Thursday, March 10, 2005

Islam, Suicide Bombings, and Denial: The three monkeys strike again

Earlier today, there was a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq, killing at least 47 people. The suicide bomber blew himself up in a funeral tent setup in the courtyard of a Shia mosque, at the funeral for Hashim Mahmoud al-Aaraji, a professor at Mosul University.

This attack was particularly perplexing when you think about the reasoning behind suicide bombers. Muslims are taught that a martyr (one who dies fighting holy war or "jihad") gets an automatic ticket to heaven, with 72 houris to spend eternity with there as a reward for his actions. What is perplexing is how a man could consider killing dozens of innocent men, women, and children, most of whom are fellow Muslims, at a place of worship (a mosque), at a funeral for a fellow Muslim could remotely be considered jihad. Obviously the bomber must have been convinced of this fact - convinced enough to give up his own life for it, but the reasoning behind it truly baffles me.

It is evident in this case that the bomber was targeting Shia Muslims, but he attacked the funeral for a prominent Shia man in a predominantly Sunni area. The funeral attendees would have likely been a cross-section of Mosul: Professor al-Aaraji's students, co-workers, friends, neighbors, family, etc., and since Mosul has a very small Shia population, the Shia would have likely been a minority at the funeral, even though it was held at a Shia mosque. It is truly perplexing that the suicide bomber would sacrifice his own life for some deluded "holy war" against adherents to his own religion and his own sect.

Islam in Iraq seems to be caught up in the same sectarian hate that infected Christians in Northern Ireland just a few years ago - there is not a lot of difference between the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants (both are Christians) and yet many people in Northern Ireland were killed over these minor differences. The difference between Shia and Sunni is just as small, and yet some people feel a strong enough hatred of the other sect that they would strap explosives to themselves and blow themselves up as long as they can take a few of the other sect with them. Very sad....

Unfortuntely, Islam's attitude towards suicide bombers seems to be caught up in a cycle of denial much like the three monkeys: "hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil".

Remember the three monkeys from my post earlier this week? They're visiting Iraq today...

I remember about two months after September 11, 2001 I had lunch with a Muslim friend of mine who was adament that a fellow Muslim could never have committed such a horrific act. However, the evidence that has emerged since 9/11 makes it quite obvious who committed this act, and my friend reluctantly even has had to admit it. The same type of mentality seems to exist in Iraq - many Muslims find it hard to admit that evil is being done in their name, and they prefer instead to blame the acts on others (America, Israel, etc.).

Unfortunately, by disowning collective responsibility for these heinous acts, the Muslim community is denying themselves the opportunity to fix the underlying cause: militant extremism.

Militant extremism is not just a poisonous ideology, it is a cancer that slowly spreads and eats away at its host. This cancer has infected Christianity in the past, and is currently infecting Islam. By denying its existence, Muslims are doing themselves a disservice by allowing this abomination to continue its evil work unabbetted in their midst. Instead, they should recognize its abhorrent nature, and like any cancer should excise it: cut it out, and completely disown it.

Unfortunately, many Muslims have been slow to disown militancy, suicide bombing, and the like, and the cancer has continued to eat away at Islam. Today's incident was the penultimate example of the fruit of this neglect: a "jihad" suicide bombing by one Muslim against a group of other Muslims, at a place of worship (a mosque), at the funeral for another Muslim. Today's horrific incident in Mosul should be a lesson to everyone as to the fallacy of suicide bombings as some sort of ill-guided "jihad".

Islam needs to learn the same tough lesson that Christianity has had to learn over the past few years: sectarian violence doesn't pay. Muslims need to disown and discourage these types of suicide attacks and sectarian violence in no uncertain terms. Muslims in Iraq and other places need to learn that it is okay to disagree with people on matters of religion: it is more important to put aside minor sectarian differences and learn to live side-by-side with each other in peace.