July 30th, 2007

Arab perceptions of suicide bombers: depends on the target?

Michael Barone has written a RealClearPolitics column about a series of worldwide Pew polls. Trends indicate that majorities in most countries express satisfaction with the quality of their personal and economic lives and dissatisfaction with the way their countries are headed.

One small and somewhat tangential detail of Barone’s column caught my eye, and that was this:

…the Pew Global survey showed sharply reduced numbers of Muslims saying that suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified as compared with 2002. That’s still the view of 70 percent in the Palestinian territories. But that percentage has declined from 74 percent to 34 percent in Lebanon, from 43 percent to 23 percent in Jordan, and from 33 percent to 9 percent in Pakistan.

That’s quite a trend. What does it represent?

My theory is quite simple: the targets of suicide bombings have changed since 2002. Back then, during the height of the Second Intifada, suicide bombings were mainly directed against Israel. Now their victims are mostly Arabs.

I’m unable to find a website detailing the exact figures comparing the demography of suicide bombing targets, then and now. And, of course, it depends on how one defends “suicide bombings.”

In a certain sense, 9/11 was a suicide bombing (or at least a suicide attack), but it’s not usually conceptualized that way. The term, and the public perception of it, is usually limited to the sort of modus operandi that was popularized by the Palestinians vis a vis the Israelis: explosives in a backpack or strapped to the body, or an explosion-laden car with driver still in it, detonated in a crowd of innocent people in a public or semi-public place, destroying both the victims and the perpetrator in one horrific moment of carnage designed to strike fear and trembling into the heart and mind.

Back in 2002 we were treated to statements by public figures such as Egyptian psychiatrist Dr. ‘Adel Sadeq, chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists Association and head of the Department of Psychiatry at ‘Ein Shams University in Cairo, who glorified the “ecstasy” of suicide bombers and praised them as a tool of the defeat of Israel (watch the video here to view Sadeq’s peculiar affect, and see my previous post about him here, containing a fuller transcript of his words).

That was then; this is now. Israel’s security fence is in place and has had its intended effect: a tremendous drop in the number of suicide bombings in Israel in the last few years.

But suicide bombings haven’t died out, to coin a phrase. Strangely enough, in a move that most did not predict back in 2002, their targets have shifted—not to Western nations such as the US or Britain, nor to Bali or Australia or other countries that have had isolated but well-publicized and horrific incidents—but to the Arab world itself.

In particular, Iraq has become the home of the suicide bomber, with Pakistan coming up behind. Apparently, old habits die hard—plus, of course, the logistics are easier. The intended targets are Arabs and Muslims, as are the perpetrators. This is Arab on Arab (and/or Muslim on Muslim) violence (not an unusual occurrence, historically speaking), and designed to further the political aims of factions in that world who don’t see their actions as a cause of possible Arab/Muslim backlash.

I have no way of knowing whether I’m correct, but I hope the results of this poll represents that backlash. It would be even better if the backlash extends to the use of suicide bombers as a tool against Israel and the US, although I very much doubt it.

[ADDENDUM: See also my post on suicide bombing: explanations vs. excuses.]

11 Responses to “Arab perceptions of suicide bombers: depends on the target?”

  1. Mike Sierra Says:

    Perhaps pedantic, but suicide bombings that take place in Pakistan are likely to represent “Muslim-on-Muslim” violence rather than “Arab-on-Arab.”

  2. neo-neocon Says:


  3. Morton Doodslag Says:

    This supposed rejection of “martyrdom operations” among some Muslims is not a sign of any progress within Islam. Nor do I believe it signifies any kind of “backlash” among Muslims against Jihadi violence. If the circumstances were changed slightly, and the exact same number of bombings had been conducted since 2002 but were solely directed against “infidels” — then the support among Muslims for suicide bombings would have increased, not decreased.

    The vile and violent religion of Islam sanctions these operations — in fact it mandates them. We must stop bailing out the Islamic world — we must stop allowing aid and goods and staggering amounts of unearned wealth to flow to them — we only fuel Jihad and the spread of Islam which Jihad is designed for. If Muslims were largely relegated to victimizing each other and murdering each other as they were prior to the West allowing millions of them to immigrate — their supremacist project of imposing Islam on the world would have little traction — and the Islamic world would return to the long slide into oblivion it was on prior to the discovery of oil.

