October 04, 2005

Death Had No Echo

In the comments thread below yesterday’s post on Lebanese martyrs, someone mentioned the “death cult” in the Middle East. Another person said he thought it was creepy that martyrs are celebrities.

I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t quite.

First of all, Rafik Hariri, Samir Kassir, and May Chidiac did not blow themselves up for glory. They were murdered and maimed by others, almost certainly by Syrian intelligence agents. The ever-popular phrase “death cult” was coined to describe troubled Palestinian teenagers who yearn for the respect of their peers through self-detonation and murder.

Second, Samir Kassir and May Chidiac were already celebrities before they became targets. Samir wrote for An-Nahar, Lebanon’s most prestigious newspaper. May was (and hopefully still will be) a talk show host.

But the biggest reason I’m not repulsed by this public display of anger and grief and remembrance is because it is very much the opposite of the way things used to be in this country. Thomas Friedman in From Beirut to Jerusalem explains how it was during the war.
It was the ever-present prospect of dying a random senseless death that made Beirut so frightening to me. Ever since the start of the Lebanese civil war, much of the fighting in Beirut has consisted of sniping or shelling from great distances; those doing the fighting often have no idea where where their bullets or shells with land, and they care even less. When car bombs came into vogue in the late 1970s, life on the Beirut streets became even more terrifying, since you never knew whether the car you were about to walk past, lean on, or park behind was going to burst into a fireball from two hundred pounds of dynamite packed under its hood by some crazed militiaman…

Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.

Hana Abu Salman, a young psychology researcher whom I got to know at the American University of Beirut, once did a project interviewing her classmates about their deepest anxieties. Among their greatest fears, she found, was this fear of dying in a city without echoes, where you knew that your tombstone could end up as someone else’s doorstep before the grass had even grown over your grave.

“In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” Hana remarked. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”
Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 4, 2005 01:13 PM
Comments

Michael,
You say:
“The ever-popular phrase “death cult” was coined to describe troubled Palestinian teenagers who yearn for the respect of their peers through self-detonation and murder”

You're right and I couldn't agree more with (most of) what you say...

Violent death might sometimes have “no echo”, but it always has ideological/theological underpinnings: and unless we fight the ideological root cause of violent Islamic fundamentalism, we’ll never win the war on terror.

Listen to the 9.00 PM Ramadan sermons on Saudi TV (they started today by the way) and you’ll see for yourself that Wahhabi-style thugs all look upon Moses (and not prophet Muhammad or Imam ‘Ali…) as their true role model for religious, ethical, and strategic behavior.

No wonder Usama Ben Laden calls George W. Bush “the Pharaoh of our time”, thus aping Old Testament Hebrew political metaphors instead of Koranic references- after all he could have cited the shah of Persia or the emperor of Byzantium who were personal enemies of Prophet Muhammad.

Interestingly, Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Yasin also used this Biblical Pharaoh parallelism when referring to Sharon and Begin…

In fact, Wahhabi/Al-Qaeda Islamic terrorists are modern day zealots: their mindset is clearly identical to that of Hebrew fanatics of the 1st century AD, and we must do with them what Roman emperor Titus did 2000 years ago with their sinister predecessors.

The Wikipedia definition of zealotry is excellent in many ways- check out link below:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zealots

“ Zealots were a Jewish political movement in the 1st century AD which sought to incite the people of Iudaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the country by force of arms during the Great Jewish Revolt (AD 66-70). When the Romans introduced the Imperial cult, the Jews had rebelled and been put down.

The Zealots were opposed to Roman rule and sought to eliminate it by violent means. Their activities included raids on Jewish settlements and eliminating Jewish collaborators, as well as inciting the Jews to fight Rome and each other if necessary. Josephus paints a very bleak picture of their murderous activities as they instituted a "REIGN OF TERROR” in the build-up to the Temple's destruction”

Posted by: Dr Victorino de la Vega at October 4, 2005 02:45 PM

Enough cliches about the "death cult". These guys are desperate. They have been occupied by the brutal and thuggish Israeli army for the last 40 years.
And I hate to bring this to you, but Friedman is not exactly an authority. He is a good story teller and he can entertain housewives and teach a few things to the average American Joe Six Pack, but as far as serious knowledge about the Mid East, I suggest you read some other books. I hope your stay in Lebanon will open your eyes about the region and you'll stop believing all the Zionist propaganda you must have heard on Fox News.
Welcome to Lebanon. I hope you'll be able to help your compatriots wake up and realize that their foreign policy has been kidnapped by a right wing necon cabal.

