The big news in Sweden on the 10th day of the war against Iraq was a suicide bomber. One suicide bomber had killed 4 British soldiers when he waved them to a cab, asked for help and then detonated the bomb.
We get â€œexpertsâ€ on Swedish television to comment about this â€newâ€ phenomenon not yet seen as â€œpart of the Iraqi cultureâ€. Journalists tell that thousands of suicide bombers have been parading in the military marches with bombs tied to their bodies. On the top of all that, Saddam Hussein has given the suicide bomber high ranking military titles and declared that he is a martyr and a hero.
The next day the news is still hot; even though there is still only on one confirmed occasion a suicide bomber has actually intervened in the war. The newspapers tell stories about the kamikaze pilots during the Second World War, old photographs of suicide bombers posing before going to battle are published and the 9 oâ€™clock news tells us that Islamic Jihad are sending suicide bombers to kill Americans and British. One bomb â€“ and a thousand news stories have exploded.
So what is the big deal? What makes suicide bombers so mysterious, what makes them become so mythical? Is it the fact that they are willing to risk their lives for a cause, that they actually know that they are going to die, that they look impressive with all the bombs tied to their body or that they are terrorists that kill civilians? I think the big deal is that weâ€™re told by a cluster of news stories that we should think that it is a big deal. Weâ€™re told to be horrified and alienated â€“ told to think that it is extraordinarily strange.
Could the suicide bomb issue become something that makes public opinion change? As the issue of violence, the issue of suicide bombers can create division among people and movements that are far from the area were things are happening and that have â€“ objectively â€“ more that unites them than that divides them. So many times I have listened or held seminars on Palestine and that questions comes up and divides. Should we support them, understand them, condemn them? And, are they all the same? Can we talk about suicide bombers as a unity, so that we then can put them on a scale somewhere in-between terrorists and martyrs? Should we?
I think of Palestine. There I came as close to a suicide bomber as I would like to be. An older man that had become a friend and a comrade told me that his son was a suicide bomber. My first very spontaneous question was about his feelings. He told me with grief in his eyes that he is both a father and a Palestinian father. The Situation creates this, he told me.
The Situation means curfews that can go on for weeks; it means roadblocks everywhere, 100% unemployment, and fear and constant harassment. Very much like the situation must be in Iraq now, adding the bombs over Bagdad, Basra and the other cities. The fear and desperation must be even worse. The same Situation the Palestinian father talks about must be formed in Iraq as well.
So, if it is the circumstances that creates suicide bombers, desperation and not culture, how can it becomes such a big issue? Often right wing opinion makers want it to become a big deal to illustrate what they see as a cultural difference. They want to create a notion of the other, the fundamentalist in contrast to the civilised world. The empire in the west is proclaimed normal in an equal fundamentalist way. The title of Tariq Alis book gives us an insight â€“ the Clash of Fundamentalisms.
Sometimes activists can act as fundamentalists as well. In this case I talk about a will to understand the other, and in the name of this will, the political analysis is deleted and the political context is erased. Suicide bombings is not a mere act of despair and itâ€™s not only a culture phenomenon that we can observe and feel â€“ we have to try to analyse as well.
To understand an act of desperation is easy, as easy as condemnable, because a war is not a game of feelings but a game of strategic alternatives and tactics. So the difficult question is; can we understand the act of suicide bombers as a political act? I would say we can and we should, which implicates that we also analyse and take political positions.
In Palestine the big political division is between the Islamist groups like Hamas and Jihad that make suicide bombers everywhere and secular groups like PFLP and DFLP that only make suicide attacks on occupied territories, but also accepts attacks on military target outside the West Bank and Gaza. The strategy of the left wing fraction is to make the Israelis feel unsafe in occupied territories. Which also can be seen as correct as an occupied people have the right to fight the occupation. Striking everywhere, making the Israelis feel equally unsafe in Israel as in Palestine is something else. That is the case of a racist state like Israel occupying Palestine since 1948.
