David J. Ford has spent a lifetime working in the region’s hotspots – including over a half-dozen years active service with the British Army’s Royal Military Police during the Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Rebellion in counterterrorism and anti-insurgency roles. He’s worked with corporations such as Hilton and Woolworth’s when their operations have been bombed or threatened, and upgraded Fiji’s aircraft safety program when the world’s airlines considered avoiding fly-overs due to perceived security risk. Now, in the wake of the latest Bali bombings, this international counterterrorism expert sees a chilling trend in Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombings
The terrible loss of 22 innocent lives in Bali on 1 October is a sharp reminder that Indonesia’s terror groups, be they Jemaah Islaamiyah, various splinter groups or other, independent radicals, have not lost their explosive bite – regardless of the arrest of 200 or so JI activists since the first Bali bombing in October 2002. The cruel, despicable use of suicide bombers has again confirmed it as the preferred weapon of Islamic extremists.
But as if the idea of a fanatic wandering into a crowded restaurant full of civilian tourists and workers, the latest bombings point to a potentially more sinister trend – one which adds a dangerous new wrinkle to our efforts to identify suicide attackers and keep them from bringing innocent people to grief. While very little information is known (or at least is being released) about the identities of the bombers themselves, police are known to be investigating the tantalizing possibility that the explosives were detonated by remote control via mobile phone, due to records of calls made at the time of the blasts. The question then becomes: Were these calls made to the individual bomber or – just as likely – were they used to actually trigger the explosive device?
This is a vital piece of information: if the explosives were detonated remotely, each of the bombers may well have been duped into carrying the bomb into the target location, on some pretext or other, without knowing the contents of their respective backpack. That could mean that they had no intention of dying, that they too were murdered. This would be a very worrying revelation indeed. If true, it could mean that in future, otherwise innocent, duped couriers could be of any race, colour or religious persuasion and from all walks of life.
Indeed, there is already precedent, albeit unsuccessful, for this sort of attack. In 1986, shortly before Anne Marie Murphy, a young pregnant Irishwoman, boarded an El Al flight in London bound for Tel Aviv to meet the parents of her Palestinian fiancé, the airline’s world-famous pre-flight interrogators got suspicious. They searched her baggage thoroughly and discovered that her so-called lover had duped her into carrying a load of plastic explosives and a detonator in one of her suitcases. Had she been allowed to board the flight, she may very well have unwittingly sent herself, her unborn child, and hundreds of others to an early grave.
Today, true followers of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad and of the Koran would testify that suicide by whatever means, and for whatever purpose, is strictly forbidden. Muhammad himself said, ‘Whoever purposely throws himself from a mountain and kills himself will be in the [hell] fire falling down into it and abiding therein forever; and whoever drinks poison and kills himself with it, he will be carrying his poison in his hand and drinking it in the [hell] fire wherein he will abide eternally forever; and whoever kills himself with an iron weapon will be carrying that weapon in his hand and stabbing his abdomen with it in the [hell] fire wherein he shall abide eternally forever.’
Let there be no doubt then that for a Muslim, suicide is strictly forbidden as a major sin. So why do they do it?
Desiring to be martyrs, these killers produce their own purely selfish justification for their intended actions. They argue that they are fighting a jihad, or struggle, which they interpret as against all non-believers of Islam, infidels, and that to die in such a war makes the warrior an instant martyr with all that entails – eternity in paradise, 72 virgins, the lot. And while suicide is forbidden within Islam, martyrdom is sought after as the ultimate achievement in this life and performed as a duty.
(Theologically, of course, this promise of paradise cannot stand on a number of points. Among other things, in Islam, the only wars that are permitted are between armies, which ‘should be engaged on battlefields and engaged nobly’. And as for indiscriminate killings, this too is prohibited. Muhammad said, ‘Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people’. By their very actions many of these religious zealots illustrate a propensity for mass murder without any plausible, religious justification but for some obscure political purpose. They are but pawns in a global game of politics and religious mayhem, and have chosen to ignore their own scriptures and the teachings of more moderate religious leaders to make their own interpretation of the Koranic scriptures.)
The incidence of suicide bombings has increased alarmingly over the past five years globally and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing rate as more young candidates graduate from Muslim religious schools, many financed by Saudi Arabia which promotes a strict so-called Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, that promote this unholy doctrine.
Others will be recruited as disenchanted fringe-dwellers who get roped in and indoctrinated by local radical religious leaders, as was the case with some of the recent London bombers.
