Support for Suicide Bombings on Decline

The idea that strapping a bomb to someone so that he may enter a marketplace crowded with unarmed civilians and blow himself up is so disgusting to me that I have never understood how any person of any faith could possibly support it. Innocents are harmed, maimed and killed -- many of whom may have no part in the underlying conflict other than living on the wrong side of town. There seems to be few acts of cruelty that can compare when considering the random nature of the people killed and the extent of the harm inflicted. Yet, I have been surprised that many in the Muslim world have either supported or, at minimum, said nothing against this horrendous tactic.

Now, however, good news seems to be developing in the Muslim world: public opinion amongst people of the Islamic faith is turning against suicide bombings as an acceptable tactic. According to A Rising Tide Lifts Mood in the Developing World there has been a sharp decline in support for suicide bombing in most Muslim countries. The most major exception? The Palestinian territories.

Among the most striking trends in predominantly Muslim nations is the continuing decline in the number saying that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are justifiable in the defense of Islam. In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who view suicide bombing and other attacks against civilians as being often or sometimes justified has declined by half or more over the past five years.

Wide majorities say such attacks are, at most, rarely acceptable. However, this is decidedly not the case in the Palestinian territories. Fully 70% of Palestinians believe that suicide bombings against civilians can be often or sometimes justified, a position starkly at odds with Muslims in other Middle Eastern, Asian, and African nations.

The decreasing acceptance of extremism among Muslims also is reflected in declining support for Osama bin Laden. Since 2003, Muslim confidence in bin Laden to do the right thing in world affairs has fallen; in Jordan, just 20% express a lot or some confidence in bin Laden, down from 56% four years ago. Yet confidence in bin Laden in the Palestinian territories, while lower than it was in 2003, remains relatively high (57%).

This is a mixed bag of news. The fact that support for these heinous attacks is down significantly (40% in Lebanon!) is great news. But the data also shows that in most Muslim countries between 18 and 26% of the population remains supportive of suicide bombings as justifiable in defense of Islam. That's between 1 in every 6 and 1 in every 4 people finding this action to be somehow justifiable. In Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Mali and Nigeria, the percentage supporting random violence through suicide bombing remains between 34% and 70% of the population. That's really sad.

Christianity, as taught by Jesus, does not call for anyone to bomb their neighbors. It does not call for anyone to kill innocent people in random acts of violence. Certainly, Christians (even well-meaning Christians) have, at times in history, perverted the teachings of Jesus which has led to vicious acts being performed in the name of Christ. As Christians, we have to stand up and point out that we find those actions orchestrated by men were wrong. But Christians have, for the most part, now recognized that Jesus didn't teach that we should convert the world by force. Jesus didn't teach anywhere that we should randomly kill human beings. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is brought to earth by love and the spreading of the Gospel through peaceful means. This is very, very different than the approach being advocated or approved in these polls of Muslims.

To the Muslim people who found it somehow acceptable to kill and maim innocent people in the name of Allah, I ask that you reconsider your support for this tactic in any form. If your beliefs can win the hearts and minds of the people by no other means than acts of random violence designed to instill fear then there is something seriously wrong with your beliefs. Certainly, it appears that the majority of Muslims feel that this type of act is not consistent with Muslim beliefs and practices or the acceptance of these tactics would not be shrinking.

Suicide bombing is wrong. It needs to be rejected and denounced loudly by all Muslims.


Anonymous said…
The ultimate question is whether God can authorize or ratify an intentional human act of killing the guilty or the innocent in his name or for his purposes?

I say no. It would be a denial of the inalienable and indefeasible human right to life set up in God's general revelation: the natural moral law. Not even God can authorize it because if God did, God would be contradicting him/herself.