Posted by: Tarek at October 4, 2005 04:12 PM

Michael -

The Palestinian suicide bombers aren't yearning for respect through self-detonation. There are some more fundamental issues at play here.

Posted by: Lazarus at October 4, 2005 07:24 PM

It looks like our friendly left-twist "folks" have jumped right on in with and advertisment and absolutely no dialogue. Stale. Rehashed. Hash.

The perception and definition of "death cult" currently outweighs the "martyr" aspect currently when trying to compare the two. There is no comparison from a "Western" secular perspective of what a "martyr" is or isn't it's in their eyes they hold the definition.

I'll offer this thought though, what we see in Iraq headed by Z-man himself is the best definition of a "death cult" that I would wager that "most" of us would agree on.

Posted by: Rayr at October 4, 2005 08:06 PM

Michael,
You have to read this. It's too funny.
Talking to this idiot will just make your head explode. He's a dedicated fanatic.

http://nadz101.blogspot.com/2005/09/peoples-guide-to-anti-war-protesters.html

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at October 4, 2005 09:27 PM

Michael,
You have to read this. It's too funny.
Talking to this idiot will just make your head explode. He's a dedicated fanatic.

http://nadz101.blogspot.com/2005/09/peoples-guide-to-anti-war-protesters.html

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at October 4, 2005 09:28 PM

What death cults ? Just another simplistic, shallow and overused orientalist cliche. If you want to know the real reason behind suicide bombings, check out Robert Pape's book Dying To win, the logic of suicide terrorism. It's based on thorough research of suicide bombings throughout the world.
Enough with this "they hate our values" and "they love death" BS.

Posted by: Gene at October 4, 2005 09:54 PM

Another difference is the focus on death. The "death cult" the death is an end unto itself. The others the death isn't so important, its thier sacrafice. The distinction is that the with the latter, if death was part of it, so be it, but it was never sought after. In some cases death was imposed on them, in others the people accepted it and embraced it.

Take American history, Nathan Hale of "My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country". For moral relativist this is a "death" cult martyr - he willingly died for his cause and we revere him for it. To some point that's true (as is most of the moral relativist arguments - the distinction is why we do it, not the simple actions), but we celebrate the mans life, his ideas, and his commitment. We don't celebrate that he died, though that is what raises him from a talker to a doer. Nor do we tell our kids "Go get hung by the enemy, then you'll be great".

What you are describing is that difference. It's fairly obvious when people look, even the moral relativists understand this as they immediatly begin rationalising it before anyone has said anything. One side has kids playing "Suicide Bomber" and the other plays "soldier fighting for my country" (and you can bet that the latter almost never dies in playing).

Posted by: strcpy at October 4, 2005 10:17 PM

For some info on the "Dr"
http://64.233.161.104/search?q=cache:LueLDW8Gq7oJ:mideastmemo.blogspot.com/2005/09/dealing-with-iranian-shiite.html+Amaurot+victorino+de+la+vega&hl=en

That Osama Ben Laden and Sheik Yassen (who's had as much training on the Koran as Arafat did) say anything about the ancient Pharoh or Hebrew testament... is about as interesting and relevant to the "root" cause as the boxer brief debate.
What Violent thugs and murderers who use retarded kids to perpetrate suicide bombings or laugh about the towers coming down say about the ancient Pharohs or Hebrews nobody cares about.

The problem is while there are wrongs all over the world... the leaders in the Islamic world and the Islamic hierarchy have either - glorified, embraced or tolerated violent Jihad and suicide bombings... as long as its not against them... as Big Pharaoh has pointed out often.
As he points to the silence in the Arab media on the recent mass murder against the Shiites in Iraq.

