Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

21. Suicide Bombing – A Revisit

On October 22, 2004 I wrote a commentary on suicide bombing primarily as an act committed by Palestinians against Israelis. In the past year things have changed; now the majority of Islamic suicide bombers kill other Muslims. They operate primarily in Iraq with Sunni’s killing Shi’ites.  It is only a matter of time until the Shi’ites retaliate. In mixed Sunni-Shi’ite towns ethnic cleansing is already taking place (N.Y.Times Nov. 20). These Islamic killing machines also operate in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Afghanistan and Indonesia. Their occasional forays into Europe are annoying and a media event (more on that later) rather than a significant problem. Even in Israel many more citizens die on the roads that by terrorists. Perhaps 3,000 westerners (including soldiers) have been killed in the last eighteen months and perhaps 100,000 Muslims – some killed by Americans but most by Islamic insurgents.

The Sunni’s are primarily creating a form of Islamic genocide. As a Jew seeing their anti-Semitism I should not care. But because I am a human being, first a descendant of Adam and secondly a descendant of Abraham I do care; all human life (even President Ahmadinejad) are made in the image of God.

People who choose as their life work terrorism are a different breed than most of us; they take risks unacceptable to us but do not assume they will die. Suicide bombers are a special breed of terrorist, different by degrees so profound that they can only be called - compared to the norm - pathological. These people who claim to use suicide as a religious commandment are not pious students at a clerical institution; they are in fact secularized western alienated young men full of rage. They are primarily ‘born agains’ and as in all religions including my own are ignorant of their own religion. (A surprising number are converted from Christianity in prison from prison gurus.)  They did not seek a Rabbi or Sheik or Father to learn but a guru who will brainwash them. A ‘guru’ will make life simple for them by making all of life’s decisions. Gurus do not understand or perhaps accept the grey complexities of life; the rage full never need to think again.

My religion and Islam have many similarities (more so than Christianity), they include what are called the five ‘pillars’ in Islam and ‘mitzvot’ or commandments in Judaism.  One could claim that by observing these pillars or mitzvot one gets credit when one faces God on ones personal Day of Judgment. These particular ‘born agains’ skip these procedures and often drink and whore, but expect one great service – killing and committing suicide another sin - to bring them into Paradise. This is a distortion of Judaism and Islam.  

A perfect example occurred in Jordan; we now have had the first married couple attempted suicide bombing; she unfortunately failed to detonate herself. She had married the man who accompanied her on her suicide mission only shortly before the attack. As religious people, the man could not accompany her unless they were married. They were concerned about propriety of an unmarried couple being together. Apparently killing innocent Muslims at a wedding ceremony was perfectly kosher in their system of ethics. This is a perfect example of people ignorant of religion and following some guru.

Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, a psychiatrist who volunteers to assist criminals in a prison with mental problems many of whom are Muslims (as in America a disproportionate number of prisoners are black). He referred to one prisoner who he states was more hate-filled than any man he had ever met. The offspring of a broken marriage between a Muslim man and a female convert, he had followed the trajectory of many young men in his area: sex and drugs and rock and roll, untainted by anything resembling religion. Violent and aggressive by nature, intolerant of the slightest frustration to his will and frequently suicidal, he had experienced taunting during his childhood because of his mixed parentage. After a vicious rape for which he went to prison, he found a guru, another prisoner and converted to a Salafist (a version of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism) form of Islam and became convinced that any system of justice that could take the word of a mere woman – referring to his rape - over his own was irredeemably corrupt. ‘I noticed one day that his mood had greatly improved; he was communicative and almost jovial, which he had never been before. I asked him what had changed in his life for the better. He had made his decision, he said. Everything was resolved. He was not going to kill himself in an isolated way, as he had previously intended. Suicide was a mortal sin, according to the tenets of the Islamic faith. No, when he got out of prison he would not kill himself; he would make himself a martyr, and be rewarded eternally, by making himself into a bomb and taking as many enemies with him as he could’. (City Journal - Autumn 2005)

These suicide bombers are almost all misogynists. Who else would wish 72 eternal doe eyed virgins in Paradise. One wonders what the Jordanian woman who failed would have received in her Paradise. Can Muhammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 terrorists really have wanted virgins in heaven; he had a pathological loathing and fear of women. He tells us this in his will (which he left in his hotel room for us all to read – you can find it on the web) that he forbad women to visit his grave for fear that they would contaminate his disintegrating body.

Andre Glucksmann, the French philosopher claims that hatred has its own value; it is reassuring, makes one feel strong, is thrilling and may require no other purpose. The three most popular hatreds he claims are women, Jews and Americans (Le discours de la haine).

