For example, there is no situation in Western culture wherein murdering one’s daughter could be a deed that brings honor to the family. In many Arab and some non-Arab Muslim countries, murder is what is expected of the father if his daughter is accused (merely accused) of pre-marital sex. The Arab family’s honor is restored by what in the West is a heinous crime. Such murders are far more widespread in the Muslim world than many are willing to acknowledge. They are known as honor-killings[i].
Similarly, martyrdom-via-suicide boggles the Western mind. Islamic law prohibits suicide; but recent judgments by leading Muslim clerics, although contested by some, state unequivocally that suicide bombings are a legitimate and laudable form of martyrdom in Jihad. They bring honor to family and community, and are seen as a courageous deed for which the deceased perpetrator will be rewarded with the Muslim jihadist warrior’s seventy-two dark-eyed virgin women when united with Allah.[ii]
Despite these examples of cultural chasms, it is still a surprise to the Western mind that motherly love, at least among some in the Gaza Strip, acquires a valence far different from that in the West.
Umm Nidal (her nom de guerre, lit. “mother of struggle,” her real name is Mariam Farahat), the Gaza mother of six sons, did not lament that three of them had died as suicide bombers. Rather she publicly rejoiced in their “martyrdom” and fervently prayed that the other three would follow the same path; after all, what greater joy can a Muslim mother know than living to see her sons blow themselves up while in the prime of their lives, taking with them as many Jews and other non-believers as possible?
To acknowledge her roll in raising sons with such a meritorious sense of duty to Allah and Islam, the voters in the Gaza Strip elected Umm Nidal to Hamas’ parliament, even though she has no prerequisites for public service.
To the present writer’s knowledge, there is no other culture in the world, or across all of world history, that so honors suicide and mass murder, and so thoroughly vitiates the most basic human instinct of a mother’s love for her children.
But honoring suicidal mass murderers is not new in Palestinian society. For decades prior to the creation of the Palestinian Authority (1993), Arafat honored suicide bombers with stirring eulogies and generous bequests to surviving families, as did other Arab countries and Iran.
Once the Palestinian Authority was legislated into existence by the Oslo Accords, Arafat, and after his death Mahmoud Abbas, named public places, schools, soccer fields, and summer camps in memory of suicide bombers in order to enhance the degree to which their “martyrdom” could inspire others to end their lives in a similar fashion.
There have been hundreds of suicide bombings since the Oslo Accords, most perpetrated by Hamas. Happily the majority have been thwarted by the IDF, but the worst and most infamous include the Dolphinarium massacre, killing dozens of young teens; the Park Hotel massacre with scores killed and hundreds wounded during a Passover Seder; and the Sbarro pizza restaurant massacre. Each became a source of rejoicing among Palestinians.
Most such attacks have been perpetrated by men, but women have come to play a surprisingly significant role as well. Arafat’s PLO, Hamas, and other terrorist groups lured young women in the prime of their lives into the strangely twisted psyche of the suicide bomber by offering them the opportunity, despite the fact that they are merely women and cannot fight as can men, to strike a blow for their people, their country, their future state, their religion, and for Allah. Arafat called Palestinian female suicide bombers his “army of roses,” and praised them and their families for their dedication and courage.
Chechen and Sri Lankan women were the first female suicide bombers, but the first Palestinian one was Wafa Idris, a West Bank woman who disguised herself as a doctor and used an ambulance to enter Israel from the West Bank and blow herself up in downtown Jerusalem, killing one and wounding scores. Arafat crowned her a hero and throughout the Arab world she was used as a poster-child to recruit others.
In-depth analyses of the phenomenon of the Palestinian female suicide bomber reveal the cruel and cynical strategies developed by Fatah and Hamas for identifying, approaching, isolating, and brain-washing young, depressed, self-described hopeless Muslim women, so they could be trained to carry out “martyrdom missions.”
Hamas and Fatah recruiters scout towns, villages and mosques, looking for women who show signs of depression. Such signs include a history of attempted suicide, confidential conversations with friends that reach Hamas or Fatah, a personal religious revival where a previously un-religious woman suddenly begins to frequent her local mosque, or confidential conversations with an imam who passes them on to the recruiter.