Clinton said "if we take away the Israeli excuse they'll have to reform in the Arab world"

That the members of the 2nd uprising 2000 years ago were fanatics has about as much to do with a Palestinian or Islamist in Bali blowing themself up as global warming.

You're reaching for ancient interesting and trivial facts and asides is noted though.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at October 4, 2005 10:23 PM

I was the one who said death cult. Michael, go to the southern suburb, look at the thousands of photos of 'martyrs' that are displayed every two meters, and tell me if it is a cult or not. I disagree with you Tarek, and I still maintain the sentence. Even in the Warsaw Ghetto, you didn't have people blowing themselves, and God know that they had every reason to be desperate. Resistant in WWII wanted a better life in this world, not in another one. It’s not true that you don’t have anything to lose. You always the most important thing to lose: your own life.

Palestinians are oppressed and have the right to resist, but this resistance is original to say the least. And deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians are pure terrorism.

I was wondering if somebody was going to pop out this cheap orientalist defence. You're short of rational arguments? You have nothing intelligent to say? just say the magic word. , But whether you like it or not, there's a cultural difference here. You can hate this fact, but you won’t change it. The suicide bombings are something that is typical to Islamic societies, even if not all Muslims approve them. The Japanese kamikaze operated in a very different way for a short period of time: they only attacked military target and most were pressured to do so. And they were not religiously adored by the society. Funnily, two months ago, surviving Japanese kamikaze publicly protested against the use of the term Kamikaze to describe Islamic suicide bombers. They don’t seem to think that they have a lot in common with their Islamist version.

I have nothing but respect for Samir Kassir, but I am irritated with the 'martyr' qualification. I am fed up of seeing this word everywhere; it has become ridiculous, really. Glorify him for his life, not for his death.

And Michael you're amically warned: you're going to be invaded by Lebanese bloggers if you keep talking about Lebanon.

Posted by: Vox P. at October 4, 2005 10:49 PM

Vox -
So do you think they're unique to Islamic societies because of the culure or because fanatics can find legitimate cites in the Koran that justify it? As well as the fact that in most Islamic countries the Koran is more ever present in every day life, gov't etc.. than in the West.

There are those who say that the moderates can never take away the "Koranic" justification for it because it's in the Koran and the hierarchy of Imams at the top either condone or tolerate it?
Just curious.
Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at October 4, 2005 10:58 PM

Actually -

Suicide bombing is NOT an original Palestinian invention.

It is NOT an islamic trait.

There are SEVERAL books and research papers that deal with this. Pape is one of them. There is a new movie called "Paradise Now" that deals with the palestinian case.

Last ... but not least ... let's please hold onto the word "terrorism". That, like the word "martyr", is thrown around way too often.

Anyways ...

Posted by: Lazaris at October 4, 2005 11:26 PM

Vox Populi,

Yes, I have been down to Hezbollah land. (In April earlier this year.) I am going to go again. It is a very creepy place, like another country.

you're going to be invaded by Lebanese bloggers if you keep talking about Lebanon.

It has already begun. It's amazing they (including you) found me so quickly. I guess I can thank the Lebanese Political Journal for that. Thanks for the link LP!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 5, 2005 12:29 AM

The poster above who wrote "The suicide bombings are something that is typical to Islamic societies" has absolutely no clue. This a typical lieu commun which is completely false and shows prejudice. According to the American Political Science Review, (june 2004) 63 of suicide bombings that took place across the world in the past 25 years are the work of a marxist leninist atheist organization, the Tamul tigers. Its members are hindu born atheist. Among other stats, 84 of suicide bombers were humiliated by an occupation army and 25 % previoulsy lost a member of their family who was killed by the occupant. This is based on stats that cover more than 2700 suicide bombers. It certainly beats the outrageous generalizations of third rate orientalists. So Lazaris is right. The explanation is geopolitical and has little to do with "the Koran" or whatever death cult. This is what westerners who do not want to think say to feel better and justify foreign occupations.

