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.
Once a target has been identified, a recruiter moves in, establishes rapport, and then with Machiavellian cruelty plays upon her depression to convince her that her situation is hopeless and shameful; so she might as well do something that will bring her and her family honor and glory by striking a blow against the Jews.
What he offers her, then, is redemption,[iii] a powerful palliative for the clinically depressed. Suicide, normally shameful and reprehensible, becomes in jihad a glorious way to end her seemingly interminable angst, with but a moment of pain, and then an eternity of bliss.
The depth of the depravity of such a callous manipulation of an emotionally damaged person is exemplified in some anecdotes of young women lured to their suicide by terrorist recruiters. Some were sexually seduced and then threatened with exposure and the shameful fate of an honor killing. Others were seduced into an adulterous situation after which the seducer-recruiter threatened to reveal her actions to her husband who would, undoubtedly, kill her. In one case the husband was complicit in the whole process, and actually drove his wife to the place where she blew herself up.
In Muslim Palestinian society, known for its fiercely strict patriarchal morality and brutally harsh misogyny, a woman’s options are limited; so much preferable is a death with honor than a death that brings shame.
The case of Wafa el-Bas illustrates how Hamas recruiters vitiated gratitude with hatred. El-Bas is a Gaza woman who tried to blow herself up and take with her the doctor and his staff who had saved her life only months before her attempt. Her body had been badly burned and her face disfigured in a home cooking accident. As a result, her fiancé rejected her. Despite her successful life-saving treatment at the Soroko Medical center in Beer Sheba, she became despondent and depressed about her future without marriage. Then the Hamas recruiters moved in. During interviews in jail after her failed attempt, one of her comments was: “I believe in death.”
What kind of psychosis erases the most basic of human instincts, the instinct for life itself, the instinct of a mother’s love for her children, or the instinct for gratitude to those who have saved your life? How are these basic human instincts for good transmogrified into evil?
The answer to those questions is horrifyingly simple: the ideology of Hamas.
The ideology of Hamas is unique in world history. Its sole defining paradigm is terrorism, and its uncompromising ultimate goal is the genocide of all Jews and the global supremacy of Islam. Like a venomous reptile, Hamas infects its Palestinian victims with its warped morality of “martyrdom” in which death is good, murder is better, and mass murder is best. Hamas justifies its cruel exploitation of its followers, and legitimizes its lethal pathological Jew-hatred, by means of a carefully contrived curriculum of hate-teach, hate-speech, and hate-preach that permeates the Gaza Strip like elevator music. Pace Hannah Arendt, there is no banality in this evil.
[i] For description and analyses of honor killings, see http://www.meforum.org/2067/are-honor-killings-simply-domestic-violence ; http://www.meforum.org/2745/problem-of-honor-killings; http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings; http://www.phyllis-chesler.com/915/honor-killing-threats-harry-potter-actress; and http://www.islam-watch.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=886 .
[ii] For accounts of this debate see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Istishhad ; http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/article/review/review-869-p71.htm ;http://muttaqun.com/suicide.html ; and especially professor John Esposito’s summary, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 142 ff, available on line at http://www.scribd.com/doc/76994209/105/Does-Islam-permit-suicide-bombers.
[iii] Despite the fact that female suicide bombers have grown in number over the last ten years, there is still no official Muslim religious ruling as to what reward in the afterlife awaits the Muslim female jihadist martyrs. What they would do for all eternity with seventy-two dark-eyed virgin women is left unexamined.
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