Suicide Bombers in Iraq
22 January 2014
I just finished reading an interesting, but ultimately disappointing, book called Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom by Mohammed M. Hafez.

I found it interesting because the subject of the book is how Muslims use violence to achieve their political and religious goals, which relates to the main title of the book, "Suicide Bombers in Iraq."

It was disappointing for a number of reasons, but primarily because I was hoping the book would say more on the subject of its subtitle: "The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom." So let's be clear about this from the beginning: the book is mostly about suicide bombers in Iraq, and not extensively about Islamic martyrdom. I guess I picked the wrong book!

Out of 285 total pages, only 38 are devoted to the topic of martyrdom. These consist of two chapters: "The Ideology and Theology of Martyrdom" and " Martyrdom Mythology in Iraq." I will now share with you some of the highlights of these chapters.
Ideology, religion and emotion can serve to deactivate self-inhibiting norms against murder and mayhem. These discursive ploys allow jihadists to appear as moral agents even when they are acting in immoral ways.... Terrorists are not abnormal individuals or psychopaths who lack morality and are bent on blood-letting. Rather, they are normal, ordinary people who are capable of selectively disengaging their moral codes in the service of inhumane conduct under certain circumstances or inducements. Just as soldiers can go to battle to fight and kill for their country, terrorists can engage in violence to promote a cause....

The most common [mechanism of moral disengagement] is the ethical justification of violence through resolution of moral dilemmas. Terrorists frame their conduct as a necessary evil to end social injustices such as economic exploitation, foreign domination, or exposure of one's religious community to deleterious influences. This form of moral disengagement does not deny that cruel violence is an undesirable aberration, but it frames it as a necessity to overcome a greater evil....

Another mechanism of moral disengagement involves exonerating comparisons. The purveyors of violence rationalize their actions by framing their violent conduct as a minor transgression compared with the cruelties the enemy inflicts on them.... The emphasis on women being mistreated, men tortured, mosques destroyed, and the Quran defiled is intended to reassure jihadists that their violence pales in comparison to the transgressions of their enemies.

Perhaps the most powerful mechanism of moral disengagement is the dehumanization of one's target. Recognizing the humanity of others, including enemies, can obstruct the perpetration of cruelties against them. Attributing subhuman qualities to others is one way to dehumanize them. Thus they fall outside the "universe of moral obligation and, therefore, are not deserving of compassionate treatment." The other is a category ... "apostates" and "infidels," "crusaders" and "Zionists".... The sharp dividing lines between "us" and "them" exaggerate the inability of conflicting parties to reconcile differences. This process is invariably accompanied by a devaluation of the other; we are separate, but we are not equal. "We" are morally superior even if temporarily weak; "they" are morally corrupt even if they possess all the power and wealth in the world....

Secularism divides the world into religious and nonreligious spheres antithetical to Islam, which is a comprehensive religion that regulates both matters of faith (ibadat) and social relations (muamalat). Furthermore, secularism violates God's sovereignty (hakimiyyat allah) by allowing someone other than God to legislate right and wrong, permissible and forbidden. Nationalism, in turn, fosters narrow identifications with language, land, and borders, not a broader unity among the community of the faithful and brotherhood of Muslims.... If Muslims were united in one entity they could counter the hegemony of the West and revive the glories of the golden age. Secularism, nationalism, and Shia sectarianism are instruments of this nefarious plot to divide and conquer Muslims....

