Sunday, August 06, 2006

Martin Kramer on Hizballah's Ayatollah Fadlallah

(Gazing at You From Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I alluded to Martin Kramer's useful website, which provides articles that he has written on Hizballah, among other topics.

One fascinating article is titled "The Moral Logic of Hizballah," taken from Walter Reich's edited book of articles by various scholars, Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998). Kramer's first footnote cites an article from 1988, but "Moral Logic" seems initially to have appeared as Occasional Paper No. 101, published in August 1987 in Tel Aviv by the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Thus, the article represents Kramer's thinking on Hizballah about 20 years ago, but it has details relevant to our understanding of suicide martyrdom:

Hizballah owes much of its reputation in the wider world to the unprecedented wave of suicidal bombings carried out by Lebanese Shi`ites from the spring of 1983 to the summer of 1985. These attacks were directed against U.S., French, and Israeli targets in Lebanon, and they met with astonishing success in bringing about policy reassessments by all these extraneous powers.


The more complicated moral issue from Hizballah's point of view concerned the method of the attacks, which depended upon the premeditated sacrifice by Muslims of their own lives. The frequency with which this issue was addressed by Shi'ite clerics following the attacks suggests that resort to this method did not meet with universal approbation within Hizballah, because of the strong Islamic prohibition against suicide.

The eternal consequence of committing suicide is dire, as Kramer notes in footnote 24:

The accepted theological view is that suicide is a grave sin, and the person who commits suicide is doomed to continual repetition in Hell of the action by which he killed himself. Franz Rosenthal, "On Suicide in Islam," Journal of the American Oriental Society 66 (1946): 243, 245.

Islamic law therefore strongly condemns suicide, so the use of attacks in which one's own death was necessary -- indeed, even a meticulously planned necessity -- raised troubling questions due to their success ... but only because of their success. Had they been utterly unsuccessful, they would have been roundly condemned. Their success required their justification. Their justification required a man steeped in Islamic law.

Rising to the occasion was the Lebanese Shi'ite religious scholar Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. His defense of suicide martyrdom never amounted to a fatwa, but in a piece of complex moral reasoning, he came as close as possible to issuing one without formally doing so:

First, he said, no other means remained to the Muslims to confront the massive power commanded by the United States and Israel. In the absence of any other alternative, unconventional methods became admissible, and perhaps even necessary.


[Second, he argued that d]eaths in suicide bombings are no different from more commonplace deaths of soldiers who enter battle knowing that some of them will not return but confident that their sacrifice will advance the common cause.

As Kramer notes:

Fadlallah's moral logic thus rested upon two opposite but complementary assertions. The Muslims had just cause and need to resort to extraordinary means; yet the suicide bombings were not that extraordinary after all, and his closer analysis revealed that those Muslims who perished in such attacks died deaths that did not differ from battlefield deaths. These were the complex mechanisms of moral disengagement that permitted Islamic Jihad, in good conscience, to recruit and deploy young men in suicidal missions.

Fadlallah's reasoning is more nuanced than presented here, so interested readers should go to Kramer's article for a closer reading, but Kramer's concise summary reflects arguments that I've seen in various Muslim sources, which implies that Fadlallah's views have met a strongly felt need in the broader Muslim community despite his minority status as a Shi'ite Muslim.

Interestingly -- as reported in Wikipedia -- Fadlallah "condemns terrorist attacks against civilians such as those of September 11 and the beheading of Nick Berg" at the hands of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Fadlallah wouldn't care much for Zarqawi, of course, since the Salafi Sunni Zarqawi hated Shi'ites and would gladly have cut Fadlallah's head off, too.

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At 5:29 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

"Islamic law therefore strongly condemns suicide". In a report in The Observer today, Professor Rober Page writes about suicide bombings and Hizbollah. He points out that a lot of time has been given to trying to understand how Islam permits suidide bombings. Out of 41 Hizbollah suicide bombings, his research shows that 8 were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, 3 by Christians, 27 by left-wing political groups. In other words, Hizbollah's suicide campaign is politically driven (by an umbrella coalition) and not, as often stated, by religious fanaticism. The religious interpretation, he argues, is a falsity (that the West would like to believe). His book on this subject, Dying to Win, is about to be published. An interesting new perspective?

At 6:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I saw that, too. It certainly looks interesting. I'd like to see the book to make sense of the findings. I can't agree that Islamism plays no role since we've seen elsewhere that it does use and extol suicide bombings.

I do agree, however, that the motivations are complex, with both political and cultural aspects interwoven -- especially since three Arab Christians are counted among the suicide bombers.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:48 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Eshneutics- I haven't heard of these left-wing political groups carrying out suicide bombings. I couldnt find the story you referenced in your comment. Could you provide a link?


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