Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Suicide Bombings: Jihad or Terrorism?
A New Book By Yamin Zakaria
Al-Jazeerah, ccun.org, April 19, 2010
The book's promotional blurb reads: "The primary aim of this book is
designed to provoke thought on the subject which is obscured by the
propaganda of conflict. It is divided into two parts. The first part
analyses the various political arguments around the issue of suicide
bombings, and examines corollary subject of terrorism and Jihad. In the
second part, it examines the Islamic text with a view to establishing the
legality of using suicide bombing as a weapon of conflict. It has been
written in a manner that is aimed at Muslims and non-Muslims who are
unfamiliar with the mechanism of deriving Islamic opinions. This section
makes the book unique. Elaboration in this area has been lacking, the
existing material is barely inadequate for Muslims let alone non-Muslims."
Where there is conflict, there is propaganda. As the
long-standing adage states, truth is the first casualty of war. Naturally,
the adversaries of suicide bombers are constantly demonising this
unconventional method of warfare, through their ubiquitous mass media.
They label it as an act of terrorism, which is akin to criminal actions.
While the proponents of suicide bombing view it as a legitimate response
of war, particularly applicable to uneven (asymmetric) conflicts, between
states and non-state actors.
The history of suicide bombing is
recent, but suicide attacks in various forms have existed throughout
history. Some of the prominent examples are:
Samson's suicidal destruction of a Philistine temple as narrated in the
Book of Judges1, in the Old Testament.
During the crusades, the Muslims sunk their ship2 to prevent the enemy
from gaining access to the ammunitions on board; consequently, all the
soldiers on the ship drowned.
The Dutch Lieutenant, Jan van Speyk3, blew up his ship in the harbour of
Antwerp to prevent capture during the Belgian Revolution of 1831.
The sole difference between suicide bombings and suicide missions of the
past is the way the enactor is killed; the former dies from his weapon,
whereas the latter dies from the enemy’s weapon. This distinction merely
reflects the indiscriminate nature of explosives; many would question its
significance, because the fundamental objective behind the actions are
identical, which is to inflict as many casualties as possible, risking
One of the earliest examples of a suicide operation
involving explosives was the assassination of Czar Alexander II of
Russia4, in 1881. During the Second World War, the Japanese kamikaze
pilots introduced suicide bombing to the world, as they drove their own
planes loaded with bombs and fuel into American warships. The Viet Minh5
‘death volunteers’ also used explosives to conduct suicide missions
against the French colonial army.
In recent times, the Tamil
Tigers (LTTE) have used suicide bombings against the Singhalese dominated
government in Sri Lanka. The Chechens have used it against the Russians,
as have the Palestinians against the Israelis, and the Iraqi resistance
against the US-led occupational forces. Some of the prominent episodes of
suicide bombing are: the 1982 attack on the US base in Lebanon, the
spectacular 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre, the Bali bombing in
2002, and the 7/7 attack in London.
The suicide bombers in
essence are human bombers; they use their body to deliver the explosives,
whilst their opponents use tanks and planes. There is no inherent logic to
suggest the unconventional method of suicide bombing is immoral or
illegal. Therefore, why is it viewed with disdain, rather than
acknowledged as a legitimate response in an asymmetric war?
Is it because, suicide bombers kill more civilians than conventional armed
· Is it
because, suicide bombers use explosives that are more powerful and
indiscriminate than the bombs used by the regular armed forces?
Is it because, suicide bombers deliberately target civilians, whereas
conventional forces do not?
If the suicide bombers used Apache Helicopters or F16 Fighter Planes to
conduct their missions, would that make it acceptable for the critics?
The book aims to aid the readers to answer the above questions, and
help them to categorise episodes of suicide bombing, as either an act of
terrorism or a legitimate act of resistance. Above all, the fundamental
objective behind this book is to make a valuable contribution to the
debate on suicide bombings, which is clouded by the emotional propaganda
The book consists of two major parts. The first part
contains an analytical study of suicide bombing, within the context of the
conflict that is raging between, the Muslims and the West. In the second
part, the issue is examined from the Islamic legal perspective, with the
central objective of establishing the legality of suicide bombing. In
relation to the subject, the corollary issues of terrorism, killing
innocent civilians, Jihad, and the nature of warfare are also addressed
throughout the book.
Any reasonable person would dismiss the
crude propaganda that claims suicide bombing is a criminal act. The
enactor does not make any personal gains. Indeed, how can the dead benefit
from such an action? In fact, suicide bombing always has a political and a
historical context; this is the logical point to start the analysis.
Therefore, chapter 1 makes a cursory examination of the political and
historical factors that has shaped the situation in the current conflict
zones, within the Muslim world.
