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Home > Culture and Society

Suicide bombers: a bit weird, frankly

20 August 2005

From the Western, liberal perspective, there aren't many benefits of Islamic extremism and largely random terrorism, apart from the fact that it's kick-started a massive industry: analysis of the causes of Islamic extremism.

Dozens of books like John Gray's Al Quaeda And What It Means To be Modern have been published, while the number of thoughtful Guardian op-ed pieces on the subject is probably running into the thousands. And on Monday we were treated to three solid hours of programming about terrorism in one evening, culminating in C4's intelligent and insightful documentary Witness: Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber.

However, among all the balanced and thoughtful comment, we felt the need to make a slightly simpler point: suicide bombing is fucking weird. Our carefully argued case is as follows:

1) This business with the virgins

Easily the weirdest of the beliefs of suicide bombers is the notion that they'll get 72 virgins once they're in heaven (not something that appears in the Koran, but it does appear in the other Islamic must-read, the Hadith). As is fairly well-known, this bit of rather raunchy scripture has been questioned. Themega-intelligent polymath Christoph Luxenberg has claimed that instead of virgins, the reward is 'white raisins' of 'crystal clarity', concluding that it's food and drink that is being offered, and not hot virgins. For linguistic reasons too complicated to relate, these 'raisins' translate as chilled drinks. (The damned get nasty boiling drinks - maybe Bovril.)

Chilled grape drinks? Somehow blowing yourself up doesn't seem quite so worthwhile for 72 bottles of Lambrini, or, more likely, Eisberg. In fact it makes the afterlife look like some dreadful office party. Let's just hope Allah isn't stingy with the twiglets.

Of course, it's easy to focus on the magical elements of Islam and forget that suicide bombings also have their roots in politics and - particularly as with Palestinians - desperation. And the whole issue of the virgins/grapes is open to debate. But in Witness: Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber, a couple of Palestinian suicide bombers were pretty convinced they'd have been getting their 72 virgins if their bombs had worked. As with so much of religion in general, the 72 virgins idea seems to be about what you choose to believe rather than any definitive interpretation.

Muslim clerics seem to be rather silent on the fact that the Koran's version of the afterlife is essentially a bloke's fantasy. And it's depressing to think that you could get killed or maimed because someone wants to get his leg over.

Which brings us to:

2) This other business of a big house in the afterlife

OK, it's pretty hard to get on the property ladder in the UK at the moment, but is blowing yourself up really the answer? One Koranic commentary states: 'The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: 'The smallest reward for the people of paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyyah [a Damascus suburb] to Sana'a [Yemen]....'

Cool. We'd definitely like to live there. Imagine 80,000 servants. You'd never have to eat sandwiches with the crusts on again. But what's terrific about the Islamic version of the afterlife is that it's so specific - and a bit bling. Blow yourself up, and you can live forever in Beckingham Palace, knobbing away for all eternity. Spiritual or what?

3) Not knowing which side your bread is buttered

There's a fundamental difference between the London bombings and the attacks on Israel. Without getting into the intricacies of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, it's pretty safe to say that if you're a Muslim in Leeds you haven't been shot, bombed or bulldozed recently.

But even if you're pissed off about Iraq, but isn't suicide bombing a bit of an overreaction? Especially considering so many Brits oppose the war. And if anything, the UK has been pretty nice to even the maddest of Islamic extremists. Take the 'hate' cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed.

His views on September 11 and the rest of the terrorist attacks are usually something along the lines of 'Good stuff!', and Bakri even described John Major as a 'legitimate target', urging people to kill him if they had the opportunity.

Yes, that would have been a fatal blow to Western civilisation.

However, perhaps the choicest comment from Bakri is not about jihad, but the DSS. Bakri once said:

'There's no contradiction at all [in signing on in the country you hate]. Most of the Islamic movement is on benefit.'

And Bakri should know: he's been signing on for 19 years. He'd better hotfoot it back to the UK from the Lebanon or he'll miss his signing on day. And this week the latest news on Bakri was that he's coming back to the UK for an operation on the NHS.

Far be it from us to criticise people for claiming benefits or using the NHS. And there's probably some sort of extremely tenuous argument to be made that if you're serving a higher purpose (ie. Allah), then your exact status within benefits system is not your greatest concern.

But on the other hand: what a parasitic, hypocritical twat.

4) Dumb fatalism

If there was a favourite cliché of suicide bombers, it has to be 'It is the will of God'.

It's the will of God that you detonate a bomb. Whether you kill one person or 100 people is up to God. If the bomb doesn't go off, it's the will of God. If you bottle it and decide not to set off the bomb, God has decided you shouldn't die that day.

Fatalism is pretty repulsive in all its forms. Sometimes it'smerely glib, eg. when it comes from The Unhelpful Friend: 'So you've been ditched by the love of your life? Oh well, it obviously wasn't meant to be.'

But in the context of mass murder it's the worst kind of abdication of responsibility. Fatalism doesn't wash in other areas of life, so why should it be a justification for something as serious as suicide bombing? Just try applying it to everyday life. You'd soon have no friends or partners:

- 'Yeah, I forgot your birthday. It was the will of God.'

- 'Yeah, I took £500 out of your account because God wanted me to go to a lap dancing club. I'm pretty sure it was God who put the idea in my head, anyway.'

- 'Sorry about coming in your mouth. God again.'

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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