June 21, 2002
The latest insight into the mind of the Palestinian suicide bomber comes from Cherie Blair. Mrs. Blair is a successful and prominent London lawyer, but her musings on the political psychology of Palestinian terrorists wouldn't merit much attention, were it not for the fact that she also happens to be the wife of Tony, the prime minister of the United Kingdom.
No adult in Britain can have grown up without being exposed to lots of discussions about terrorism. But there weren't many suicide-bombers in the IRA, and the phenomenon is apparently so bizarre that Mrs. Blair can explain it only by falling back on lazy liberal stereotypes. Since we are all humans, the assumption goes, the only explanation for people who act contrary to the most fundamental human instinct self-preservation is that they must be driven by an overwhelming sense of despair, deprivation, and desperation. Therefore, Palestinians who indulge in this most extreme sort of behavior must have been forced into it by what Israel has done to them.
The conclusion seems to flow logically from the assumption. The only problem is that Mrs. Blair, like many others who explain (without, God forbid, justifying) these despicable acts, never examines the assumption.
So let's be a bit politically incorrect. The liberal assertion that people are basically the same invariably draws warm murmurs of mushy assent from western audiences. But it is nothing more than an expression of goodwill, without any basis in fact. We are not all the same. We don't speak the same language, dress the same way, or eat the same food.
We don't all pray to the same God, if we pray at all, and those who do pray to the same God don't pray the same way.
We don't all have the same political systems or the same attitudes to relations between the citizen and the state, between men and women, between adults and minors, even between parents and children. In Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, children were encouraged or brainwashed to inform on their parents. And in Islamo-fascist segments of Palestinian society today, young people are encouraged or even brainwashed to blow themselves up in order to kill Israelis (in the same way that Saudi and Egyptian Islamo-fascists none of them poor or oppressed blew themselves up in New York and Washington).
Even more alien to the "common humanity" school of thought, some of their mothers publicly glorify the death of their children and welcome their martyrdom.
A western liberal can probably only understand all this through the prism of despair. That still begs the question, even if we are all the same, why the same cause does not always lead to the same effect. After all, there is lots of despair, anger, and frustration in non-Islamic societies, but (except among Tamils) very little of the suicide-bomber phenomenon. More to the point, that explanation doesn't even entertain the possibility that in other societies, made up of people who are not the same as Cherie Blair, the phenomenon can be explained, not by despair, but by hate and hope: of going to paradise, of gaining financial reward for families, even of killing so many Jews and demoralizing so many others that Israel might eventually be destroyed. This hate and these hopes are so alien to Mrs. Blair's world that she can't fathom the possibility, but that doesn't mean that they are equally alien to everyone else.
RECENT OPINION polls show that about two-thirds of Palestinians approve of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, and that almost 90 percent oppose the preemptive arrest of the bombers or of those who recruit and send them on their way. It therefore took no little courage for a group of several dozen Palestinian intellectuals to issue a public statement appealing for an end to terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, even (one presumes) attacks in which the terrorists don't kill themselves. Never mind that the appeal was such a long time coming 21 months after the outbreak of the so-called intifada and about eight years after the suicide bombings began. Never mind that the appeal applies only to attacks within the Green Line, which presumably means that the bombings this week in Jerusalem's Gilo and French Hill neighborhoods are kosher. Never mind that it is motivated by instrumental considerations of what serves Palestinian national interests, rather than by any moral revulsion. Never mind that the signatories' cause is contaminated by the explanation of CNN/BBC's favorite Palestinian, Hanan Ashrawi, who mounts another excursion into the rhetorical gutter by arguing that Palestinians should avoid murdering civilians in order not to sink to Israel's level. Never mind all this. It's enough that there are still a few people who inhabit Mrs. Blair's cognitive universe the kind of people who get invited to 10 Downing Street and yet are willing to speak out against the rising current of Islamo-fascism in Palestinian society.
The writer is principal research associate at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.