In a document entitled "The Markers of the Victorious Sect in the Land of the Two Rivers [Iraq]," Abi al-Fadhl al-Iraqi and Abu Islam al-Ansari distinguish between "true" Muslims and all the other doomed sects. The victorious sect believes that
  • Legislation belongs to God alone. Anyone who rules or legislates on the basis of something other than what God has revealed in his book and the traditions of his Prophet Muhammad is a usurper of God's dominion and an infidel outside the creed.
  • [This infidel] must be fought, and fighting him is an individual obligation (fard ayn) of every Muslim.
  • Engaging in takfir (declaring Muslims to be in violation of the creed and outside the community of the faithful) is a religious imperative that must be exercised to protect religion and its adherents from error.
  • Individuals are considered infidels if they express or engage in major impiety (kufr kabir), even if they do not intend to be infidels.
  • Genuine Muslims do not support non-Muslims over Muslims because such action is a great impiety.
  • The Shia sect is apostate and an evil on earth.
  • Muslim lands that are ruled by un-Islamic laws are considered an amalgam of Islam and infidelity (diyar murakabah). In these lands, Muslims should be treated as Muslims and infidels as infidels. In other words, this land is not considered a house of war, in which everyone is considered outside the community of the faithful and, therefore, can be fought. Nor is it a house of Islam, in which fighting is not permissible and where non-Muslims are protected subjects.
  • Muslims do not participate in elections and do not enter parliaments.
  • Jihad is continuous until Judgment Day, either with or without a Muslim leader. Jihad is not merely a defensive struggle against invaders, but an aggressive striving to reestablish the Islamic caliphate and spread Islam to all of humanity....
According to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), one of the violations that puts Muslims outside the creed is giving support to unbelievers over believers.... In Islam, it is permissible for Muslims to kill apostates for abandoning the faith unless they repent.... An opportunity for repentance ... is possible when Muslims are in a position of power and control. Otherwise, apostates may be killed without being given a chance to repent.... Apostasy is a greater transgression than original unbelief, and the apostate is a greater enemy....

The Quran recognizes and venerates the martyr.... Since God commands fighting and recognizes and elevates the status of martyrs, how does one evaluate the permissibility of suicide operations? The major innovation of the jihadi Salafis was the notion of human intentionality. As they put it, there is a fundamental qualitative difference between the intention of a person committing suicide to kill him- or herself and one committing suicide to kill "enemies of Islam and Muslims." The former is a depressed person who has given up on life and cannot bear its hopelessness. That person's suicide is about escapism, the deviation of a weak mind.

Martyrs, on the other hand, are strong-willed individuals who sacrifice themselves. Whereas suicide is the pathetic end to depression and despair, martyrdom is a new beginning of hope and deliverance. Suicide is shameful and something to be discouraged; martyrdom is honorable and worth emulating.... Martyrdom is never simply for its own sake; its goal must be to raise God's word on earth and advance the cause of Muslims....

Mythologizing martyrdom is not about fabricating facts, but rather entails the invention of tradition by selectively highlighting some aspects of religion, culture, and history to frame contemporary self-sacrifice as part of the venerated jihad and martyrdom of the pious ancestors of Islam.... Martyrdom mythology also involves attributing to the "martyr" superhuman characteristics, including extraordinary devotion to God and religion, unselfish willingness to abandon material fortune and loved ones, ability to foretell martyrdom in dream visions, and astonishing success in killing the "enemies" of Islam....

The dominant narratives in insurgent videos, audio recordings, and online magazines revolve around three themes, which they often present in sequence, like a play in three acts. Act 1 depicts the unmerciful humiliation and suffering inflicted on Muslims in Iraq and throughout the world, suggesting a conspiracy by the Western "crusaders" to target Muslims and single them out for punishment. The second act shows the impotence of existing Muslim regimes and their collusion with the West, suggesting that they are not the true leaders of the Muslim world, but "servants of their Western masters." The final act insists on the inevitability of Muslim victory because pious and heroic cadres have stepped forward to redeem the suffering and humiliation of their fellow Muslims through faith in God, sacrifice on the battlefield, and righteousness in their cause. The three acts convey a crisis, a causal explanation of the crisis, and the solution to alleviate the suffering of Muslims....

Insurgents supplement their messages with culturally resonant themes as well as emotional imagery to reach out to those less committed to the cause and to demonize their opponents.... At the heart of the insurgents' mobilizing narratives is the theme of humiliation at the hands of callous and arrogant powers.... The suffering and humiliation of Muslims around the world are not unconnected, but part of a series of transgressions by the "crusader-Zionist" alliance against Islam and Muslims.... Thus, the insurgents are heightening the sense of threat facing the Muslim world to justify extraordinary measures to resist the manifest conspiracy against Islam....

In his last will and testament, the Saudi suicide bomber Abu Ans al-Tahami al-Qahtani wrote:
"Whoever looks at the condition of the Islamic nation will find it is torn asunder and its cuts bleeding in every place. There is the wound of Palestine for nearly 50 years; and there are the wounds of Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Indonesia, Philippines, and Iraq. We are immersed in our wants and desires while the sanctuaries are violated, the mosques demolished, the holy books insulted. I do not know how we are living inside ourselves; do these wounds pain us or do we not care?"
The struggle in Iraq is the central battlefield on which to fight the war against the enemies of Islam. Fighting in Iraq, in effect, is the same as fighting in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Muslim world. These are all one struggle, not many separate wars.... Victory in Iraq is victory in every Muslim land....

