Monday, June 24, 2013

Martyrs' Weddings: On Earth as in Heaven?

Shahid Wedding Blast
CNN Asia

My two recent posts on Islamist suicide bombers, here and here (and an ironic one here), in which I discuss the bombers' hope of paradise and its pleasures, has occasioned some harsh responses, for example, "don't bullsh*t by saying the afterlife 'plays a role in their thinking,'" a comment from an individual who calls himself "anonymous."*

My interlocutors are disturbed at my position that Islamist suicide bombers, like Islamist shahids (martyrs) generally, are motivated by the promise of paradise and its virgins, among other pleasures. Now, I don't argue that this is their sole motivation, but it is a powerful one and accounts for the widespread use of what are euphemistically called "martyrdom operations." Why do I claim it is a powerful motive? Aside from the fact that pious religious belief is a strong motivator for action, and that a strong motivation is necessary for carrying out a suicide bombing, there is sufficient evidence to render my view reasonable, in that the Islamist suicide shahid is "certain of the Islamic doctrine about martyrdom, 'Jihad', salvation and afterlife":
Indeed after the death of the shahid there is a celebration instead of mourning and mothers' utter cries of joy and sweets are distributed to visitors, like as if a wedding, a happy occasion took place. Handling suicide bombers' deaths as 'martyr's weddings' are truly common in Muslim tradition. (Maria Alvanou, "Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers: The Interplaying Effects of Islam, Nationalism and Honor Culture," Strategic Research and Policy Center, National Defense College, IDF, May 2007, page 43)
A more recent report comes by way of MEMRI in an article by L. Barkan, "Salafi-Jihadis in Jordan Stage 'Martyrs' Weddings' to attract youth To Jihad" (February 8, 2013, Inquiry and Analysis Series, Report No.926, Middle East Media Research Institute):
The forces fighting against Assad's regime in Syria include foreigners who have come to take part in the uprising alongside the Syrian rebels. Among them are members of Jordan's Salafi-jihadi movement, which, according to its senior leaders, has so far dispatched some 250 fighters to Syria. As one means of encouraging Jordanian youths to join its ranks and adopt the ideology of jihad and martyrdom, the Salafi-jihadi movement stages "martyrs' weddings" for fighters killed in Syria, based on the Islamic belief that every martyr is rewarded with 72 black-eyed virgin brides in Paradise . . . . [Such] "weddings" are not a new phenomenon. The Salafi-jihadi stream in Jordan has held similar ceremonies in the past for Jordanian fighters who died in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . . 'Abd Al-Fateh Shehadeh, aka Abu Muhammad Al-Tahawi, a senior figure in the Jordanian Salafi-jihadi movement, told the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq that such "weddings" have so far been held for 18 Jordanian Salafi-jihadi fighters killed in Syria, explaining that these celebrations serve to propagate the ideology of jihad and martyrdom . . . . Marwan Shehadeh, an expert on Islamists groups, told Al-Sharq that the purpose of the "martyrs' weddings" is to attract youths to the idea of jihad and of martyrdom, and encourage them to join the fighting on jihad fronts throughout the Islamic world . . . . Abu Muhammad Al-Tahawi explained that . . . . [that] "the martyr [himself] rejoices at the reward and grace that Allah bestows upon him if his martyrdom is accepted. With the first drop of blood shed from his body, [his sins] are pardoned, and he weds 72 black-eyed [virgins] of Paradise, dons his crown of honor, and serves as an advocate for 70 of his relatives . . . . We explain to the youths who attend [the ceremony] that he who sacrifices his life in defense of Islam and the land of the Muslims will marry the black-eyed [virgins], his relatives will be pardoned, and his sins will be erased" . . . . Videos of these celebrations are also disseminated via the internet.
Related to this, see "European Muslims Hold 'Martyr's Wedding' For Tunisian Killed In Syria" (MEMRI, No. 5214, March 4, 2013):
Photos surfaced online of a celebration held by European Muslims in honor of a Tunisian youth who was killed while fighting in Syria. The celebration, held in an undisclosed location in Europe -- according to one report, in France -- was in the form of a "martyr's wedding," symbolizing the deceased's wedding to the virgins of paradise . . . . The Tunisian, Ayman Al-Hakiri, AKA Abu Maria Al-Tunsi, was an active member of Ansar Al-Shari'a in Tunisia. He recently joined Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria and was appointed a commander in Aleppo, and was reportedly killed in the Aleppo area on February 24. Al-Hakiri was likewise an active member of jihadi forums, using the nickname Matlub fi Al-Jannah ("Wanted in Paradise").
Or from some years back, Yaakov Lappin of YNetNews reports on the martyrdom of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an article "Cleric: Zarqawi's wedding with virgins has begun":
As news of the death of Iraqi al-Qaeda terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi filtered through jihadist internet forums, many members of radical organizations expressed 'joy' at what they described as Zarqawi's 'martyrdom' and imminent 'wedding' with virgins.

Sheikh Omar Bakri, a top pro al-Qaeda jihadist preacher who is based in Lebanon, and who has a number of disciples in Britain, was quoted by one of his followers on the UK-based Muntadaa internet forum as saying that al-Zarqawi is now being 'married' to virgins in heaven, the fate he said awaited 'martyrs' of Islam.

"It is a good news Alhamdulilaah (thank God), his wedding start as shaheed (martyr), and his deputy confirm the news," read a statement attributed to Bakri.
Many reports of this sort can be dug up from the internet. I've been reading them for years now, and I think these establish rather unequivocally that the hope of paradise and its pleasures serves as a powerful motive in the deadly acts of suicide bombers.

Readers are invited to search the internet themselves . . .

*Update: Anonymous protests that I have misrepresented his position. My apologies if I have done so.

