FMC Blog: Free Speech Zone

American Muslims, Israel and Suicide Bombings

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center about American Muslims was received favorably by many Muslims and apprehensively by many non-Muslims.

The surveys revealed that more than 80% of American Muslims blend comfortably into American society and that they have a broad willingness to adopt American customs, work ethics and are generally optimistic about America. It also revealed an American Muslim population that is religious, diverse, socially conservative and politically liberal. Nearly eight in ten U.S. Muslims say they are either happy or "very happy." They believe Muslims coming to the United States should try to adopt American customs rather than separating from the larger society.

The study also revealed that two percent of young Muslims under 30 believe that suicide bombings to defend their religion can often be justified while 13 percent of those under 30 believe that suicide attacks to defend their religion can sometimes be justified. Moreover, the study revealed that five percent expressed "even somewhat favorable" opinions of al-Qaida. Not surprisingly, some Muslims and many non-Muslims were concerned by this revelation. The New York Post went as far as editorializing "TIME BOMBS IN OUR MIDST."

So why do many American Muslims appear less concerned with the minority and instead are focusing on the 87% of Muslims who condemn suicide bombings? One reason is that many Muslim groups feel vindicated or affirmed since they have always asserted that the majority of American Muslims assimilate easily, are law abiding, and peace loving. Moreover, Muslim groups believe that those who recognize exceptions to Islam's prohibition against suicide do not pose an immanent threat because those young people were responding to a theoretical question about the emotional issue of protecting their religion. Muslim groups argue that those who justify suicide bombings are incorrectly interpreting Islam and that they can be reeducated about the issue of suicide bombings.

Assuming Muslim groups are correct in their analysis of the poll, and they maybe, one must ask why is it that there are any Muslims who would justify suicide bombings in the name of Islam when Islam has always had a clear prohibition against suicide?

The answer is that the minority of Muslims who justify suicide bombings evolved from a recent trend in which some Islamic political movements and leaders began sending mixed messages about the use of suicide military operations. Over the last 20 years, some Muslim leaders have sanctioned suicide military operations when they believed that a particular cause is just but rejected suicide as un-Islamic in other instances. To get around the Koran's prohibition against suicide some Islamic leaders repackaged suicide bombings by calling them martyrdom operations and argued that such tactics are similar to "a mission impossible," that has been used by modern militaries for centuries. Moreover, they argue that in a war where the "oppressor" possesses superior military capabilities, martyrdom operations are essential. Further, they argue that since the goal of the Muslim soldier is not to kill himself but to defend himself against an enemy who is trying to kill him or steal his property, martyrdom operations do not constitute suicide.

These arguments were given prominence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by prominent Islamic personalities who provided moral cover for HAMAS in its use of suicide bombings against Israel based on Israel's alleged persecution of the Palestinians and Israel's military superiority.

So what to do now? For the benefit of the American Muslim communities and the world at large, Muslim leaders must use theological arguments to discredit and condemn those who selectively justify suicide bombings. It is dangerous to argue that suicide bombings are wrong in most instances and justify them when the intended target is seen as an oppressor. All evidence indicates that those who commit suicide military operations believe that they are fighting for a just cause. If societies made exceptions for the select use of suicide when the target is an "oppressor" then other groups may want an exception for their "just cause" or "oppressor" who maybe a Muslim.

Muslim religious leaders must be making clear that suicide bombings are wrong in all instances and when they do they must include the "I" word (Israel). This is important because most Muslims are passionate about the belief that Israel is an oppressor and it is because of these deep emotions about Israel that Muslim leaders must specifically mention Israel by name when condemning suicide bombings.

Posted May 22, 2007 by Kamal Nawash