Failure of leadership! Martyrdom is only for lesser men!

“Abu Abdullah, cry like a woman for a Kingdom you could not defend as a man.”

(Aisha, mother of Abu Abdullah, the last king of Granada.)


If history serves any lessons,  the Palestinians and militants across the Islamic world should take heed from the fall of the Muslim rule in Granada, Spain, in 1492. It provides a good example of the elimination of a system not keeping pace with the march of events of the period. The Muslim rule over the bulk of Spain spanned over seven centuries (711-1492) The orthodox Muslims say that Granada collapsed because the Muslims there had deviated from their faith and had become corrupt and luxury loving; they were weakened by internecine struggle for power. That is correct but only partly. The real reason was that the whole of Europe had entered a new era. New ideas, new technologies and new political systems were beginning to herald the new age. Reformation had taken roots and the concept of nation state was fast developing. This new concept was supplanting the system of different, often warring, tribal lords and kings.


The inability of Ameer Abul Hasan of Granada to see clearly this new reality and adjust his response accordingly in his domain that was already suffering from a triangular strife for power between him, his brother and son, ensured the end of the Muslim rule of over seven centuries. Similar patterns can be noticed in case of false glory of the Palestinians and global strains of militancy across the world flashpoints.  The fluidity of Palestinians in specific and Islamic flashpoints in general today, is the result of the failure of policy and blunders of their leadership. The present leadership should stop this game of deprivation and realize that ground realities are different. The defeat of Granada was the beginning of one of the greatest Muslim tragedies. In 1469, Christian Spain had united with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. Their re-conquest of Spain was swift, they entered the magnificent palace of Alhambra in full glory and crosses were placed on the highest minarets. Abu Abdullah, the last king of Granada, and his family were exiled to the hills. As he looked at the majestic palace of Alhambra, a name still linked to Spain’s Islamic Era for the last time, tears came into his eyes. At this, his aged mother Aisha said scornfully, “Abu Abdullah, cry like a woman for a Kingdom you could not defend as a man.” 


In April last year, the grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, declared that ”any act of self killing or suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam”; consequently ”the one who blows himself up in the midst of the enemies is also performing an act contrary to Islamic teachings”. The grand Mufti elaborated by adding that suicide attackers ”should not be buried with Islamic rituals and should not be buried alongside other Muslims.” Egyptian clergyman Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi disagrees and says that such attacks were ”among the greatest forms of holy struggle against oppression”. He was even quoted as saying the ruling against suicide bombings were issued by ”people who are alien to Sharia (Islamic law) and religion.” In spite of contrary interpretations on the significance of life in Islam the ideological support of suicide bombings in the Middle East is not hard to come by. While the Qur’an in Surah an-Nisaa (Chapter: ‘The Women’), verse 29 seems to specifically forbid suicide; the chapter’s 75th verse enjoins that fighting oppression is commendable.


Thus the present debate is centred on whether the bombing is in fact a suicide or related to a jihad against oppression. The fact that self-annihilation is totally against the injunctions of Quran, as it categorically forbids suicide, spurs some scholars to label it a mission of martyrdom and an effective course employed to fight oppression.


However, the Grand Imam of Islam’s top seat of learning at Egypt’s Al Azhar University, Mohammad Sayed Tantawi, issued a different opinion; stating suicide bombings were legitimate, but only if directed against Israeli soldiers, not women and children. The schism between the ‘various Popes’ is an interesting indication of the religious divide that supports and encourages the militant and non-militant strains of Islam. In Palestine the roots of the present streak of self-killing is symptomatic of distressing instances of religious indoctrination within Palestine polity. The most lucrative recruiting grounds are the kindergartens operated by Hamas, instead of teaching the kids to learn and know and tolerate, these centres according to a recently published report encourage such inscriptions on walls: “The children of the kindergarten are the shaheeds (holy martyrs) of tomorrow.” In the classrooms at Al-Najah University in the West Bank and at Gaza’s Islamic University, posters proudly state, “Israel has nuclear bombs, we have human bombs.” A common blessing in the occupied territories; “May the Virgins give you pleasure”, an allusion to the ubiquitous pledge in the Koran to “holy martyrs” of “unlimited sex with 72 virgins in heaven.” These divine companions are portrayed as ‘beautiful as rubies, with complexions akin to diamonds and pearls.’ In one of the passages of the Koran, it is said the martyrs and virgins shall ‘delight themselves, lying on green cushions and beautiful carpets.’