  4. Nathan Prophet Says:

    Lifelong Republican; surrounded by conservative, so-called Christian types, Mom and Apple Pie, WWII; freedom; liberty, democracy for all! Yeah. Then, George W. Bush entered the scene. I’ve been a liberal Democrat ever since that idiot became President. He is a dummy and a war criminal. Hope you like him – he is ruining this country. Can’t wait until the Democrats take over.

  5. Sally Says:

    It’s a side point, but since it’s illustrated so well by Nate the Proph above, it’s worth making: I think what really brings out the trolls to this site is the fact that Neo has changed, from, as she says, being a “life-long Democrat” to being … well, a neo-neocon. This doesn’t just get under the skin of the left-libs, it strikes at their secret fear — that maybe the group-think herd-instinct they’ve relied on so long to feel good about themselves is starting to fail!

    And so you get semi-comical attempts, like Nate’s, to mimic the conversion in reverse, hoping to off-load his own anxieties. He’s no doubt lying about being a “Lifelong Republican”, of course, but what’s particularly choice is the way he runs down what he imagines are “conservative” themes, but are really just old and tired liberal stereotypes: “so-called Christian types, Mom and Apple Pie, WWII; freedom; liberty, democracy for all! Yeah.” Yeah!

  6. harry Says:

    I dont know Sally. I dont see any more future ex-neo-liberals at this point. If 9/11 wasnt enough to wake you up, you arent getting up.

  7. The other Darrell Says:

    Harry, it’s real simple, a hell of a lot of americans are going to have to die to turn around the Nates. 9/11 was not enough for them….

  8. Tom Says:

    Darrell, one cannot turn around the Nates. They all have tenure.

  9. ChrisG Says:

    While I was deployed to Iraq this year, my translators discussed an interesting view on Muslim reactions to Terrorism in general. For reference we had one of each: Shia, Sunni, and a Kurd. They, unlike their “leaders”, got along very well.

    It breaks down as follows:
    1. An Islamic Terrorist attacks Israel, America, or any “kuffer” (infidel) nation. The result is Muslims dance in the street (even within the countries that were attacked) and celebrate. This form of terrorism is “heroic” and “good” for spreading Islam through “jihad” according to Muslim countries and Imams, even if they somewhat “condemn” the attack. The more “infidel” women and children killed, the better for the firebrand Clerics.

    2. An Islamic Terrorist attacks Islamic targets (religious sites, markets, civilians) in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reactions vary from “well, it is the will of Allah that these people die”; to “these people were apostates for not helping us”; to “it is terrible that these people died, but it is not the fault of Islam, it is the fault of (insert whatever)”; to “no, it must have been the evil, all-powerful Jews and Crusaders that staged this attack (even after AQ takes credit)”. However, if the attack was Sunni against Shia, the Sunnis celebrate and vice versa. This form of terrorism, while not condoned, does not happen in most Muslim’s backyards so they let it pass.

    3. An Islamic Terrorist attacks ANY other Muslim country. The reaction is uniformly the same: “Shock and outrage”. We have seen what Muslim “outrage” at cartoons is like. The terrorists, if caught, will be executed or imprisoned for a long time (and not in nice places like GITMO). That is, if angry mobs do not tear them apart.

    Thus there are the three standards for terrorism approval according to Muslim Leaders:
    1. Terrorism vs Infidels is good
    2. Terrorism vs Iraqis/Afghanis is ok, but keep it away from other Muslim’s “backyards”.
    3. Terrorism vs any other Muslim Country is VERY bad and the terrorists must be hunted down and exterminated.

  10. Uhlenspiegel Says:

    It took two World Wars to democratize Germany. While the First War cost millions of German lives, the dying was done on French and Belgian soil. The war did not come really home to Germany. That was very different in the second War. The experience of War was felt by every single German. In some sense Germany was literally bombed into democracy. The fallacy of the alternatives could be felled every night and seen every morning. The consequences of violence as an instrument of domestic politics became obviously clear even the most ardent supporter of authoritarian regimes.
    Therefore I see the change in attitudes towards suicide bombings as an import step in the right direction. Like Germany, the Arab world will have to experience the horrors of its attitudes first hand to give real change a chance. That is sad for all the innocents that will suffer, but I believe it reflects the reality of the situation.

  11. Ymarsakar Says:

    It is very hard to change people’s opinions by rhetoric. It is easier to change them via pictures. But it is easiest to change people’s minds wiht experiences, backed up by pictures and words. It must hit home, not just physically but psychologically.

    People must understand that mistakes are mistakes; they cannot be allowed to find some self-rationalization or what not in order to claim it is not their fault or responsibility.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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