Posted by: Deirdre at October 5, 2005 05:22 AM

I meant 64 and 84

Posted by: Deirdre at October 5, 2005 05:24 AM

PERCENT, the figure is not appearing when posting

Posted by: Deirdre at October 5, 2005 05:25 AM

I have to take issue with the statement that "In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television"

When I used to commute in Silicon Valley, my biggest fear was that I'd die in a car accident, and my eulogy would be a bunch of disgruntled commuters cursing my name for making them late. If you die in the middle of rush hour, forget about sympathy.

To Deirdre and others - Suicide bombing, or the tactic of slaughtering innocents in a homicidal/suicidal rage has been a favorite tactic of cowards, socially inept misnathropes and chuckleheaded nihilists since the beginning of time. So what?

On the other hand, when society celebrates this chuckleheaded nihilism and builds up an entire, weaponized culture around it as the Palestinians have, that society could be defined as a death cult. Or a failure. In any case, this "death cult" behavior appears to be influenced by the original death cult, the Wahhabis.

The Wahhabi tradition of targeting small children, slaughtering non-combatants en masse, plundering and destroying any structures or graves that they consider to be "idolotary" or un-Islamic, is a tradition that the Saudi-funded groups like Hamas and other Islamist groups have embraced. The Wahhabi ideals of literal belief in the Quran and Hadith and the establishment of a Muslim state based solely on Islamic law have been embraced by throughout the Middle East, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Europe. Wahhabis have bought most of the Middle East. I guess they get what they pay for.

Posted by: mary at October 5, 2005 07:00 AM

hey michael, just read the comment below about shukran/merci/stuff.
the thing is like someone below said, its about classes yes...but it goes deeper than that.
some lebanese refuse to be called arabs, and they call their language lebaneses, not arabic.
now, culture wise I see where they are heading, we have more cutlural similarity with europe than saudi, or most of the arab world.
frankly I have trouble understanding the dialects they use in iraq,saudi,algeria,morocco... I can catch a few words but most of it is giberish to me.
and its worsing now at the moment, since the arabs are kinda feared now, more and more lebanese are trying to pull away from them, just to not get associated as terrorists, if you know what I mean.

Posted by: Wissam at October 5, 2005 08:09 AM

Mike, I believe you can find anything in the Koran, you can justify the best and the worse, it's more about the state of mind of the guy who reads it than the Kur'an itself.

There are some surates that contain heavy anti-christian stuff. But some modern scholars (especially in Europe) are building a new theology that de-emphasize these parts and emphasize the part that respect other religions. Their audience is relatively limited for now. Anyway, it's clear to me that hundreds of years of theological interpretation must be rejected if you want to create a modern Islam.

Concerning the southern suburb, the place is definitely ugly, but I am obviously not blaming the inhabitants because they are poor. The Shias came to Beirut in dramatic circumstances. Nabaa or Karm el Zeitun (Christian) don't look a lot better, from an aesthetic point of view. But Dahye is like a foreign country to me, it's hostile, it says: you are not welcome. It might be a subjective feeling, but it's a real feeling nevertheless.

Posted by: Vox P. at October 5, 2005 08:51 AM

-- Mary you say:

“ In any case, this "death cult" behavior appears to be influenced by the original death cult, the Wahhabis. The Wahhabi tradition of targeting small children, slaughtering non-combatants en masse, plundering and destroying any structures or graves that they consider to be "idolotary" or un-Islamic, is a tradition that the Saudi-funded groups like Hamas and other Islamist groups have embraced ”

You're right and I couldn't agree more with (most of) what you say...

BUT, in the case of Wahhabism, you seem to believe in the pseudo-Biblical doctrine of “CREATIO EX NIHILO” dear to Billy Graham’s heart!

