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May 7, 2001 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 54

Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 2: The Debate over Political and Moral Legitimacy

May 7, 2001
Palestine, Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 54

The dispute about the legitimacy of suicide attacks is not the exclusive territory of Muslim religious figures. Politicians and columnists too expressed their opinions on the matter. For example, columnist Muhammad Masharqa wrote in Yanabi' -- the supplement of the PA newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, under the title "Those Who Support Hamas Must Resign the Leadership to It":

"I find it strange that the heads of the PA and the [national] opposition gather at the memorial services of a Hamas suicide martyr [Shahid] and borrow expressions from Hamas rhetoric, in order to draw applause and popularity from a public they have nothing to do with. If some of the leaders of Fatah and of the Left wing opposition are excited by the suicide methods of Hamas, I don't know what remains of their claims that they represent the people and its highest interests..."

"Contradictions and anarchy characterize the speeches of the Palestinian national factions [which make up the PLO] and this is directly reflected in the [feelings of the] simple citizens, who are the fuel of the Intifada... If the goal of the suicide attacks is to achieve independence in the territories occupied since 1967 and to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, then entering the war for the liberation of the Palestinian land in its entirety and completely defeating the Zionist project is -- at this stage - an illusion."

"In addition, if those who wave the banner of the liberation of Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea have the right to exist and to express their ideas in the framework of ideological and political pluralism, then we [too] should have the right to disagree with this view and to struggle against it, because we believe that it is a destructive view that turns us into the Chechens of the Middle East. The stubborn struggle of the Palestinian people for the past hundred years is for the sake of life and victory, and not for the sake of death, honored defeat, or emotionalism. Suicide operations within Israel are an imitation of the Lebanese model, which cannot be repeated in precisely the same way. This will lead to a situation whereby the operations of the Intifada will be limited to a small group of suicide bombers who are willing to die with an explosive belt. Furthermore, all of the factions among the Palestinian people will have to stand by and wait to see what they will gain from the attempts of the wonderful and heroic suicide bombers."

"There is no heroism in recruiting young people and loading them with explosives, despite all glorious descriptions in the religious rhetoric... If the leaders of the national factions stand on the Hamas podiums, to praise its methods of struggle, then they should resign the legacy of the struggle of the PLO... and transfer the leadership to Hamas so that it can try its hand at leading this miserable people..."

"The time has come for the Palestinian voice of reason to be heard loud and clear against these operations, which turn our youth into human bombs. We must not be afraid to call for realistic methods of struggle, based on the accumulated experience and the long struggle of our people. [The struggle] must be conducted in such a way that serves the true national goals of freedom and independence. [Otherwise], the Palestinian people will be dragged into a free-for-all slaughter."[1]

On the other hand, the editorial of the government-sponsored Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar expresses support for suicide attacks. Titled "The Legitimate Struggle is the Only Answer", the editorial reads: "...It seems that what goes on in the back corridors of politics has nothing to do with the declarations in the propaganda trumpets... Therefore, it is no coincidence that the self-sacrifice [fidaai] operation in the town of Kfar Saba, in the heart of "Israel", was carried out on the day the convening of the Arab boycott bureau [against Israel] was postponed [the meeting that was to be held in Damascus was postponed because the required quorum did not attend, due to opposition on the part of some Arab countries]."

"[The operation in Kfar Saba] was the only effective answer to the [feelings of] bitterness and pain in our reality. This operation proved that the Palestinian individual is still capable of breaking through all forms of siege and oppression, when he is armed with steadfastness and the justice of his cause, and capable of reaching the depths of the Zionist entity in order to strike at it."

"This operation also proved... that the residents of the Hebrew State who came from all corners of the world to conquer the Palestinian land and to exile its people, will not enjoy security, as long as they continue their aggression, occupation and oppression. It also proved to Sharon and his gang that they cannot implement the aggressive slogans that brought them into power in Israel. These slogans focused on achieving security for the Israelis. This means carrying out acts of slaughter and oppression against the Palestinian people."

"Enhancing the desire to struggle and promoting the readiness to die as martyrs, are the only reactions that can restore a measure of sound logic, first of all to Sharon's mentality, and secondly to all of the international forces involved in the unfair mediation attempts. Perhaps this [operation in Kfar Saba] will help those who feel a lump in their throat because of the events on the ground, the last of which was the inability of the Boycott Bureau to meet... just to meet!!"[2]

Additional political opposition to the religious ruling of the Saudi Mufti was expressed by the chief editor of the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abd Al-Bari 'Utwan: "...In return for the daily sacrifice of their Shahids, the Palestinians get this Fatwa from the land of the two most holy[Islamic sites]. The Fatwa casts doubt on these operations of martyrdom and states that whoever carries them out are heretics whose place is in Hell, because they kill themselves, something which is forbidden by Allah. I don't understand why these people don't issue religious rulings in favor of the Jihad for the liberation of the holy places..."[3]

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, also joined in the religious-political debate, attacking those who call the "Martyrdom operations" "suicide acts" and who claim that they are inappropriate in terms of religious law: "The martyrdom of those who are fighting for Palestine, does not mean giving up on life, but rather, protecting its meaning. It is martyrdom in order to [guarantee] life for the coming generations. It does not mean giving up life out of desperation. It is the height of optimism and the most exact expression of life."

The Iraqi President said these things during a ceremony in Baghdad in which the Chairman of the Iraqi Parliament, Dr. Sa'dun Hamada, awarded him the "Sword of the Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine". Saddam took the opportunity to state that "the immigrant Jews in occupied Palestine must leave Palestine and return to the places from which they came in European and Arab countries."[4]


[1] Yanab'i, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 23, 2001.

[2] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), April 24, 2001.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 25, 2001.

[4] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 27, 2001.

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