One of the least discussed but most important aspect of the ‘suicide bombers’ (SB) attacks is the Anglo-American (AA) systematic and profound degradation of that which the Islamic religion holds most sacred: its code of ethics, its mode of spiritual practice, its religious rituals, its sacred texts and its respect for the observant believer.
The neo-conservative, liberal and pro-Israel propagandists, both journalists and academics focus on what they choose to call the “pathologies” of young Muslims, the fanaticism of their beliefs, their gratuitous violence, the “generational anger”, the “frustration” of living in “failed states” and a long litany of irrational behaviors which exonerates the AA and Israeli violence and torture.
A progressive school of thought emphasizes the ‘reciprocal nature of violence” Anglo-American wars, invasions and occupations which engender Arab or Islamic terror as part of a spiral of violence. In some versions the religious element is subordinated to the political concern for self-determination in explaining the behavior of SB.
While the latter approach has the advantage of advancing beyond the vitriolic psychobabble of the neoconservative and Zionists ‘experts’ of the “Arab Mind”, it fails to account for the depth and scope of the suicide bomber phenomena, especially the sharpening intensity during the occupation.
Beyond the general mayhem induced by Anglo-American wars, invasions and occupations, there are two forms of violence derivative from the general conception of war, which stand out as the direct determinants of suicide bombing.
The AA have theorized and put in practice the idea of ‘total war’-a war without legal, moral, geographic, temporal or spatial boundaries. As Bush, Rumsfeld and the Pentagon Zionists (Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith and Company) declared, this is a different war in which the ‘enemy’ is everywhere and attacking at all times. The final solution is to search and destroy them, their sanctuaries, their accomplices, their neighborhoods, families, religious institutions and any who might offer material or spiritual support, protection or encouragement. The theory and practice of “total war” obliterates the distinction between combatants and civilians, between military installations and civilian facilities, between military infrastructure and civilian transports systems, between the sacred and the profane.
The AA have imposed new norms of warfare and new practices for engaging the enemy which have been increasingly taken up by sectors of their adversaries. If AA imperialism can act with unrestrained violence against all military and civilian targets, so can the resistance including the suicide bombers whether they are Islamists or secular, poor or middle class. What determine the reaction of the adversaries of AA imperialism are their rules of warfare the notion of ‘total war’.
Total War: Content and Consequences
There are different forms of imperial conquest. In one variant the purpose is to work through local elites who become the tribute collectors and gendarmes of the colonial powers, which gain control of the agro-mineral wealth and finance their privileged position via local taxes.
In another variant, the imperial powers destroy the pre-existing society and governing system, frequently uprooting the population and in the process physically annihilate its members and culture in the course of seizing its wealth. The degradation of the sacred is a prelude to attempts to impose a new set of beliefs more conducive to submission and exploitation.
A third variant is a combination or a sequential process of destruction, degradation and exploitation followed by efforts to “reconstruct” a colonized military, police and political structure willing and able to repress and contain anti-colonial resistance.
The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan follow the third variant. In the initial phase, the imperial armies engage in total occupation, unrestrained pillage of historical sites, utter degradation of the population, destruction of cultural institutions, and the systematic assassination of leading members of the local political, civil service and professional classes. Following the growth of massive resistance by secular and religious forces, uprooted and divorced from their essential everyday living, under constant physical and spiritual assaults, the AA occupation regime moves toward the “reconstruction” of a colonial repressive apparatus and governing bodies — beyond the walls, barbed wire enclosures and watch towers of the colonial army.
‘Total war’ doctrine continues to wreck havoc with minor concessions to enclaves of collaborators, most of whom are ‘dual citizens’, exiles whose loyalties are first and foremost to the empire, whose homes, pensions and even families (not to mention bank accounts and English rose gardens) are located in the cities of the imperial countries.
Total War and the Resistance
The practitioners of ‘total war’ borrow heavily form the practice and doctrine of the Israeli colonial occupation of Palestine: practices of collective punishment, erasure of historical sites, destruction of homes, eradication of orchards and productive farms, bombing of small factories, building of ghetto enclosures (walls), massive forcible evictions, and especially torture and interrogation techniques designed especially to violate Islamic beliefs and the Arab identity. These techniques have been transmitted via Israeli advisers and training sessions to US interrogators and incorporated into their manuals. It is precisely the common methods of both Israeli and Anglo-US interrogation-torture techniques linked to the doctrine of ‘total war’, which has led to the common practice of SB against them.