Jihadists in Iraq also rely on the theme of female dishonor and suffering at the hands of foreigners and Iraqi security forces to justify violence and mobilize people.... Insurgents undoubtedly are appealing to notions of masculinity that pervade tribal culture, in which sharaf (nobleness), 'ird (honor), and muruah (chivalry or manliness) are of vital importance. These notions of masculinity are often defined by one's zealous protection of and control over women so they do not risk straying in their relations with men and thereby bring shame to the entire family or tribe. Shame brought about by violations of honor and norms of decency associated with the separation of the sexes can impel the traditionally minded to engage in violence to redeem the honor of the violated female, including killing the "offending" woman. Failure to take vengeance raises questions about one's nobility and sense of manhood....

The first two themes (or acts) can be disempowering if not followed by the third theme of redemption and victory through martyrdom. Act 1 shows unbearable suffering and humiliation that has afflicted the Muslim world, and the second act portrays existing rulers in the Muslim world as impotent individuals who cannot reverse the suffering of Muslims. Act 3 presents the necessary solution for the salvation of Muslims around the globe. Victory and redemption come through faith in God and a desire to sacrifice in his path. An important part of the third theme is the mythology surrounding martyrdom and martyrs. AQI promotes the image of a heroic Muslim willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to redeem his nation and avenge the personal suffering inflicted on helpless Muslims, especially women. The propaganda surrounding the "martyrs" ... reveals five themes that make up the mythology of martyrdom:
  • Sincere devotion to religion;
  • Willingness to sacrifice one's wealth and personal ties for God;
  • Eagerness to carry out a "martyrdom operation";
  • Success in sacrifice operations;
  • Confirmation of martyrdom through dream visions.
Suicide bombers are portrayed almost invariably as genuinely religious people who love jihad more than they love life and fear God more than they fear death. The biographies often detail at length how the "martyr" used to pray incessantly and spent his time reading the Quran.... Suicide bombings can be considered martyrdom in Islam only if the individual bomber is a devout Muslim fighting out of faith in God and dying for his sake. One cannot expect to receive the rewards of martyrdom if he or she is motivated by something other than love of God and striving in his path....

AQI propaganda portrays the "martyrs" as people who have given up all things dear to fulfill a higher, more noble obligation: jihad and martyrdom in the path of God.... Perhaps the most powerful image is that of a father leaving his newborn child or a husband leaving his bride to fight and die in the path of God.... This theme of leaving behind one's family is repeated over and over.... These narratives are intended to set a new standard for heroism and devotion to the faith. It is not enough to be a good Muslim, pray regularly, and carry out one's ritual obligations. Even mere desire to join the jihad is not enough. One should exert as much effort as necessary to reach the land of jihad. These themes undoubtedly are intended to inspire others ... to abandon material wealth and join a more rewarding path in life....

Over and over the biographies of the "martyrs" declare that they are eager to die in the path of God and are frustrated when they are denied or delayed.... The theme of eagerness to die is intended to ... elevate the status of the suicide bombers to that of faithful and heroic martyrs fully in control of their choices and destinies.... Faithful Muslims do not fear death because they know what awaits them in the afterlife.... Martyrdom is a gateway to another life, not an end to life. Dying in the path of God will gain the martyrs all the rewards of martyrdom, including the following:
  • Remission of one's sins at the moment the martyr's blood is shed;
  • Immediate admission into heaven, so martyrs do not suffer the punishment of the tomb;
  • The privilege of accompanying prophets, saints, and righteous believers;
  • Marriage to heavenly maidens (houri al-ayn);
  • The right to intercede with God on behalf of seventy relatives;
  • Protection against the pain of death;
  • Entry into the highest gardens of heaven (jannat al-firdaous).
The bombers are happy because they are abandoning this world of disgrace and shame for one where they are venerated along with the honorable and righteous believers, enjoying for eternity all the fruits of their sacrifice....