It does not take a theologian to read the Bible’s sixth commandment ‘you shall not kill’; it does not take a theologian to read Sura 17:31 in the Koran ‘kill not your children . . . the killing of them is a great sin’. Since numerous supposed clerics have justified suicide bombing and the killing of civilians, a clear misreading of those simple words, where are the supposedly moderate Islamic clerics who are not writing fatwas against killing as the Koran clearly states.

One might ask why Islam uses suicide bombing extensively; neither the IRA, ETA or the Red Army Faction and others considered dying for their cause. It began with the Ayatollah Khomeini overcoming the American based Shah of Iran and creating the first Islamic Republic. As a result he was considered by some as the reincarnation of the Hidden Imam – the Shi’ite Mahdi (messiah) - who had returned. During the Iran-Iraq war he sent tens of thousands of children and teenagers with a key – originally iron then plastic - to Paradise around their neck into mined fields with Iraqi machine gunners behind those who managed to survive the mine fields. Some had large shirts stating ‘Imam Khomeini has given me special permission to enter Heaven’ (C. Reuter, My Life is a Weapon). It took a mother whose thirteen year old son was thrown away by Khomeini many years to be able to visit her son’s grave and say ‘I don’t believe it’s God’s will for someone to just throw his life away’ (Reuter).

This suicide disease then migrated into the Sunni Islamic world. The only comparison a westerner can relate to is if Jesus returned would some believe the Apocalypse had arrived and look to find ways to die?

Where are the Islamic clerics we hear are moderate. Muhammad Sa'id Tantawi, sheikh and mufti of Egypt's famous al-Azhar Mosque and University, is the highest ranking Sunni cleric in the world.  In 2003 he seemed unequivocal about the issue of suicide bombers. He declared that the Sharia (Islamic law) "rejects all attempts on human life, and in the name of the Sharia, we condemn all attacks on civilians" (Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003).

However some of the fundamentalist clerics objected. The harshest rebuttal came from Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, known as the theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood and currently head of the Sunni studies faculty at Qatar University: "I am astonished that some sheikhs deliver fatwas that betray the mujahideen, instead of supporting them and urging them to sacrifice and martyrdom." He argued that "Israeli society was completely military in its make-up and did not include any civilians ... How can the head of al-Azhar incriminate mujahideen who fight against aggressors? How can he consider these aggressors as innocent civilians?"

Tantawi caved in declaring and effectively abrogating his earlier fatwa: "My words were clear ... a man who blows himself [up] in the middle of enemy militants is a martyr, repeat, a martyr. What we do not condone is for someone to blow himself up in the middle of children or women. If he blows himself up in the middle of Israeli women enlisted in the army, then he is a martyr, since these women are fighters". (Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003). (Tantawi although refusing to circumcise his daughter also refused to make a religious ruling on the subject – O. Roy, Globalized Islam, Pg. 159).

While both Qaradawi and Tantawi are referring to Israeli civilians Al-Qaeda does not make such distinctions. It is worth noting that Palestinian suicide bombers tend to be family men integrated into their society; Al-Qaeda’s are cultural outcasts who almost never return to their homeland (Roy, pg. 307). To Al-Qaeda recovering Andalusia is the same as recovering Israel. Perhaps the clerics could be reminded of what Pastor Martin Neimoller said against another group of fascists. “First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist - so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat - so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew - so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left who could stand up for me."

Millions of people demonstrated against America’s invading Iraq rightfully and ethically. Why do not a million Muslims demonstrate in Cairo, Amman, Karachi and Jakarta against Islamists killing Muslims?

The leaders of this group are Osama bin Laden a Saudi Arabian businessman who calls himself a Sheik, but is not trained as such, Ayman al Zawahiri an Egyptian medical doctor and Abu Zarqawi a Jordanian high school dropout jailed in his home country as a gangster. Despite continual discussion of God and the Koran there is not a single cleric in the group. It is not clear whether these people believe ‘God is great’ or like Nietzsche that God is dead (Reuter, Weapon). They clearly do not believe in the traditional monotheistic believe that life is sacred. There Jihadic killing is no more justified that the Christian Crusades killing more Jews that Muslims or the Catholic-Protestant wars in the Middle Ages. Everyone justifies killing in God’s name. God can only be weeping!

Bin Laden castigated those in the Arab world who are "calling for a peaceful democratic solution in dealing with apostate governments of with Jewish and crusader invaders instead of fighting in the name of God." He referred to democracy as "this deviant and misleading practice" and "the faith of the ignorant."

Al-Zarqawi, reacted to the January 2005 Iraqi election directly: "The legislator who must be obeyed in a democracy is man, and not God. ... That is the very essence of heresy and polytheism and error, as it contradicts the bases of the faith and monotheism, and because it makes the weak, ignorant man God's partner in His most central divine prerogative -- namely, ruling and legislating." Of course democracy also does not favor Islamists. According to Oliver Roy, with few paroxysmal events, ’nowhere in the world did Islamic parties attract more than around 20 per cent of the electoral vote’ (pg. 78). Who made this pathological killer Zarqawi, this high school drop out jailed as a thief in his own country who acts against the Koran, God’s partner.

There is a problem with those of us who wish to live and not die. General James Gavin (of WWII fame), whose airborne division was among the finest units in any army, filled his diary with harsh comments about the average soldier's military quality. ''If our infantry would fight,'' he wrote in January 1945, ''this war would be over by now. . . . Everybody wants to live to a ripe old age.'' When Winston Churchill complained to Montgomery about the British Army's lack of initiative, Montgomery replied by recalling the carnage on the Western Front during World War I: ''It was you, Prime Minister, who told me that we must not suffer casualties on the scale of the Somme'' (Armegeddon by Max Hastngs).  

Some have claimed this is ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and Europe will be Muslim by the end of the century; but despite Bernard Lewis and Bat Yeor (Eurabia:The Euro-Arab Axis) this seems unlikely to this author. These views seem similar to Samuel Huntington the popularizer of the term the ‘Clash of Civilizations” concern that America will become an Hispanic country. It will not. In my younger days my favorite American philosopher was Lawrence ‘Yogi” Berra who said ‘prophecy is hard especially about the future”.  The Jihadists led by Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Zarqawi have no civilization to offer, at least not in this world. They are using humiliated, marginalized, suffering, discriminated and oppressed people not dissimilar to the Radical leftists of the 1960’s. Those have all joined the middle class bourgeoisie now.

When the French underclass who happen to be almost all Muslims lit thousands cars on fire is not the death wish of Osama and his cohorts. They are no longer Moroccans and not yet French. They are not, I believe  Radical Islamist; they want to be French and have what the rest of the French have. Those who do not choose to be French should and probably will be deported. Most however are exactly like the American blacks who lit up Los Angeles, Detroit and N.Y. in the 1960’s, they were also not radicals, they wanted what I already had. They have achieved most of that and every year get more. This French underclass is closer to American blacks in using Black music, halal McDonald’s and other accoutrements of western culture than to their Moroccan families. They probably speak a hip hop French which their father’s cannot understand just as I cannot understand hip hop English. They might achieve their wish to join the western culture if they stop burning schools and find a Martin Luther King to lead them in using schools to get ahead. What we are seeing in France is not an Islamic intifada but underclass rebellion. But we must be aware that these men are possible Al-Qaeda recruits.

There is only one civilization conquering the world – it is global modernity – in different versions – Eastern, Western and Oriental - and in fact no one can stop it. It has nothing to do with values; a modern person and I personally know many who believe in pre-marital chastity, family values, are against abortion and homosexuality.

Osama, Ayaman and Abu are what Oliver Roy called in his brilliant book (Globalized Islam) simply ‘security problems’. My adopted country has largely figured out how to handle these merchants of death. The Palestinians actually want exactly what the French and Black Americans want, part of the good life. If they get decent leaders which at some point in the future one hopes they will, they will get the good life. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have more serious problems being Muslim, largely autocratic and allowing their problems to fester for a longtime. They have their own versions of Radical Islamists who wish to overthrow their governments.

Al-Qaeda has organized a negative ideology on a global basis heard mainly by these humiliated underclass people. But Al-Qaeda mistakes what these rage full people really want. Al-Qaeda being a non-state actor, is not sensitive to the usual deterrence and can be reckless and create catastrophic attacks as 9/11 in N.Y., 3/11 in Madrid, 7/7 in London even operated by local actors. Al-Qaeda aim is to overthrow the existing political order in the Muslim countries and replace it with a Caliphate regime. They have not succeeded in any one country. Ayman al-Zawahiri, has argued that the militant Islamic movement cannot win without a base at the heart of the Arab Middle East preferable Saudi Arabia, Abu Zarqawi prefers Jordan. Does anyone believe that the U.S. and Israel would allow that to happen? If America attacked Iraq it is obvious what it would do if serious danger occurred in Saudi Arabia. When Iran gets its nuclear bomb (and it will) does anyone believe it will bomb Jerusalem or Mecca? Maybe, that would kill a lot of Jews as well as Palestinians and Sunnies; that might even appeal to the latest Shia Ayatollah and his Jew hating President. There will be terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, but Al-Qaeda is still not as Roy noted a strategic threat; they are a security problems that is solvable.