Update 2: See a more recent post on what the would-be martyrs themselves say.

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At 4:33 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

It is anyway true that in - you guessed! - Torquato Tasso's long poem Gerusalemme Conquistata set during the first Crusade, one of the heads of the Muslim army, Argantes, in addressing his soldiers before the battle doesn't mention any "72 virgins." He rather appeals to their duty to defend their families and, in case, be mourned as heroes.

Tasso cannot be suspected to be too soft with Muslims, yet the general impression is that, at that time, even if the 'clash' between the two civilizations was as violent as nowadays, people were less 'caricatures' than now.

But, alas, that was Renaissance, a world that looks far from coming back . . .

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Martyrs' Weddings seem to be a modern innovation, but the promise of paradise goes back to the beginning of Islam.

As for Tasso, he was probably projecting his own values onto Argantes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:56 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Tasso . . . was probably projecting his own values onto Argantes

Absolutely, and even more than that: he shaped the 'villains' using Homer's heroes as a pattern. But the intriguing question is: Would we do the same with some Muslim commander?

Tasso was not joking nor naively playing with literature. In 1558, the city of Sorrento in Southern Italy was attacked by the Turks, and a slaughter followed. Tasso's own sister escaped by a hair's breadth.

Dante was more lucky, Islam in his epoch was much more 'liberal.' But, nonetheless, not only did Dante glorify Saladin, the 'unmaker' of the Crusaders' conquests; so did Tasso too!

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"Would we do the same with some Muslim commander?"

Only if he's on our side . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've misrepresented what I said.
That quote gives the impression that I was saying paradise plays no role in the thinking of these terrorists. What I actually said was: '...don't bullshit by saying the afterlife 'plays a role in their thinking'. Of course it 'plays a role'. But that's not what you or Harris mean when you say it plays a role. You think it plays a huge (perhaps even the primary) role in their thinking.'

I agreed that it plays a role in their thinking but argued that you were overstating that role. It seems my accusations of selective reading and distorting information to suit your agenda were justified. I also fail to see how any of this justifies your position. You've posted nothing by the terrorists themselves discussing their motivations. Instead, you've posted quotes describing how some people celebrate after a jihadist dies because they think he's in heaven. So what? Is this supposed to prove that these people believe in heaven or that people who believe in heaven can behave strangely? We already knew that. Of course that's not your motivation.

Unfortunately your argument basically looks likes this: 'They really believe in heaven. We know this because other people celebrate when they get killed. This proves they (the terrorists)are doing it because of heaven.'

This argument ignores the distinction between stating 'x believes y' and 'x performs action a because he believes y'. These two statements are not the same. To get from the former to the latter you need to provide additional premises. All you've done here is say 'Look, they believe in heaven. Look, they tell them that they'll go to heaven if they blow themselves up'. Yeah we know. They also tell them a bunch other stuff about western foreign policy that you're not mentioning here.
As for Tasso, he was probably projecting his own values onto Argantes.
I see. So good Christians are motivated by noble desires. But Muslims are motivated by absurd and silly reasons and suggestions to the contrary are instances of projection. It’s good to know that these are the kind of pre theoretic assumptions you bring with you when you come to interpret information on the motivations of Muslim terrorists. Goes a long way to explaining why we have a fundamental disagreement. It also says a lot about your thinking more generally.

At 4:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your whole argument is just an appeal to intuition. You're basically saying 'It's just obvious that if you believe God will reward for an action this will play a big role in motivating you to carry out that action.'

If things were that simple we would expect to see a lot more terrorism among Muslim. But even among Muslims who support terrorism, it is an overwhelmingly small minority who actually go out and engage in terrorism. Your view suggests that if they're just told that terrorists are rewarded with paradise they'll run off to blow themselves up. Human psychology is complex and people can perform an act with multiple factors influencing their behaviour and with multiple beliefs bouncing around their heads. For example, the belief that is widespread among jihadists that it is a sin to kill people so that you can be rewarded. And of course, we know from the history of secular terrorism and suicide bombing that belief in an afterlife is not required for those determined to die for a political cause.

Most importantly, this intuition has to be considered against the backdrop of what the jihadists themselves say in public and what social scientists who have studied terrorists have to say. And when you do that it becomes clear that getting laid is not really very high on their list of priorities.
Since you invite people do to their own research I thought I'd post my own:

These people are clear and unequivocal in stating what motivates them and it's incredibly easily to find similar quotes. Combined with research by Pape, Atran and many others I think it's pretty clear what reasonable people should believe. Trying to get round this by appealing to the armchair fantasizing of conservative nutjobs and fake liberals like Sam Harris is not a good look.

At 4:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Are you two anonymouses the same? That's the problem with choosing to be anonymous.

Anyway, the directions above explain how to link properly:

Link 1

Link 2

I've done it for you. Interested readers can now click and read.

I have no agenda toward you. I apologize if my point about the passion (and vulgarity) that this issue aroused misrepresented what you said.

I'll place an asterisk there.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, you are welcome to peruse my blog and see if you are right about me and my thinking, but be careful about approaching what I've written with a hermeneutic of suspicion. You're reading too much into my remark about Tasso, who was writing fiction and projecting his values of the Romance tradition onto all of his characters.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes it's the same anonymous. Apologies for casting aspersions on your character. My tone was unnecessary. However, I still stand by my arguments.

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. I'll attempt to be more careful in how I contextualize quotes. I try to be concise because I have difficulty typing (due to a stiff right hand as I approach 60).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:29 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

So good Christians are motivated by noble desires. But Muslims are motivated by absurd and silly reasons

This is surely not what (a part of) Tasso thought. The issue of non-Christian values originated an inner struggle within him. His 'official' ideas were often denied by his 'actual' descriptions.


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