Insofar as the interrogation-terror techniques strip their victims of all that is essential to their ‘spiritual self’, they also force upon the victims and their sympathizers a ‘new morality’, one that no longer abides by the older moral-religious precepts. In its place the ‘new morality’ is the mirror image of the practitioners of ‘total war’. The SB act without concern for civilians, locations, time and circumstance. Like their interrogators, they seek to inflict the maximum damage to the “Western mind” exposing their weakness, increasing their anxiety and fears, while undermining everyday routines. The key to the conversion of Islamists and even the secular opposition to suicide bombing and the practice of the ‘new morality’ is not merely the political-military colonial occupation and war, but the resort to the specific practices of degradation inflicted on the colonial victim.
Degradation: The Logic of Total War
The Israeli’s have practiced torture by degradation for decades and have a powerful army of overseas supporters– professors, neo-cons officials, liberals, bankers, professionals, artists, journalists, and media moguls — providing justifications in the form of ‘ameliorating circumstances’ and ‘moral equivalences’.
The Anglo-American practitioners of total war, impressed by the power of Israel to sustain its colonial occupation of Palestine and its impunity, overlooked the negative effects: the SB phenomenon, and Israel’s repugnancy to the non-European world (and even among many Europeans).
Degradation is specifically designed to ‘break’ the ‘Arab’ or ‘Islamic’ Mind as the Israeli psychological war experts labeled it and secure an army of informers, agents and docile, terrorized released prisoners who would serve as exemplars to other would-be resistance fighters. While a few prisoners were ‘turned’ through torture and blackmail and others were released as ‘broken’ men and women incapacitated by profound psychological disorders, millions react with indignation, anger, and violence — and in some cases have taken the form of SB. The word from the victim-survivors of Israeli brutality and visual images provides a terribly graphic reality of systematic degradation of all that Arabs – Islamist or secular – hold sacred.
The perception of the victims, their families, their people, their fellow believers, and their nation is that degradation of Iraqi prisoners is the technique authorized and approved by the highest levels of power and executed by the terror experts, from elite psychologists down to the lowest jailers. Nobody can claim, “they didn’t know”. Nobody, in a volunteer army, can claim they were just obeying orders. Citizens in electoral systems who voted for the imperial executioners cannot claim innocence.
The Technique of Degradation: The Larger Meaning
The book of virtuous living for the Islamist and even, to a lesser degree, the secularist is the Koran. It is the ‘divine book’, which provides a moral guide and existential meaning to life. The torturers defecated and urinated on the Koran. They stomped on the Koran with muddy army boots. They flushed pages, held most sacred by the victims, down the toilet. They violated the most sacred single source of moral life.
The torturers systematically denied their victims water to clean themselves before prayer. Instead they defiled them with filth, scantily clad female interrogators smeared fake ‘menstrual’ blood on bound prisoners, forced them to defecate on themselves and ridiculed their victims’ intense religious distress. They violated every taboo, every norm, including the deepest held moral codes. They forced (and photographed) deviant sex, prolonged nudity, raped men and women with cattle prods and other torture devices. They wrapped prisoners in the Israeli flag. Such humiliating techniques have lifetime psychological consequences preventing the victims from ever marrying and maintaining normal family relations. The torturers specifically told their victims that the films and photos of their degradation would be shown to their families and neighbors to intensify the anguish after their release. The torture techniques specifically focused on Moslems and Arabs, but in general defiling all normal men and women’s sense of modesty. They used gross sexual humiliation designed to break all political bonds between the colonized people and the degraded victims. Women prisoners in Abu Ghraib reportedly sent out messages begging the resistance to kill them in their cells by mortar attacks. Mosques were destroyed or turned into slaughterhouses; wounded men huddled in the sacred halls were executed at point blank range.
The AA political leaders promoted Christian evangelical military chaplains who incited the executioners to ‘fight Satan’ as they encircled and destroyed the city of Fallujah.
Jewish and Christian ‘terror experts'(often in the behavioral sciences) provided the emotional vitriol in pseudo-scientific jargon by transposing the psychopathic behavior of the executioners to the victims. The political psychologists as war criminals as creators of the Suicide Bombers
Political Consequences of Defiling the Sacred
The profound systematic effects of ‘total war’ and its derivative defilement of the sacred has far-reaching effects on Muslims and Arabs, including secularists, in terms of geography, political practice, intensity of reflection and feeling about the practitioners, their government and their ‘civilization’. The impact of defacing the sacred is strongest on those collectivities, which share the same ethnic, religious and cultural values as those who are violated. The degradation of the sacred texts and religious sanctuaries impinge on the spiritual and physical existence of the groups and individuals whose lives have been guided by the defiled texts. The message relayed to millions by the torturers and their leaders is that ‘nothing is sacred’ everything and everybody is equally an acceptable instrument for conquest, domination and control. The whole process of degradation from the indiscriminant bombing of civilian communities, to the usurpation of public space, to the pillage of a cultural heritage, to the arbitrary arrest and assassination of passersby, culminates in utter depravity or literally turning the spiritual symbols and texts and moral guides into trash.
The denial of what is sacred to the oppressed is inherent to the process of creating a hierarchical chain the greater the degradation of the ‘other’ the greater the power and self-esteem of the torturers. The lower the stature of the torturers (those who, outside the torture chambers, have no access to the real spoils of conquest, the war profiteering, the ‘reconstruction’ racket or the military officers who can ‘cream’ the contracts) the greater the inducement to achieve ‘superiority’ (symbolic rewards) by debasing the shackled and manacled, the naked and the humiliated, to please their superiors with tidbits of irrelevant ‘intelligence’. Much of this is documented in General Antonio Taguba’s report.
The chain of command dictates the license to torture; the word of the imperial executive informs the practitioners of degradation. The celebrants of imperial ‘Judeo-Christian’ values flaunt their impunity in the security of their technological and military might. The ‘special people’, the chosen nations, aggravate the experience of degradation. Imagine Rumsfeld and other officials and senators reviewing General Taguba’s report describing the young son of an Iraqi Army officer stripped, smeared with filth and abused before his captive father (Seymour Hersch describes the shrieks of young boys being raped) — and projecting their own perversities on to the victimized people.
Suicide Bombers: A Response to the Desecraters
Some of the more intelligent of the generally benighted claimants of ‘expertise’ in terrorism have discovered that the SB are not necessarily poor, not necessarily ‘direct victims’ of imperial invasions, and are not necessarily Islamic fundamentalists. Most of them resort to psychobabble, citing ‘alienation’, ‘generational conflict’, and other behavioral pathologies. These Anglo-American and pro-Israeli ‘experts’, who pathologically ignore the monstrous crimes committed against the essential values and beliefs of the oppressed, see themselves, with all solemnity, as fit to diagnose the ills of others. A handful of the ‘experts’ claim that the terrorists, the SB, are political people and that these acts are ‘political’ a response to the Anglo-American war, invasion and conquest. Closer to the truth, but still inadequate, some add the ‘humiliation of a conquered people’.
What drives the SB is an effort to redeem the Sacred from the Desecraters. The ‘Sacred’ includes, but goes beyond, the material destruction inflicted by the Anglo-American invaders and Israeli colonists. Degradation and defilement of the sacred texts, the deep inner values and the disciplined customs produces a class of individuals who sense the bonds of humanity have been irrevocably broken.
The SB believes that spiritual wrath can counter the desecraters of the sacred. For the future SB, resistance, marches, protests, strikes, civil disobedience, even resistance in the homeland does not restore the ‘Sacred’. The conflict rages in their neighborhoods, their houses; markets and transport are destroyed. The SB believes that only by reversing the violence, bringing it ‘home’ to the invaders will they redeem themselves, and respond in kind to the ‘total war’ advocates, apologists and innocent victims. Recognition of the licensed defilement of the sacred is now out of the box whether it continues in one form or another, videoed or hidden in military archives, it is now embedded in the minds of tens of millions it is their very cultural psychological moral existence. Everyday life has been put to the test.
From the ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing of cities, to the killing, maiming and destruction of millions, to the torture and profanation of the sacred, the orders have come from distant, faceless Generals, Presidents, Secretaries of War and have been executed, face to face, by average people, workers, employees, clerkswho ‘elected’ these leaders. The many faces of the enemy in the eyes of the SB are concentrated in the faces and acts of those who degrade the sacred and attempt to destroy what gives meaning to their everyday life.
To the SB, “the face of the enemy” is the face of “the people” rich and poor, powerful and powerless, General and foot soldier. Hence the suicide bomber, whose bonds with the sacred and moral have been broken by systematic degradation, feels no compunction in attacking ordinary people, going about their everyday tasks in office buildings or subways.
Our analysis suggests a close relation between the Anglo-American practice of ‘total war’ and its derivative policies of systematic degradation and the emergence of ‘suicide bombers’ one of the forms of rejection. If this analysis is correct, the demise of suicide bombers is most likely to occur when the practice of ‘total war’ is ended. This can only come about through a defeat of the ‘colonial revivalist’ strand of imperialism in both its US, European and Israeli variants. The question is how long it will take for domestic and external political discontent to coalesce a political alternative capable of formulating a strategy of military withdrawal and abiding by international law.
Reconciliation between the Anglo-American and Islamic and Arab people can be achieved through a war crimes tribunal, similar to the Nuremburg Trials after the Second World War. The practitioners and proponents of crimes against humanity beginning with the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain should be brought to trial and accorded exemplary punishment to prevent recidivism. Peace and reconciliation is only possible if justice is meted to the architects and practitioners of total war and human degradation.
JAMES PETRAS, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at: email@example.com