Why is suicide militancy becoming such a popular tool with insurgencies across the world? Can militants belonging to suicide squads be dismissed as irrational zealots? Suicide operations have inherent tactical advantages over ”conventional” tactics. It is a simple and low cost operation requiring no escape routes or complicated rescue operations. It guarantees mass casualties and extensive damage since the suicide bomber can choose the exact time, location and circumstances of the attack, and there is no fear that the bombers will be caught and interrogated (because their deaths are certain).


When the enemy possesses the most sophisticated weapons in the world the weapon of martyrdom is easy and costs the lives of young gullible people, who volunteer for such undertakings. Human bombs cannot be defeated as it is an instrument of the ultimate terror. What these naéve people do not realise is that not only is suicide bombing futile and inhuman, however it is the negation of the fundamental human contract, that we respect our own life and that of others, the dissolution of which is inevitably castigated by the tides of history. History has many a lesson; the nation that produced the defeated Kamikazes is now a significant constituent of the global economy. The Nizari Ismailis, renowned as one of the most peaceful of the sects of Islam are the spiritual descendants of the ‘assassins’, the sect based on which the word assassin originated and whose numbers were severely devastated by the Mongols. 


Some argue that portraying “the future” so bright through holy edict makes the bleak present of most of the Palestinian just a passing state that supposedly encourages the divinely ordained mission of  ‘suicide’. Self-immolation is a result of lack of opportunity and favourably timed extreme religious indoctrination based on hate. In no way, can such a policy be rewarding as it has been seen, it has brought more havoc and more loss of opportunity in the last few years, Palestinians are poorer and politically less influential. The contradictions of the movement are most appalling; it is secular in its context and its political aims but very religious when burning humans are concerned! This exploitation of human beings is rarely highlighted, although it is in total contradiction to the very nature of Palestinian political struggle. Exploitation of ‘religion’ for furtherance of sending young people to certain death is recipe of national disaster, the failures of leadership to gain meaningful exit from this quagmire so far has now finally resulted in the demand of the ultimate sacrifice of the young of the nation, sending them to death without nay aim and killing other innocents is bankruptcy of though and humanity. 


The Palestinian freedom movement is in no way Islamic; it is fortunately a secular movement like Michael Aflak’s Baath Party ruling Iraq and Syria. A sizable and influential minority of Palestinians are adherents of Christianity. Distinguished Palestinian Christians include Hanan Ashrawi, the dignified and visible symbol of the Palestinian struggle, and Dr. George Habbash, heading the extremist faction within the PLO. The new tragedy in this sad saga is the expedient exploitation of religion through every conceivable piece of deceit to enrol new converts by appealing to the secular left and fanatical right with chameleon like subterfuge. The secular nature of the movement is compromised when martyrs brigades are created, but if conditions demand a ‘martyr’ than in total disregard of the declared secular nature Saddam and Arafat have used religion as mean of violent expression.


The inscription of Allah-u-Akbar on Iraqi flag after the Gulf war was one such incident, a delayed response to Saudis religious flag but aimed at gaining popularity on the Arab street. Islam being used a tool of political expression has made Islam an hostage of militants, from one end of the Islamic world to the other Osama bin Laden and extremists characters rule supreme the moderates have just taken leave of absence. The flashpoints ‘dime a dozen’ from Kandahar, Palestine, Chechnya or Kashmir are all bound by a common feature the ugly ‘exploited version of religious militancy’ totally misplaced that has no place in modern contemporary open society.