Iraq is something else; there are no occupied and non-occupied territories within Iraq. You have the Iraqi people that have been oppressed by their own leader Saddam Hussein, and the same leader has oppressed the kurdish people, but still you donâ€™t have the same situation. There is nowhere a suicide bomber could detonate in a civil area killing British or American women and children. In Iraq American and British occupation forces occupy territory, which makes them military targets. And occupied people have the right to defend themselves.
A suicide bomber in Iraq is somebody that is willing to risk his life for a cause and that knows that he most probable will die in the attack, but will kill enemies on his way to death. To me it sounds very much like a soldier. I canâ€™t see why an attack against 4 British soldiers is called terrorism while bombing a market killing 62 civilians is called something else. Is it that the ones on the other side are called intihar (arabic for â€œsuicide bomberâ€) in contrast to â€œour boysâ€ fighting a war while the others fight jihad?
Is it Islam that makes the difference, creating the mythical and mysterious feeling, the culture and religion that supposedly surrounds it? That they say Inshallah on television often, that the suicide bomber is now rebaptized to Ali the shahid, martyr, who knows he will come to paradise, to the seventh level, al firdus, where only holy men and martyrs go.
That they say words that we have learnt not to like, like fatwa and jihad. While it is suddenly perfectly normal for a secular population as the Swedish to hear â€œGod Bless Americaâ€, and not being bothered by words like â€œorderâ€ or baptizing wars to â€œIraqi freedomâ€. Or having governments accepting that the US is making this war to liberate the Iraqis and give them democracy having â€œGod on their sideâ€.
What is the large difference between Iraqi freedom and Jihad? The 25 years of technological retard for the ones making Jihad? And if praising suicide bombers is part of Iraqi or Islamic culture, is then tying a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree part of western culture? And what makes a story about young Palestinians going to Iraq to fight the US so horrible and the story about the American selling his company off after 9/11 2002 to join the army so heroic?
I must say that I feel alienated to all such acts and I donâ€™t think that generalising about so-called cultures will make our thought richer. Maybe we donâ€™t have to try to understand, feel or measure sympathy for everything bizarre going on in the war. We do need to keep feelings apart from political analysis.
Keeping Arundathi Roys fantastic words in mind that â€œthe world do not need to choose between a Malevolent Mickey Mouse and the Mad Mullahsâ€, we should say what nobody else says. We should claim that killing 4 British soldiers with a suicide bomb is less terrorist than bombing civilians without being afraid of becoming in favour of suicide bombers.
And we should say it is wrong that civilians are killed readily with the excuse that they might be suicide bombers. And we can deny the importance of culture and deny the existence of an Islamic or a western culture that are imperative in the decisions taken on battlefield. That doesnâ€™t make us cold-blooded â€“ on the contrary.
My thoughts go back to Palestine, and my chat with a father to a suicide bomber. I remember one day going to a popular committee in Ramallah with him, on the way he pointed out his son on one of the many martyr posters on the walls. Did he belong to Hamas, I heard myself saying with my always so expressive face and voice; you didnâ€™t raise him to become a socialist? It was impossible not to notice my dislike for Hamas. Well, he told me, in a democracy everyone can choose for himself or herself. But if it was not for the Situation he would probably have finished university. I could see the deep sorrow in his eyes.
Now it is Easter and on tv they say that the war is over. I wonder how many women and men willing to risk their lives are being formed these days, in the midst of lack of water, food, electricity, endless bombings and infinite real images of wounded and dead bodies. Israel will shut down Westbank and Gaza during Easter, to prevent suicide bombers. I can see roadblocks in the pictures from Iraq, people harassed when they want to go to another part of town or to another town. 10 people killed in Mosul when American soldiers shot at a demonstration. In Palestine two ISM-activist have been killed in less than one month.
I think of the situation created in Iraq now. I see a new Palestine. If people are not allowed to participate in decision-making, if they don´t decide over their own movement and their own water there will never be democracy. Palestine is occupied, and Israel controls the water,
Iraq will soon be â€œfree and democraticâ€ but water is already sold to a transnational company. Can TNCs occupy countries? Can TNCs create desperate situations? We have to fight the Situation. Right now that means to fight the war, and then it is to fight poverty and social injustice, cause as long as there is a material base to enrol soldiers and suicide bombers the clash of fundamentalisms will be mortal.