In chapter 2, some of the media
tactics are briefly explored, as the war of ideas always accompanies the
physical battle. Accordingly, the US-led media operates in war mode; the
mission is to sell the war, by winning the hearts and minds of its
audiences at home and abroad. Consequentially, the media portrays the
suicide bombers as the cause of the conflict, a product of ideological
indoctrination, bearing no relation to their circumstances. The message is
simple: militant Islam of the Jihadist has replaced communism as the new
Some of the Muslim opponents of suicide bombing claims, it
is an act of suicide, which is categorically prohibited under Islamic law.
Hence, chapters 3, 4, and 5 analyses the characteristics of conventional
suicide and suicide bombing, to establish if the two types actions belong
to the same category; and that would help towards establishing the legal
status of suicide bombing in Islamic law which is discussed in part two.
According to the proponents of suicide bombings, it is a means of
waging warfare. Chapter 6 addresses the basic characteristics of executing
war that is applicable to suicide bombers and to states; consequently,
some of the one-sided criticisms of suicide bombing are highlighted.
Because, suicide bombing is usually categorised as an act of terrorism,
chapters 7, 8, and 9 are dedicated to that subject. Terrorism is
predominantly associated with the actions of non-state actors; however,
the analysis takes into consideration, the associated use of force by
states (state-terrorism or war), giving a more balanced view on this
Chapter 7 examines the difficulties of
acquiring consensus on the definition of terrorism. Despite a lack of
consensus, certain common characteristics of terrorism are extracted from
the various definitions, and examined. In chapter 8, terrorism of the
non-state actors is distinguished from state-terrorism. Chapter 9 suggests
ways of measuring various episodes of terrorism and state-terrorism, so
that it reflects the facts, rather than emotional propaganda.
Terrorism is often characterised by the deliberate and random, targeting
of civilians. International consensus holds that civilians are innocent as
non-combatants. In reality, this is moot, as civilians aid the war effort,
particularly for democratic societies, where the civilians have a major
role in waging and sustaining a war. Chapter 10 investigates their
innocence with respect to their role in war. In practical terms, civilians
are not given immunity under their so-called ‘innocent’ status;
substantial amount of civilians are always killed in any war, as powerful
explosives are used with Air Raids over populated cities. To be realistic
and candid about this sensitive issue, the questions to ask are - who can
be considered a legitimate target of war? Who can be given immunity in
war? Who should be given immunity in war?
In the final
chapter of the first section, the various propaganda myths built around
suicide bombers are deconstructed.
In part two, the book
examines the Islamic evidences with a view to answering the central
question: is suicide bombing a permissible act of Jihad or an unlawful
act? If the act is permitted, then what are its limitations? Is it an
effective response in war? What are the cost-benefits of such a response?
These central points are discussed in chapters 15, 16 and 17. There is
some elaboration on the process of deriving Islamic rules by maintaining
consistency and synchronisation of the evidences.
of suicide bombing consider it as an act of Jihad, and chapter 13 and 14,
focuses on that subject. There are at least two sides in any conflict;
thus, in chapter 13, Jihad is compared with capitalist wars and some of
the propaganda myths regarding Jihad is also addressed. Chapter 14, the
contentious issue of targeting civilians in response to enemy action is
discussed, and that necessitates examining the Islamic law of retribution.
Throughout the book, the factors behind some of the current
asymmetric conflicts have been briefly highlighted. All the evidences
indicate suicide bombing is a mere symptom, rather than the cause of the
conflict. Chapter 18 argues that by giving justice to the victims, it
would end suicide bombing and peace would prevail.
proceeds through the book, it is pertinent to remember that there are at
least two parties in this conflict. What would be the intellectual merit
in criticising suicide bombers, whilst overlooking the conduct of their
opponents? That would simply be a one-sided view, of a two-sided conflict.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 11:
Popular Myths of Suicide (Human) Bombers
In the West, even the most depraved serial killers are scientifically
studied in great depth, yet the suicide bombers from the Muslim world are
instantly dismissed as mindless killers. Suddenly the scientific West
becomes very unscientific in its approach to the issue. Eventually, the
critics have to answer the question: why do they do it? What possible
factors can propel someone to sacrifice his or her life, overruling the
basic human instinct of survival? Is it an act of vengeance for the loss of
their home, land, and family members? Perhaps, they are vulnerable people;
thus, easily brainwashed by radical preachers to commit such acts.