The result unfortunately will be racial profiling, human and civil rights abuses and even torture – none of which I approve of – but those are the reactions to people seeking safety when others kill  civilians. Less liberty but more safety appears to be acceptable to most westerners.  

Unless the Arabs acknowledge their own problems as three U.N. Arab based reports have documented they will continue their own self imposed genocide. As long as the Arab world admires Osama, Ayman and Abu who are simply gangsters they will not progress from their own poverty. As Tariq Ramadan has said ‘The Middle East is not the cause of our problem; it’s the consequence.’ (Foreign Policy, Nov-Dec 2004).

The media are the biggest help to these terrorists; the terrorists have managed to co-opt the media. CNN spend three days on the Jordan terrorist attack on three hotels killing 58 people. I do not deny the importance of that event but during the same three days 5,000 men, women and children died of AID’s and in next month perhaps 10,000 or more persons from Kashmir will freeze or starve to death. Why not spend some of the three days on those problems?  The media seem to create reality or at least virtual reality which may be the new world.

Three men founded Islamism: Qutb, an Egyptian (1906-1966), Mawdudi, a Pakistani (1903-1979 and Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-1989). The first two  created Sunni Islamism with funding by Saudi Wahabeeism, and Khomeini Shi’ite Islamism. The only one successful was Khomeini who created an Islamic Republic. They all opposed secularism and modernity and traditional Islam in favor of fascist Islamism. Only Khomeini succeeded, due to his ability to create a coalition of the underclasses, the middle class who had rejected the Shahs autocracy, intellectuals and clerics. Despite his success and despite the apparent victory of the Hard line President  Ahmadinejad it is obvious at least to author that in twenty years this Islamic Republic will be gone.

21A. Jewish Fundamentalism or Fundamentally Jewish?
by Ze'ev Orenstein, September 22, 2005, Arutz 7

Of late, there have been several articles published, in particular Wielding Ideology by Sam Ser and Fundamental Flaws by Rabbi Moshe Reiss, that have taken a critical look at the perceived threat of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel. I hope to dispel the myth surrounding what it means to be a Jewish fundamentalist, and to show that, in reality, what today is defined as Jewish fundamentalism is consistent with traditional Jewish thought and teachings.

Rabbi Moshe Reiss and Sam Ser both make reference to the following theme, as it appears in Rabbi Reiss' article:
Three themes that Judaic and Islamic fundamentalists both share are: (1) the belief in the absolute supremacy of religious law; (2) the contention that secular regimes, though they may pay lip service to religious law, have rejected this law and rely instead on outside, and particularly Western, influences to guide the state; and (3) the insistence that the only way to restore the people to their rightful status is to wrest control and implement a "return" to the divinely inspired code.
Here is the definition of a fundamentalist:

"A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism."

Based on this definition, one must draw the logical conclusion that every observant Jew in Israel (and possibly the world) must be considered a Jewish fundamentalist.

Let us take a look at the three characteristics that both Ser and Reiss make reference to:

The belief in the absolute supremacy of religious law.

How could any religious, G-d-fearing Jew disagree with this statement? That is not to say that a Jew is not obligated to follow the laws of the land in which they live (the concept of dina d'malchuta dina). This would obligate the Jew to pay taxes, follow traffic laws, etc.; however, this obligation to follow the law of the land only applies where the law in question does not conflict with Jewish law.

The contention that secular regimes, though they may pay lip service to religious law, have rejected this law and rely instead on outside, and particularly Western, influences to guide the state.

While the State of Israel does base many of its laws on Jewish law, by no means are all its laws based on Jewish Law (all one has to do is look at Israel's Supreme Court and the values that it promotes). Additionally, Jewish law is rarely the main factor in determining the State of Israel's foreign and domestic policies. Culture (movies, books, TV, radio, clothing) in Israel is primarily based on Western culture and values (or the lack there of).

The State of Israel, from its inception, has been pulled in two conflicting directions. Her founding fathers desired to create a "New-Jew" in Israel. A Jew that would no longer be bound by Jewish Law, which was associated with the Judaism of the exile. Israel was to be a nation like all others, with a Jewish majority, which would allow for the normalization of the Jew. On the other hand, Orthodox Jewry (and of late, Religious Zionist adherents) wanted Israel to be a Jewish State in more than just demography, but also in character, spirit, identity and culture.