It is simply WRONG to pretend that radical Al-Qaeda type Islamic terror started somewhat “from scratch” in 1703 with the birth of a certain Sheikh Muhammed bin Abd al-Wahhab in the Arabian peninsula’s “Desolate Quarter” - the geographic location being in itself an ominous sign of his predestined malevolence!
;-)

“Wahhabism” is just a simplified/modernized (and thus more lethal) form of “Hambalism”, one of Islam’s four main theological and jurisprudential schools of thought (called “Mazâheb” in Arabic): the founder of that “mother of all death cults” was a fanatical Arabian preacher named Sheikh Ahmed bin Hambal born 780 AD

Interestingly, Sheikh Bin Hambal hated Christianity and other “Pagan” [sic] religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism…and was literally fascinated by the Old Testament and Jewish Law: he looked upon Moses (and not prophet Muhammad or Imam ‘Ali…) as the ultimate role model for “truly Islamic” religious, ethical, and strategic/military behavior- hence his praising acts of terror and guerilla tactics called “Al-Ghazû” against better equipped “Pharaohnic government troops”

Listen to the 9.00 PM Ramadan sermons on Saudi TV (they started yesterday by the way!) and you’ll see for yourself that Wahhabi-style thugs are the heirs to Bin Hambal born-again Hebrew worldview.

No wonder Usama Bin Laden calls George W. Bush “the Pharaoh of our time”, thus aping Old Testament political metaphors instead of Koranic references- after all he could have cited instead the shah of Persia or the emperor of Byzantium who were personal enemies of Prophet Muhammad!!

Posted by: Dr Victorino de la Vega at October 5, 2005 09:01 AM

Dr. de La Vega: “Listen to the 9.00 PM Ramadan sermons on Saudi TV (they started yesterday by the way!) and you’ll see for yourself that Wahhabi-style thugs are the heirs to Bin Hambal born-again Hebrew worldview.”

And do explain please how precisely Bin Hambal distinguishes himself from Muhammad in his basic ethics and 'thuggery-sensibilities'? Muhammad was a benevolent jew-lover himself was he? While those nasty thug Wahabbi's have merely taken a page from the hateful Jews themselves? I really am trying to follow your drift here Doctor...

Posted by: Caroline at October 5, 2005 05:19 PM

Yes, what to make of this character and what his 'info' has to do with the core issue both are still a mystery.
One thing is for sure Mohammed slaughtered a whole entire tribe of Israeli Jews with whom he grew up with in a town that was highly Jewish by the name of Medina. And if one was ever wondering why all the similarities of Islam to Judaism? Kosher - Kalal - Women covering themselves - fasting holidays - circumcision - burying your dead the next day etc....

Posted by: Mike Nargizianj at October 5, 2005 11:59 PM

Yes, what to make of this character and what his 'info' has to do with the core issue both are still a mystery.
One thing is for sure Mohammed slaughtered a whole entire tribe of Israeli Jews with whom he grew up with in a town that was highly Jewish by the name of Medina. And if one was ever wondering why all the similarities of Islam to Judaism? Kosher - Kalal - Women covering themselves - fasting holidays - circumcision - burying your dead the next day etc....

Posted by: Mike Nargizianj at October 6, 2005 12:03 AM

Don't try too hard to figure out "the doctor." He's a right-wing Lebanese supporter of Saddam Hussein. Not worth bothering with. There is no shortage of kooks in the country, and he happens to be one of them. The Lebanese bloggers I hang out with, all from different sects and ideologies, unanimously agree that he is an idiot.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 6, 2005 05:05 AM

Michael, before I read your comment about "the Dr" I was going to post that what he's saying doesn't jibe with my (admittedly extremely limited) experience, but that it doesn't seem so surprising to read this if you interpret it as "Wahhabism and terrorism are the results of the pernicious influence of (evil) Judaism - ie. Wahhabism is a Jewish plot" In the middle east there's nothing that isn't blamed on the Jews.

I used to joke that middle easterners blame the Jews whenever they can't get an erection - but recently someone I read someone claim that the big Mo (the prophet) actually blamed his own impotence on being cursed by Jews, so maybe my joke was too close for comfort.

If anyone can point me at a "Jews cursed my dick Sunnah," let me know.

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Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn