Is a Martyr really a Martyr?



Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society

Life is Worth Living

By Shea Hecht

For most of my adult life, I believed the popular lore, that suicide bombers are martyrs who want to sacrifice their lives, as they were taught that this is the highest level of service to their Muslim religion. As a person with strong religious conviction I am able to relate to this kind of sacrifice.

Though I understand the idea of self-sacrifice for religion, I wondered how the insurgents find so many people willing to give up their lives in such a terrible way and commit an act which is very much against a person's nature. Human nature is such that a person has an innate will to live. People who have survived an attempted suicide say that the will to live kicks in the last moments - when the realization hits that they really might die.

If the profile of an average suicide bomber is the same as the average suicidal victim - a depressed and hopeless person, then why don't we hear stories of suicide bombers backing out of their commitment to kill themselves at the last moment when the will to live should kick in? Are they in reality religious martyrs?

Two recent stories tell me that many suicide bombers are not sacrificing their lives on their own but are being used as sacrificial lambs. The problem is that the people who 'so willingly gave up their lives' didn't survive to tell their tale - until now.

According to reports, an 18-year-old Saudi, Ahmed Abdullah Al-Shaya, went to Iraq to be trained as a suicide bomber. He was recruited to blow up an explosive-packed car in Baghdad, which was meant to kill as many Americans, policemen, national guards and American collaborators as possible.

Al-Shaya was blown up - not on the mission he was recruited for, but rather as he went on what he thought was a pre-mission job to drive a butane gas truck to a target site. He was told that someone else would pick the truck up and drive it to its final destination. Instead the truck was blown up as Al- Shaya was waiting for the replacement driver. Had Al-Shaya died, they would have said he was a martyr who gave up his life for a holy cause. And no one would have known any better. But as it was, he lived. The force of the explosion of the gas tank propelled him out of the truck and he was badly and critically burned, but he lived - to tell the tale that this was no suicidal mission, but rather an attempted murder.

In another recent horror story, insurgents used a Down Syndrome child as a suicide bomber on an election booth in Iraq. Think about that! A mentally handicapped child! Is that someone who can make a rational decision? Do you think that this child, too, was ecstatic to give up his life to kill hated Americans? Interestingly enough the one character trait that all Down Syndrome children share is that they love so easily. Could it be that they found a handicapped child that hated enough to understand that he should kill himself in order to kill others?

Then there are these curious little stories that emanate from Israel from time to time. Many people who survive bombings say that the bomber acted like he was drugged. Though it appeared that way to witnesses there was no way to prove that the bomber was drugged, since those suicide missions were "successful."

One specific story that comes to my mind is the would-be suicide bomber on a bus in the French Hill section of Jerusalem. When the people on the bus realized the man had a bomb strapped to his waist they pushed him off the bus. He fell down, and as hard as he tried he just couldn't get up. Turns out he was in a drugged stupor and he didn't have the faculties to stand up.

After a bombing, if the authorities go to the homes of suicide bombers, many times they find stashes of drugs - an illegal substance according to Islamic law. Someone who is going to kill himself out of conviction and joy shouldn't need drugs in order to muster up the courage to do the joyous deed.

There is yet one more facet to this story of all the people who 'willingly' give up their lives and that is that some 'martyrs' seem to be forced into killing themselves in the first place. Some of the bombers were found chained to the cars that they blew 'themselves' up in. Why would someone who wants a life in paradise have to chain himself to the car? And there are stories of women who supposedly 'defiled' their family name who were given a choice by their father or husband - we will kill you in an 'honor killing' or you could go out and kill yourself and others and earn a place in heaven.

Aside from the bombers who were obviously forced, maybe suicide bombers aren't given a last minute chance or a choice at all. Those who send out suicide bombers also know human nature is to buck death at the last moment. Perhaps, like Al-Shaya, they are blown up before they could give their final consent. Martyrs backing out of killing themselves at the last minute wouldn't look good for those trying to convince the world that people are willing to joyously give up their lives for the cause.

I would say that even from the Muslim perspective and the view of those who believe in such actions, these bombers are not necessarily all aggressors; some are victims of vicious hatred - sent out to die by the hands of their own - not the hands of the enemy. Given a choice to live or die, many would choose to live - even if only at the last minute. But from my point of view, they aren't given a choice or a chance.

Shea Hecht is chairman of the board of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education and is a Rabbi activist in the Jewish community.





The Jewish Magazine is the place for Israel and Jewish interest articles
The Current Monthly Jewish Magazine
To the Current Index Page
Write to us!
Write Us
The Total & Complete Gigantic Archive Pages for all issues
To the Big Archives Index Page