This conflict, to this day, has not been resolved, and as such, the State of Israel more often than not seems to be leading a double life similar to that of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

The insistence that the only way to restore the people to their rightful status is to wrest control and implement a "return" to the divinely inspired code.

Three times a day a Jew is obligated to pray. Let us take a look at some of the prayers that a Jew says each time he prays:

From the 11th blessing of the Amidah prayer: "Restore our judges as in earliest times... and reign over us, You, HaShem, alone with kindness and compassion...."

From the 14th blessing: "And to Jerusalem, Your city... may You rest within it as You have spoken. May You rebuild it soon in our days as an eternal structure, and may you speedily establish the throne of David within it."

From the 17th blessing: "Be favorable, HaShem... and restore the service to the Holy of Holies of Your Temple. The fire offerings of Israel...."

From the Aleinu prayer:
For he has not made us like the nations of the lands, and has not emplaced us like the families of the earth; for he has not assigned our portion like theirs, nor our lot like all their multitudes. For they bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god which helps not. But we bend our knees, bow, and acknowledge our thanks before the King who reigns over kings, the Holy One, Blessed is He....

Therefore we put our hope in you, Hashem our G-d... to remove detestable idolatry from the earth, and false gods will be utterly cut off, to perfect the universe through the Almighty's sovereignty.... All the world's inhabitants will recognize and know that to You every knee should bend, every tongue should swear... and they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of Your kingship that you may reign over them soon and eternally. And it is said: HaShem will be King over all the world - on that day HaShem will be One and His Name will be One.
Can anyone honestly argue that in these prayers the Jewish people are not asking HaShem to restore to them sovereignty in the Land of Israel, in order to create a Jewish State where the judges will rule according to Jewish Law, where the leaders, from the House of David, will be, first and foremost, faithful servants of HaShem and of His laws and teachings, where the Holy Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and serve not only as the spiritual center of the Jewish People, but for all of mankind?

I do not know if Sam Ser or Rabbi Moshe Reiss are familiar with these prayers, and if so, how they are able to reconcile the internal conflict that reciting these prayers would undoubtedly create within them. I can only imagine that, for Jews like Reiss and Ser who do recite these prayers, they can take comfort in the words of the Kuzari by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi. When speaking of the Jews who, in spite of all their prayers expressing a desire to return to Israel, chose to stay in exile, Rabbi Yehudah referred to their prayers in the following way: "But rather as the speech of a parrot or the twittering of a starling, as without the correct intention of the heart we say these things and others."

For 2,000 years, the Jewish people hoped, yearned and prayed to return to the Land of Israel and to reestablish Jewish sovereignty. Why? Not so that we could be the only democracy in the Middle East, but to create an authentically Jewish State, true to Jewish teachings and heritage. This would be refelcted not only in the laws and policies of the state, but through its culture and educational system, as well. To have a Jewish State one needs more than a simple Jewish majority.

Let me be clear in saying that I do not advocate bringing this about through religious coercion. This is what the Jewish people, as a nation, should be striving to achieve. It may be some time before this vision becomes the reality in the State of Israel, and this will only come to pass through love of our fellow Jew, intensive Jewish education, true Jewish leadership, and more than a little help from Above).

I do not doubt that the concept of Jewish fundamentalism makes Jews like Ser and Reiss uncomfortable, because it directly conflicts with their ideal of being a modern Jew accepted by the world, in which the State of Israel exists as a nation like all others. It must be painful for Ser, Reiss and others when they are confronted with the truth that Judaism is not concerned with winning any popularity contests, but about the Jewish people being true to their G-d, to His law and to themselves. Only through that will the world come to respect the G-d of Israel, along with his chosen nation, the Jewish people.

This concept is one of the fundamental principles of Judaism, and as such, according to the likes of Ser and Reiss, those Jews who adhere to it must be considered Jewish fundamentalists. It is ironic, that the very ones whom Ser and Reiss view as posing the greatest threat to the State of Israel are specifically those who have remained true to the teachings and heritage of our forefathers.

I am confident that, just as Abraham merited being the father of the Jewish people in spite of the fact that he was considered a Jewish fundamentalist for his uncompromising belief in the G-d of Israel, similarly, the Jewish fundamentalists of today, of whom Ser and Reiss are so fearful, will ultimately lead the Jewish People to their redemption, and to the birth of a true Jewish State in the Land of Israel.