However, I find it interesting that in Jesus' day there seemed to have existed a Zealot theology that might be described as the "gospel of Phineas". (Numbers 25:1-11; cf. Numbers 31:1-6,16-18; Psalm 106:28-31; 1 Maccabees 2:24,26,54; Sifre on Number 25:13) It sanctions extra-judicial murder in God's name. In the initial passage Number 25, God does not even authorize the act ahead of time, but ratifies it afterwards and praises it. Phineas is granted a perpetual priesthood and becomes a model for religious zeal. That zeal is said to provide atonement for all believers. Extra-biblical commentary indicates Phineas is now in heaven interceding for all believers. That intercession is said to provide atonement for all believers. This was clearly a competing "gospel". The good news was God would support individual or communal act of holy war to drive out non-believers from the holy land. I suspect it seriously coloured the Jewish authorities perceptions of Jesus. Was Jesus the apocalyptic lamb of 1 Enoch 90:6-42 who takes away the sin of the world by removing (killing) sinners from the world and establishing the New Jersusalem by rebuilding the temple? Was Jesus' zeal in the Temple (John 2:13-20) a prelude to that act?

I suspect this Phineas tradition of extra-judicial murder sanctioned by God after the fact by God continues in Islam.

Personally, I think it is ultimately a question of fundamentalism. I understand fundamentalism to be a belief that special revelation is the only revelation and it is inerrant. The emphasis on special revelation in a religious text or individual excludes general revelation in the natural moral law. The emphasis on inerracy excludes any description of the Phineas tradition as inaccurate. As long as God is said to have authorized it or sanctioned it once in scripture, the fundamentalist thinks it is morally permissible.

I don't see any progress in the matter until Islam abandons fundamentalism.

Robert Sutherland
Jason Pratt said…

That's a pretty confused reply there. One might have supposed that someone who is unwilling to commit to even a fairly basic agent/patient analogical description of God (via masculine or feminine pronouns), would be at least as tentative about taking a position on the far more complex topic of whether a God Who (from the same tradition as the masculine pronoun usage you avoided) intends to resurrect everyone, the evil as well as the good, would be acting in self-contradiction to temporarily (or even permanently?) rescind a right originally derived from and totally dependent upon this same God in the first place.

Also, while the textual evidence does show signs that the Jewish authorities feared Roman reprisals from Jesus' actions, and His words at the Temple could be misconstrued as a threat against it (especially two Passover holidays later, after He's run out the moneychangers again--with much stronger words this time), practically none of the story shows the actual sparring with the religious authorities to be about preluding to a military uprising. That includes the incident reported at GosJohn 2:13-20: Jesus is critting the Annas family policy of taking the Court of Gentiles as a marketplace (raking back a significant profit for themselves, according to later rabbinic report), but the people being attacked are the lackeys of the Sadduccean political majority. It's the sort of thing that would highly impress the Pharisees; not surprisingly, the next scene in GosJohn features a respectful deputation from the Pharisees sent to sound out what Jesus is up to (especially, from contexts in the incident, to check on whether Jesus is going to hold to JohnBapt's rejection of the Pharisees.)

I agree that 'fundamentalism' of the sort you're talking about is a serious problem, among ourselves as well as for the Muslims. Uncharity to the opposition is a further problem, and in my estimation a greater one; since with a spirit of charity, interpretations of even 'inerrant' texts might go rather a different way. The suicide bombings of Muslim extremists are as abhorrent to me as they are to Bill and the rest of us; but I do understand them fairly well. (Ironically because charity to the opposition doesn't end with considering Muslim extremists. {s})

To the Muslim fundamentalist, those 'innocent' people are not civilians. They're active servants of Satan, promoting his corruption of righteousness; the upshot of which is that people are hopelessly seduced into a hopeless unimaginably horrible neverending torture forever.

The Muslim fundamentalists are attacking what they perceive to be the spiritual equivalent of the ebola virus. No one is tolerant of ebola; if you can't cure an infected town, then you isolate it, and if the town insists (including with arms) to spread its infection... well, fuel-air explosives are better than the alternative, which is that (from their perspective) more people are led into a maximally horrible hopeless doom.

A suicide bomber, in that perception, is heroically giving his own life in order to reduce that risk by even a little bit. Better that those children (who by this point are worse than murderers themselves) should be killed now, than that they should continue threatening (now and as they grow older) other people, even other children (such as those in the martyr's own family).


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