From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A Scary Consensus is Emerging, Indeed. As anyone who has seen the movie Heathers knows, whether to kill oneself or not is the biggest decision of a teen’s life. Mujahideens, whether they’re teenagers or not, should not take the decision lightly, either. According to an article in Egypt Today, “Over the past few years, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, regarded as the highest spiritual authority in Sunni Islam, has issued a number of contradictory statements regarding suicide bombings or ‘martyrdom operations,’ as they are often referred to in the Muslim world.”

As the article notes, “Tantawi’s opinion wavers between outright condemnation of all types of suicide missions (‘the difference between true jihad in Islam and the violent extremism we see today is like the difference between earth and sky’) and de facto support (‘martyrdom operations are permitted acts according to the Qur’an’).”

At other times, the Grand Sheikh “has occupied a middle ground which holds that only soldiers occupying Muslim land are fair game.” Well, this certainly sounds rather fickle. Does the sheikh flip a coin when he has to make a statement about suicide bombings? End the Occupation of the Middle Ground!

“It’s a sensitive issue and in this highly-charged political environment that we are facing today, anything you say will be attacked one way or another,” says Azharite Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour, a former deputy to Tantawi.

Ashour sighs deeply. The debate is not the Sheikh’s favorite topic for discussion. “The western media calls these attacks ‘suicide missions’ we call them ‘martyrdom operations;’ that distinction, I think, says it all.

Indeed, who knew that detonating oneself in a crowded restaurant or coffee shop might offer such rich fodder for moral debate? One can only marvel at the myriad Aristotelian contingencies that might emerge. For example: How much rat poison, or how many nails and/or ball bearings, must the bomber include with his (or her) explosives before the operation becomes overly gratuitous? It’s a sensitive issue, after all!

According to Egyptian cleric Sheikh Gamal Kutb, a former member of Al-Azhar’s Fatwa Committee, the confusion and contradictory statements issued by Al-Azhar on suicide bombings stem from the fact that in the West all such operations are lumped together and called “terrorism.”

“When we talk about people blowing themselves up, a clear distinction has to be made between those who do so to defend their own land, and those who are just aiming to cause terror and instability as with the World Trade Center bombings,” says Kutb.

Ahem, but what if the person blows himself up to defend his land and to cause terror, hmmm? Or is that getting too, uh, Talmudic about things? (And, technically, the WTC terrorists didn’t blow themselves up. Gosh, this gets so complicated.)

At first glance, though, all such missions appear to contradict two basic precepts in Islam: not taking your own life and not killing innocent civilians.

But upon further analysis…

Both Kutb and Ashour, however, argue that a suicide mission carried out as a form of defiance against a foreign occupier makes you a martyr; the same act in a case where there is no occupation or state of war makes you a sinner and terrorist.

Kutb says because most Israelis are required to serve in the military, none can be considered civilians.

It’s a logic that allows the indiscriminate bombing of men, women and children alike.

“It’s true that Sheikh Al-Azhar has repeatedly gone both ways on the issue, but the consensus within Al-Azhar now is that Palestine and Iraq are two special cases,” Kutb says. “Suicide attacks there can not be condemned; on the contrary, we must support our brethren in these two countries because, like anybody else, they have a right to live as free individuals.

“As for terrorism, we stand against it. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. We deplore what is happening in Riyadh and elsewhere around the world where there is no state of war to justify violent acts.”
“The issue of jihad, when it should be applicable and what form it should take has been heavily debated since that communiqué was issued,” says Ashour. “But I believe, and I think most Muslim scholars will agree with me, that the mujahid should utilize all the options available to him.

“When there are none, as is the case in the occupied lands of Palestine and Iraq, the last resort is blowing oneself up. If the intention of the bomber is self-defense, it is not suicide — it is martyrdom.”

Well, talk about transcendent introspection, or something. All this, of course, is both chilling and convoluted, if not self-contradictory. The fact that almost every single Palestinian suicide bombing—er, martyrdom operation—has targeted a civilian target (restaurants, shopping malls, public buses, etc.) would therefore, by the logic presented in the article’s final sentence, dictate that such attacks are in fact terrorism and should be condemned as such, not least by the clerics quoted in the article.

Unless, of course, we are to believe that detonating oneself in a crowded pizzeria or a packed discoteque or in some other similarly crowded location is somehow an act of “self-defense.”

The logic offered by Sheikh Kutb—that “because most Israelis are required to serve in the military, none can be considered civilians”—is particularly chilling. Anyone who subscribes to such “logic” is in effect arguing that children, the elderly, and the disabled, if they are Israeli, rather than being civilians are in fact military targets. (Incidentally, other Israeli military targets would thus include Israeli Arabs, Christians, peace activists, and so on.) I beg to differ with such logic, although I realize certain folks far more enlightened than I may disagree with me. So it goes, but I can’t help being reminded of something Noam Chomsky, of all people, once wrote: “By entering into the arena of argument and counter-argument, of technical feasibility and tactics, of footnotes and citations, by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, one has already lost one's humanity.” Indeed.

In other news, The Cairo Times reports that

Legal and political wrangling over the detention of 11 Palestinians in Egyptian prison escalated this week as the detainees, who launched a hunger strike on 22 May along with 45 Egyptian inmates, were dispersed to at least seven jails throughout Egypt.

The charges against the Palestinians in custody, the majority of whom were arrested in 2000 and 2001, remain classified under Emergency Law. In several trials over the past three years the courts have ordered the release of the detainees, ruling their imprisonment unlawful. In each instance, the Ministry of Interior has intervened, maintaining that the detainees pose a dangerous threat to national security.

This week’s decision by the Ministry of Interior to separate and relocate the striking prisoners is seen by human rights groups as a move to fracture the strikers’ solidarity, diffusing a situation that has attracted negative attention to the government.

I’m sure a contingent of “Solidarity” activists will be arriving in Egypt any day now to stand in solidarity with the imprisoned, hunger-striking Palestinians, as well as to loudly and vociferously protest the Egyptian government’s actions. It’s been several years now, after all. Perhaps the activists will even confront some armed Egyptian soldiers.

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