Swans Commentary » swans.com September 12, 2005  



The Insurgent Word: Suicide


by Gerard Donnelly Smith






(Swans - September 12, 2005)  One can either live the myth of Sisyphus, finding hope to continue struggling with one's suffering, or one decides to open the veins, blow out the brains, or stick the head in the oven, so said Camus as the possible answer to life's most important question. Everyone should know the typical reasons for taking one's life, especially those suffering with terminal illness who have yet to pursue physician-assisted methods. Yet Camus did not discuss Sisyphus's other option: to blow up oneself, often killing innocent victims in the terrorist act.

According to the World Health Organization, "More people are dying from suicide than in all of the several armed conflicts around the world... In all countries, suicide is now one of the three leaning causes of death among people aged 15-34." One million a year, give or take a few drownings that might have been accidental. (1)

One wonders if the World Health Organization counts suicide bombers in these statistics. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following reason for suicide: "Cultural and religious beliefs -- for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma," but it fails to include the concept "resolution for a political dilemma." (2)

Simon Haddad, of Notre-Dame University, Lebanon, notes in "A Comparative Study of Lebanese and Palestinian Perceptions of Suicide Bombings: The Role of Militant Islam and Socio-Economic Status" that,

For both populations, support for suicide attacks is more evident among women than men. Among Lebanese, support for suicide attacks is also a function of low income and among Palestinians, a function of residence in camps. For both samples, the most important determinant of support for suicide attacks is attachment to political Islam. The greater the commitment to political Islam the more likely respondents are to endorse suicide activities. It should be noted however, that the impact of political Islam is more evident among Palestinians than Lebanese. (3)

Given that cultural acceptance of suicide correlates to actual numbers of suicides, one can expect that suicide would evolve into a method of insurgency. However ugly or brutal, we of the West may think this a form of suicide; those who feel they have no other choice gladly die.

As a Roman Catholic, I believed at one time that those who committed suicide went straight to hell. When my older brother took his own life -- even though I had already left the faith -- I wondered if he were burning in the Inferno, suffering with the other suicides who Dante fictitiously tortured. Although Dante places "admirable" suicides in other circles of hell, his description of the suicide's torture in Circle Seven -- the City of Dis -- betrays his contemporary Christian attitude: while warmongers boil in blood just a few turns away, the suicides hang in the Wood of Thorns, transformed into trees and for an eternity are pecked apart by the Harpies.

From Dante's Inferno: Canto XIII, the suicide's soul...

It falls into the forest, and no part
    Is chosen for it; but where Fortune hurls it,
    There like a grain of spelt it germinates.

It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
    The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
    Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.
Behind them was a forest full of black
    She-mastiffs, ravenous, and swift of foot
    As greyhound, who are issue from the chain.

On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
    and him they lacerated piece by piece,
    Thereafter boare away those aching members

Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
    And lead me to the bush, that all in vain
    Was weeping from its bloody lacerations.

(trans. Longfellow)

So is my suicide brother undergoing some torture in some real hell, along with murderers, usurers and blasphemers against god? Christians so much abhor the suicide that he/she may not be buried in the church cemetery, but usually end up in an unmarked grave. It took my family years to locate my brother's remains, since his wife's family buried him in an unmarked grave after he had been cremated.

In stark contrast to these beliefs, the suicide bomber, indoctrinated into the jihad, believes he/she will receive eternal glory after death. In contrast to being torn to pieces, bit-by-bit, by Harpies, the jihadist suicide bomber blows him/herself to bits without fear of eternal torment. Instead of being unable to regenerate his or her body on judgment day as the Christian suicide, the jihadist suicide bomber believes his body remains whole in paradise where he will be given pleasure by many virgins.

The Quaran strictly forbids suicide and prohibits violence against women and children, yet the suicide bomber often kills innocent women and children in his/her act of terrorism. Although Mohammed defined war as a minor jihad and Islamic scholars declare that jihad does not include acts of terror, the suicide bomber is taught to believe his death as a jihadist warrior is a most holy act. Although war may be fought to bring about peace, the Quaran says enemies must be given the right to worship the true faith, while those who support suicide bombing preach that it is a heroic act of martyrdom against the infidel. (4)

How then does one combat a suicide bomber's beliefs? How does one argue against those who say the oppressed have the right to fight back by using any means necessary? How does a pacifist, like myself, come to grips with the hatred such suicide bombers must have for the "infidel"?

Does one commit acts of violence and terror against those who support the suicide bomber? Acts of violence cause more acts of violence: those who live by the bomb die by the bomb.

Does one investigate the underlying causes for the suicide bomber's actions, then make the appropriate policy changes to end those causes? Acts of reconciliation, as well as acts of true contrition, are the only ways out of the circle of violence that now threatens to engulf the world in self-fulfilling acts of murder.

Since suicide is against Islamic Law, (5) and since killing is prohibited by the Christian Sixth Commandment, (6) those who believe in jihad and those who believe in the Rapture should both follow the law. The rest of us can only pray that they do, or else be damned along with them.

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Works Cited

1.  World Health Organization Figures and Facts about Suicide (PDF).  (back)

2.  Centers for Disease Control Suicide Fact Sheet.  (back)

3.  A Comparative Study of Lebanese and Palestinian Perceptions of Suicide Bombings: The Role of Militant Islam and Socio-Economic Status.  (back)

4.  Islamic Suicide Bombers.  (back)

5.  The 'suicide' bomber: is it a psychiatric phenomenon?  (back)

6.  The Ten Commandments.  (back)


Internal Resources

Iraq on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


About the Author

Gerard Donnelly Smith on Swans (with bio).



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Published September 12, 2005