And one cannot ignore the role played by the world media as al Qa’ida and other Islamic extremists continue to take heart from perceived successes (even if they are strategic or tactical failures) in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
That said, we must also be mindful that for some clerics and extremists there is also another apocalyptic agenda. The central tenet of Islam is that there is only one true religion, and that is Islam. It goes even further, instructing followers to work towards world domination by converting, or eliminating, all non-believers: to a strict Muslim, the world is divided into the dar al-Harb, or House of War (representing non-Muslim lands) and the dar al-Islam (the Muslim world). A quick glance at a map shows that all along the border of these two areas, conflict is the norm rather than the exception, and the existence of a Hindu outpost such as Bali in the midst of the world’s largest Islamic country is, to a fundamentalist Muslim, like a red flag to a bull.
A religious war, with Islam pitted against the West, suits the goals and aspirations of the likes of al Qa’ida and JI and keeps with the most important commandment of the Koran: to spread Islam throughout the entire world, by force where necessary.
It is possible that this aspect of the Koran and its scriptures could help explain why many Islamic scholars and clerics worldwide have shown reticence to openly condemn or to identify and expose Islamic terrorists in their midst. Though in Australia, Islamic clerics and leaders now appear to be trying to resolve these issues, even attempting to find consensus amongst their disparate groups with a view to accepting the broad application of Australia’s new anti-terrorism laws.
An explosive device, whether carried upon the person or in a vehicle by a suicidal extremist is seen as a very successful and effective weapon. And there appears to be plenty of misguided, well-indoctrinated volunteers seeking martyrdom. Thwarting a person bent on committing suicide using a bomb is nigh on impossible. The device can be detonated at will.
So how can we prevent or reduce the incidence of suicide bombings? There are several possibilities.
Firstly, Muslim scholars, together with all Islamic religious and community leaders must be more vocal and decidedly pro-active. They must, at every opportunity, distance themselves and all true believers from terrorist activity and from the minority religious leaders who continue to preach violence and murder. They must be prepared also to ferociously denounce these extremists to the security authorities lest the extremists and their followers grow in strength and develop momentum such as to bring all of Islam into disrepute, with the added risk of incurring the wrath of all free thinking people. And finally, they must promulgate widely at every opportunity that the act of suicide is abhorrent to the dictates of Islamic law and which immediately negates all chance of martyrdom for the offender.
The second and more immediate question is to find a way of further convincing potential candidates for suicide bombing that, from their religious standpoint, suicide would be pointless and self-defeating, as well as to bring shame on himself and his family.
How could this be done and how would we convince them of this?
Well, profoundly distasteful as the answer is it lies in making the suicide bomber’s body, or mortal remains, unclean in the eyes of Islam. Here we must keep in mind that this is a person who has rejected the norms of the civilized world, one who has corrupted the teachings of the Koran and who is prepared to kill and maim innocent, women and children and the elderly, and even his brothers in Islam, in order to achieve martyrdom. And one who by virtue of his actions can no longer consider himself a Muslim.
Surely, such people do not deserve the respect and social norms usually accorded to the dead.
Muslims are strongly forbidden from eating pig meat, and they consider the animal itself unclean. (Indeed, this porcine prohibition took a darkly comic turn in the West Midlands, UK, council of Dudley recently, when council workers were ordered to take any pig-themed novelty items off their desk lest Muslim staffers be offended). The Koran states: ‘He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of God’.
Muslims therefore consider that to eat pork is a very, very unholy act, andan abomination before God. Similarly, to touch a pig is to make one unclean and an unclean person cannot enter paradise. Hence, this person cannot be a martyr.
Is it not axiomatic therefore that in order to take away the prime incentive of the suicide bomber and other mass killers – that of entering paradise with all its promised sensual pleasures – we offer a counter promise? Authorities would guarantee the contamination of his remains with the blood of swine. And importantly, that the remains would not be returned to his family to enable ritual cleansing and purification.
This would have a very salutary affect and might even put an end to this madness. Remove access to martyrdom and you remove the very purpose, or excuse, for dying, and in its place, make people aware of the threat of carrying bags or packages for suspect people – lest they become unwitting bombers themselves. There is precedent for this: American General John Pershing, fighting Muslim militants in the southern Philippines after the Spanish-American War, wrapped the bodies of captured and executed terrorists in pig fat. As one officer reportedly told a militant at the time, ‘You’ll never see Paradise’. More recently, according to some reports, the Russian afforded the same treatment to the bodies of terrorists involved in the Moscow theatre siege of 2002.
Now is not the time for equivocation. The tightening of Federal and States’ counter terrorism legislation is a very good first step, in a pro-active sense, but it will do little to prevent the die-hard martyr working secretly and in concert with just a few cohorts. We must remove the suicide bombers very reason for dying.
It is time for straight talking and timely action however unpleasant and uncivilized that might appear. Unless the West and true followers of Islam face Islamic fundamentalism and revivalism head-on today, the world will experience a future to horrid even to contemplate.