This strategy within religious teeming refugee camps and poverty stricken Afghanistan or Kashmir exploits the lack of opportunities by inducing intense ideological struggle that brings them new recruits from diverse backgrounds and personalities, all have very little to loose and hence the potential willingness to sacrifice their lives. Religion alone does not play the key role; it can only offer a partial explanation. Recruiters will often exploit the religious beliefs when indoctrinating would-be bombers, using their subjects’ faith in a reward in paradise to strengthen and solidify pre-existing sacrificial motives. The 19 suicide bombers (some were not even aware of the final nature of the mission) were more affluent and driven by the religious indoctrination of higher rewards. Hence, the insistence of Atta the mastermind in his will that his genitals should be properly handled in burial and no-non-Muslim touch his body lest his heavenly bound stay may be delayed due to any technical hitch.


Powerful motives reinforce tendencies towards martyrdom, including patriotism, hatred of the enemy and a profound sense of victimisation. The potential victims have nothing but their life to lose due to abject poverty of the camps and lack of opportunity for the millions. However, Palestinian leadership cannot be absolved of the responsibility of extreme poverty within Palestinian society. The very reason that these refugee camps were encouraged, created and left to proliferate poverty was the inability of leadership that they have lost a war. If nearly 10 million refugees from sub-continent division in 1947 could have settled in their new lands which in some cases were culturally and geographically much more distant, one see no reason why the same stock of people made refugees in 1948 in very proximity of their own land in west Bank, Gaza and in some cases Lebanon Jordan and Syria could not have assimilated or made progress.


 The effort to strip these Palestinians from any desire to reconstruct their life’s was a part of ‘politics of perpetual struggle’ perpetrated by the Grand Mufti Hussieni and later on by the successive Palestinian leaderships who viewed Israel as dagger in the heart of the Arab land and a target of scorn and destruction.  The law of diminishing political returns have been followed to the last letter religiously. The Palestinian leadership time and again never missed an opportunity to miss more opportunities.


The biggest wrong within Palestinian polity is their inability to perceive the ground realities, their frailty, they cannot appreciate that their wrong stand in 1990 Gulf war made Saudis-Kuwaitis very sceptical of them, no oil embargoes or political pressure can be thought of, moreover this globalized world has changed the influence of pressure groups like OPEC. It is not like before, any embargo with US presence in Gulf is difficult to implement. Unfortunately the very presence came s a result of Saddam invasion and Osama bin laden helped lost the rest of political capital.


The admission of one’s weakness is the art of survival; Arabs at large have failed to comprehend this very intricate art. Fake pride has destroyed them. They attacked the newly created or crafted state of Israel that was minuscule to obliterate it, they ended up losing and Israel grew bigger and bigger out of military defeats, every time from 1948 to 1967 to 1973 it was the great Arab armies who imposed the war to destroy Israel.


In 1967 a new war resulted in further expansion, now after 54 years of 1948 they are ready to accept what they lost in 1967 and in 1948 as honourable peace. The recent Arab summit endorsed finally the doctrine of diminishing returns of Arabs because of their natural slogans based on void self-pride.


Chairman Arafat lost in 1999 the offer of P.M. Ehud Barak that let Sharon take over. The 1982 foe is teaching Arafat some good lessons of how freely the blood can flow on both sides. Yaser Arafat the great strategist could not grasp what he was getting into by refusing the deal on the table by Barak. He played in the hands of the Israel right-wingers. Nation survival strategy is based on pure facts and no compassion. If one leads his nation to ruin he cannot escape the natural consequence of such self-aggrandizement. Grand standing of national heroism is an art but in nations at the brink this art is fiction only, look at Saddam’s ‘Mother of all battles’ where did it take Iraq. The natural Arab tendency to be hugely audacious leads to new slogans; the 26th Feb  is celebrated in Iraq as victory day of the Mother of al battles, now how foolish is a  nation that can adorn such negation of truth as national pride. Mullah Omar self-induced destruction in recent months is another example of foolish grandstanding. Even 10 years war between Iraq and Iran showed that the stubbornness of Imam Khomieni, it cost Iran 550,000 young people who were prematurely sent to heaven with keys in their neck as cannon fodder to avenge the Iraqi attack and for a dream of victory over Iraq. The global nature of world has weakened the states self respect, the odds to fight a war based on honour has really become high if you are not a economically independent state and have remote controlled predators to kill your opponents. The price is just too high, old habits of false pride and false long slogans have to be given a respite.

The writer is in Paris, France.