|Abdullah M. Hamidaddin|
Monday, 25 August 2014
Terrorism, Saudis, and the Trivialization of Life
This is a guest contribution by Abdullah Hamidaddin, a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs and presently a PhD candidate at King's College London. His book Harmonious Being is discussed in this earlier post.
n the heart of every terrorist is a trivialization of life; his
own or the innocent’s or both. Some terrorists come with a disposition for criminality
and trivialize the lives of others for lack of empathy. Such people hold on
dearly to their own lives and those they cares for – family – but can become butchers
when the matter is about other people’s lives. They may seem religious, but they
are nothing but criminals using a religious language. And in many ways it is
only language which differentiates a criminal who uses religious or
revolutionary language and the butchers in the Mexican drug cartels. On the
other hand some terrorists are ideologues. They trivialize life because they
are convinced that it does not merit care, or because there are things worth to
die for and also to kill thousands of others. Here they learn to trivialize
life, they read theory after theory on the matter, and then they teach others. Here
all lives are trivialized; one’s own life, those dear and also others. Such terrorists
who adopt an ideology that trivializes life (and glorifies death) are the most
dangerous type. They are the fuel that sustains terrorism. A criminal terrorist
will withdraw once he/she realizes that the costs outweigh the benefits. The
ideologue terrorist will continue until he/she is killed or incarcerated.
Those who combat terrorism in Saudi Arabia face a major hurdle. The ideology of trivializing life is very popular. It is true that only a few members of Saudi society turn towards terrorism, but a significant segment of that society believes in many of the founding ideas of terrorism particularly the ideology of trivializing life. This becomes apparent by following or participating in Saudi debates on terrorism, even though the new terrorism laws enacted made many Saudis less willing to speak their minds on terrorism. They want to condone it or justify but they fear that it may constitute promotion of terrorism as defined by the way and lead them to imprisonment. But there had been a recent frank debate on Hamas and Palestinian military resistance and the ideas expressed say much about the popularity of the ideology of trivializing life. Though the debate was about Hamas it spoke our local reality; though it was about an event outside Saudi Arabia it reflected a local mindset.
Following the debate on resistance can give us a glimpse on some of the highlights of the ideology of trivializing life which sustains terrorism. At the heart of that debate you find a culture of adoration to death. The debates did not focus on the military or political feasibility of resistance rather on the necessity to die and the triviality of life regardless of the gains. Some of the common phrases were: “to die as martyrs is better than to live without pride”; “what is the point of them living if it is under a siege”; “what is bad about a whole nation dying for its dignity”; “what do they have to live for anyhow”; “why is death a problem?” “it is not important how many of us are killed, what matters is that we kill from them and strike fear in their hearts”; “our dead will go to heaven so it is not a problem.”
Had we heard this from someone living in Gaza it would be understood. He/she would be living in exceptionally harsh situations and thus is expected to think about life and death in an exceptional even suicidal mode. Living under an occupation can make one hate their enemies to the point of hating their own lives and those one cares for.
Had those been said by soldier, it would have also been understood. He/she is trained to kill; to violently confront; to die. His training extracts from him respect for human life. A soldier in the end is a killing machine.
What is freighting however is to see such phrases coming out from Saudis of all backgrounds and social classes. I almost feel that some of their grievances about the deaths of Gazans is more about stirring Western conscience and less about actually being sad over them. It is almost as if they are thrilled about human loss or at least uncaring but are compelled to show a sad face. It is indeed horrific to hear such logic from the religious, the intellectual, the layman, the old and the young. All celebrate death in their own ranks – the ranks of the Palestinians actually - as much as they celebrate death in the ranks of their enemies – the Israelis.
I need to take a moment to differentiate between the undesired necessity of death to protect one’s life, dignity, rights, land and nation on one hand and the celebration of death on the other. I do not argue against the necessity of death in extreme conditions (though I still consider it evil), but I argue against celebrating it and welcoming it. We also need to differentiate between holding on to life and loving life. We do hold on to life, no doubt. But sometimes I feel it is an instinctive response; similar to that of a car or an ant. We also fight for our lives, but perhaps in the same way as an amoeba protects its own life. Yet, we – or many of us – do not love life. We do not hold it to be sacred. On the contrary we love death and sacralise it; we consider death the ultimate goodness and we may even ridicule those who love life or call for holding it sacred.
All nations consider those killed for a grand cause to be martyrs. All nations give the family the news of the death of a dear one. And all nations cry and lament their losses. But we have a peculiar and odd phenomenon which is that we give the news as if it’s good piece of news. Many of us are actually happy to hear the news of martyrdom. Some families reject receiving condolences because they consider it to be a happy occasion. Of course there is sadness. We cannot avoid being sad. But we celebrate death. Some families even envy other families who are strong enough in their faith to the point where they announce their happiness when receiving the news of martyrdom.
We need a better understanding of this mindset. We need to understand its roots. Where did the ideology of trivializing life/death come from? The Quran speaks of Jihad as something people hate: "Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you" (Q 2.216). Yet now we have people speaking about Jihad and about being killed as something they love. Is it the Marxist resistance movements which also trivialized the life of the individual for the sake of the life of the collective? There is a lot of evidence that local radical, Arab nationalists, and Islamic movements were influenced by Marxist resistance literature. So perhaps it was imported and then ‘Islamized’ by mixing it with Qur’anic verses, Hadiths and historical stories of Muslim heroism. Being Islamized is a crisis, as before that, such ideas would have been considered a pragmatic tool to encourage resistance. But when Islamists adopted it, it became an ultimate value, a religious principle, it became above everything. There is also a second crisis which is that this principle was included in our educational programs and built into the DNA of our culture and now a whole society is socialized on it.
To look for ISIS or Al-Qaeda or all forms of terrorism one needs to look into the whole of society. In a way we all belong to ISIS. We are all terrorists. We have all grown up to be soldiers for the ‘cause’ – whatever that is; soldiers who know how to obey not to think; how to hate not to love; how to fight not to make peace; how to confront not to maneuver; how to die not to live. Such knowledge is a foundation of terrorism.
We repeatedly hear that it is futile to confront terrorism if the religious clerics who are assigned the duty of confronting religious terrorism are themselves radical. But the problem in my view is deeper. Society fights terrorism but in its depth is a terrorist. The terrorist is not in discord with his society rather a loyal member of his society’s culture. The terrorist is one who disobeyed his society but not who left his society’s culture.
Another article on a related theme written by the same author for Al-Arabiya News appeared under the title 'How to Kill ISIS with the Right Discourse'.
Following him on twitter @amiQ1.