AQI repeatedly conjures up the symbolism of the battle of Badr, the first major military confrontation between the Muslims of Medina and the unbelievers of Mecca, in 624 CE.... This battle exemplifies how a few believing individuals can face powerful enemies and prevail over them because of their faith in God and desire for martyrdom.... After the battle, they were assured that God was on their side and they should never question his commitment to them as long as they remained faithful....

One of the most cited Quranic passages in jihadist literature is verse 8:17: "So you slew them not but Allah slew them, and thou smotest not when thou didst smite (the enemy), but Allah smote (him), and that He might confer upon the believers a benefit from Himself. Surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing." The verse speaks of direct divine intervention as angels were sent from heaven to fight alongside the Muslims. This was God's way of showing his blessings to the faithful.

Militants frame their contemporary struggle against powerful enemies as part of the Islamic tradition of jihad and martyrdom by the weak against the strong, the righteous over the unjust. Had the first Islamic community succumbed to persecution, Islam as a world civilization would have died in its infancy. The dominant symbolism of this narrative is the defeat of unjust authority by dispossessed, righteous victims who did not recoil at the prospect of martyrdom and relied on their faith to help them triumph over a superior enemy....

One of the surreal aspects of the martyrs' biographies is the narration of dream visions.... The notion of visions (ru'yah) in dreams has symbolic weight in the Muslim tradition, especially when the recipients of these visions are devout Muslims. Visions in dreams imply that God is communicating directly with his faithful. In the Quran, God communicated with the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad through dreams. Dreams in Islam offer the faithful divine guidance, warn them of impending danger, and can foretell specific events. When facing tough decisions many Muslims today rely of a Prophetic tradition that urges them to say a prayer for guidance (istikhara) in hopes that God will reveal the correct choice in a dream.

The emphasis on bombers appearing in dreams is intended to assure future recruits that those who went before them were genuine and righteous Muslims who are still alive, in paradise, near God, who is "generous." These visions appear to confirm the Quranic verses: "Whoever fights in the path of God, whether he be slain or victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward" (4:74) and "Think not of those, who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision" (3:169). Dream visions allow jihadists to circumvent the fact that the living cannot inquire of the dead what life is like after they have died. Not only is communication with the dead possible through dreams, it is also comforting because the dead appear happy, calling on others to "come here."
In his concluding and summary chapter, Mr. Hafez highlights the importance of religious motivation in Islamic violence, but then turns right around and diminishes its importance by insisting that political goals are the overriding motivation. I was disappointed that he did not make the obvious connection between the religious and the political aspects of Islam.

Unlike most of the other religions in the world, Islam is not only a "religion," but more fundamentally it is a totalitarian ideology hiding behind a religious veneer. When the world opposed Nazism in the previous century, it could not be accused of opposing a religion. But when opposing Islam, whose totalitarian ideology is just as evil and satanic as Nazism, those in opposition are accused of being against an ancient religion that has as much value and validity as Judaism and Christianity, to which it is supposedly related.

Just as with other totalitarian ideologies like Nazism and Communism, Islam's ultimate goal is world domination and subjugation. Islam uses a religious façade to help mask this goal, and also to help achieve it. Therefore, its religious motivations and political motivations are inseparable because they are one in the same.

Even though Suicide Bombers in Iraq was published seven years ago, and some of its information is outdated, it is still relevant to today's world. In the last chapter, Mr. Hafez predicts that a new generation of jihadists will arise which will use Iraq as a base for global jihad and establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate. This seems to be unfolding right before our eyes. Just today I saw an article on the Atlas Shrugs Web site — Jihad in Iraq: Baghdad bomb blasts kill at least 26 — which reports:
In an extended surge of sectarian violence, 759 people died in December alone. More than 650 have died so far in January, said the AFP news agency. The violence has not reached this level since 2007, at the peak of sectarian conflict.... The bomb attacks come against the background of continuing violence in the western province of Anbar, where al-Qaeda-linked militants control the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi.
After some years of relative peace in Iraq, the jihadist started ramping things up last year. Now the deaths are at the same level as when Mr. Hafez published this book. But Muslim violence is increasing not only in Iraq, but at hot spots in numerous places in the world as well. Jihadists are getting emboldened, and are on the offensive. It will be very interesting, and scary, to see what happens at the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month — I really doubt that it will remain quiet and peaceful.

The global Islamic empire is coming ... your Islamic future is closer than you imagine ... and I think it is quite likely that Islam will win.