It is a truly unfortunate state of affairs when one finds themselves surrounded by, one the one hand, the stupidity of those close to us, and on the other hand, the ignorance of those in the distance. This is precisely the situation with Ayman al Zawahiri and Thomas Friedman. When the former discusses politics and the role of the United Nations, he echoes the latter’s analysis of Islam and his investigation of its history and various sects and branches.
In his speeches, al Zawahiri creates a world with no middle ground while Friedman, in many of his articles, restricts the reader and allows no room for maneuver. Both critics portray Muslims using images of violence and suicide.
Al Zawahiri and his followers have kidnapped the religion of Islam and forced upon its followers a narrow worldview that does not permit dissent or normal behavior, such as eating, shopping, loving, dreaming, and celebrating.
Intellectuals such as Friedman help, whether purposefully or not, al Qaeda impose its own vision of Islamic life, making it difficult for moderate Muslims to break free from this negative portrayal.
By arguing Muslim suicide bombers hail exclusively from the Sunni branch of Islam, or by blaming Islam for the actions of a few bombers and indicating these men chose to kill themselves because “they were taught that they religious is supreme”, Friedman is, in effect, lending his support to the clash of civilization hypothesis and repeating the language of bin Laden and al Zawahiri.
Friedman also bases his conclusions on a flawed line of analysis. What committed Christian is not convinced that his faith is the answer for humankind and superior to other religions? If this holds true, why aren’t men and women heading to Africa on missionary assignments?
It is true, as the US journalist notes, that the majority of suicide bombers are Sunni Muslims. The explanation, however, is far more complex that his analysis would suggest. For a start, the culture of Sunni Islam has thrived for centuries, yet young Muslim men have only recently embarked on suicide missions. This demonstrates the religious explanation is a weak one. Instead, we ought to examine contemporary events and socio-political developments if we are to elucidate the recent rise in suicide bombings.
I will spare the reader the boredom of a longwinded historical analysis; nevertheless I feel it is important to mention that the first suicide missions in the history of Islam were undertaken by members of the al Hashasheen sect, who were opposed to Sunni Muslims. At the time, followers would mix with the guards of the ruler and attempt to kill their victims with a small sword.
In contemporary times, the first suicide operation was carried out by Sana Mhaydli, a Lebanese female, of Shiite origin and member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and therefore secular. She died after driving into an Israeli outpost in 1985. This clearly shows that the secular connection to suicide missions predates the religious one.
As for non Muslims who have carried out this type of attacks, no one needs to be reminded of the many religious cults that exist around the world, the most deadly being the mass suicide of the followers of American preacher James Jones in Guyana . Members of his People’s Temple had barricaded themselves in a farm in South America and were conned into believing mass suicide was the answer to their problems. A total of 918 people lost their lives, including hundreds of children.
One must also remember the Order of Sun Temple who practiced mass suicide and were popular in Canada and across Europe , especially in France and Switzerland . There is also the group led by conman David Koresh who confronted US federal authorities in Waco , Texas , resulting in the mass death of April 1993.
In Japan , the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) sect is infamous for its nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, which killed 11 people and injured thousands of commuters. Hal Mansfield, the specialist in alternative religions said, “Members of these extremist religious sects are dangerous because they are ready to use technology to bring about destruction.” The same applies to those who want to kill themselves and murder others in the process.
Let us not get carried away with a discussion of the past. The world, today, is in real danger from the disturbed minds of the young Sunni men who chose to commit suicide attacks. In our attempts to understand their motivations, we need to be rational, fair, and analyze the wider picture, otherwise the majority of innocent Muslims will become as deluded as al Zawahiri and Friedman.