Alternatively, they are the product of a desperate situation created by
occupation, and subjected to daily humiliation. Maybe they are inspired by
the spiritual idea of receiving immense reward in the afterlife. Perhaps a
combination of factors produces suicide bombers. Regardless, the motive of
the suicide bomber is distorted by the propaganda machine of war. For that
reason, various myths have been manufactured and popularised, the most
prominent ones are examined here.
a) Inspired by Islam
Devout Muslims will naturally seek inspiration from Islam. The
inspiration is only sought, if the prevalent condition provides the impetus
for it. Otherwise, the assertion is that Islam permits the followers to use
suicide bombing regardless of the circumstances. If that were the case,
suicide operations would have been widespread in all parts of the Islamic
world throughout history. In reality, it is predominantly found in places
under foreign occupation, and in conflict zones.
Many of the suicide bombers in the past were not deeply religious, and
came from ordinary families. Some of them were subscribers to the secular
ideology of Arab Socialism. The Syrian Socialist PartyLebanon in the 1980s.
It is a fact, that various nations have used suicide bombings, from the
Japanese Kamikaze pilots to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is
not the reserve of any specific religion, race, or nation. The claim that
suicide bombers are exclusively inspired by Islam is simply a myth,
manufactured by the hostile media. was one of the first groups to carryout
suicide attacks, against the Israeli occupiers in
b) Promises of Virgins (‘Houris’)
This is a popular spin peddled by the mass media, especially by those
elements suffering from Islamophobia. They imply the central motive of the
suicide bomber is the lustful desire for the promised virgins in heaven. If
a man wants to satisfy his carnal desires, he is more likely to engage in
self-indulgence, rather than self-destruction. For a devout Muslim, this
means getting married, rather than getting himself fitted with an explosive
There is no shortage of virgins in the Islamic world, where it is seen as
a virtue, and not a source of shame! The Muslim youths do not need to become
martyrs to find virgins. They would counter argue, by pointing out the
scarcity of virgins in liberal West; thus, allegation regarding Houris is in
reality driven by envy.
Furthermore, translation of the word Houris is not the virgin women on
earth, pleasures of heaven are described in the worldly language, nobody
knows how literal or metaphorical these are. These are promised to all who
enter paradise, and martyrdom is not the only route to acquire these
pleasures. The media projection of such acts in sexual terms shows their
sexually obsessed mindset, everything has to be analysed for its sexual
utility. Therefore, in describing Islam, they have transformed the Harems
into brothels, Houris into lustful virgins. They see the four wives only in
terms of sexual pleasures, ignoring the huge legal, social, and economic
responsibilities that come with it.
c) Brainwashed by the Imams or the Media
Most Imams are apolitical; they do not even refer to local matters, let
alone international affairs. Nevertheless, some imams and scholars do give
legal, political, and moral justification for suicide bombing, but that is
only because the situation exists in the first place. Moreover, this does
not equate to incitement to carry out such acts. They are simply expressing
their opinion on the matter, and far from engaging in the process of
brainwashing the youths to undertake suicide missions.
It is difficult for anyone to lecture others to engage in suicide
operations, as it is reasonable to suppose that the candidate must ask
himself why this person is not leading by example. The sacrificing of life
has such a complete finality, it will always be an individual’s decision,
and therefore, it can only be conducted by those who volunteer willingly.
What impact the images from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine have on
individuals, nobody can accurately predict. Every individual has their own
tolerance threshold; once this is crossed, it can drive people to retaliate
with suicide bombing. Asif Hanif, the Tel Aviv bomber from the UK, was not
known to be involved with any radical group, and had no radical Imam
lecturing him. Perhaps, the images from the theatre of conflict that pushed
him over the edge. This is corroborated by the video that he left behind to
On the contrary, the suicide bombers would argue, it is the masses in the
West that are brainwashed by the media, which is constantly inciting much
greater level of violence against innocent Muslims. In their eyes,
journalists, editors, and commentators in the West are writing with the
‘ink’ drawn from the blood of the innocent women and children of Iraq,
Afghanistan, and Palestine. They see the media as constantly legitimising
state-terrorism against the Muslims, preaching a message of hate, under the
toxic influence of militant liberalism.
The author, Yamin Zakaria, is a British Educated Muslim,
graduated in Chemistry from Queen Mary College, London University in 1988.
He is working as an IT professional, married with four children. He
frequently comments on the political issue and events related to the Islamic
world at: (www.radicalviews.org,
His articles have appeared in numerous websites, and newspapers,
particularly in the Islamic World. He has been involved with the Islamic
movements from his University days. In the early years he was active with
several Islamic movements prior to joining Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party)
in the late 80s. He was an active member with the movement until 2002. Since
that time, the author has become an independent commentator, regarded as a
controversial author by many for expressing his views so candidly.
Those who are interested in purchasing the book can do so online by