Saudis who want to find the reasons for suicide bombing needn't look far. They need only examine the mounds of Saudi Fatwas and editorials praising "martyrs" and they need only check the huge subsidies paid by petrodollar millionaires to madrassas that crank out Mujahedin like those who did the 9-11 attack. It is good that Saudis are finally frightened of the Jihad genie they unleashed, but they won't solve the problem until they are honest with themselves.
It is not true, as stated below, that suicide bombings are increasingly being called martyrdom operations. They were called "martyrdom operations" from the start
Saudis financed the extremists on the premise (or excuse) that they could export their terrorists to other countries and keep peace at home. Saudis only became horrified at suicide bombings as it became clear that the targets could be themselves rather than Israelis or Americans. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.
Four-year-old Duha can barely hold back her tears as she watches her mother getting dressed to leave home. Knowing full well she will not be accompanying her, she implores: "Mommy, what are you carrying in your arms instead of me?"
There are no answers. Not until a day later. Just when teary-eyed Duha has all but given up questioning her mother's return with eyes transfixed on the door, the evening news tells it all. Her mother, it turns out, had blown herself up, killing four Israelis.
The little girl, inconsolable as she is, seeks solace in her mother's belongings. Rummaging through her dead mother's bedside table, Duha finds a hidden stick of dynamite. She picks it up.
And embraces it. By the looks of it, little Duha may well grow up to follow in her mother's footsteps.
That may not be a true a story it was a macabre music video that appeared on a television show for Palestinian children but there's no denying that it drew inspiration from any number of similar real-life stories circulating in the Arab street.
Take Reem Riyashi, a Palestinian mother of two who blew herself up in a suicide attack against Israeli soldiers at a Gaza border crossing in January 2004, for instance. A video statement released hours after her death showed her in battle fatigue, brandishing a semiautomatic rifle.
"I have always wished to knock at the door of heaven carrying skulls belonging to the sons of Zion," Riyashi said menacingly, with a scowl on her face.
Not surprising then that, four years after her bloody death, she continues to be hailed as a courageous resistance fighter throughout Gaza and the West Bank.
But, at the same time, one cannot help but wonder if people had noticed how she was also fighting to ensure that her tough talking did not betray her hidden emotion. The emotion of a mother who was going on a mission from which she would never return to embrace her two children. To take care of them, to caress them.
Never mind. The fact of the matter is: With the number of Riyashis growing everyday, it is not easy to sketch a picture of an archetypical suicide bomber. Not any more.
Today, a suicide bomber could be a weary old man in a wheelchair asking for help on the streets of Baghdad. An elderly lady holding out her palms for charity in a bazaar in Ramallah. Or it could be a zesty young lad cheering along with the crowd at a sporting event in Kandahar.
He could also be a brooding figure offering a hand as a dear one is laid to rest at a cemetery in Mingora town in Pakistan's Swat Valley or a trendy young lad standing outside the discotheque in Tel Aviv.
On the other hand, she could be a mentally handicapped woman nudging past in a Shiite shrine in Karbala or a pretty, young lady sitting next to you on a bus in Colombo.
But that's not all, if slain Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in a bomb-and-suicide attack in Rawalpindi last year, was to be believed, it could be also be an innocent baby.
In her memoirs, she raised suspicion that a baby a young man was holding out to her at a rally in Karachi was laden with explosives. Moments later, a suicide attack killed 180.
Yes, it is true, such pictures of suicide bombers are now etched in our recent memory.
It's worrisome enough that suicide bombers seem to be springing up everywhere. But, what's worse is the fear that they are no longer shadowy figures that were once described as the pride and joy of former PLO chief Yasser Arafat's arsenal.
Today, they are the most deadly weapons of mass destruction which have no known defense. And the reason for their very existence and subsequent demise ranges from political vendetta to social vengeance and from ideological differences to economic disparity.
To put it bluntly, suicide bombers today are furiously crawling out of the woodwork and could even be right next to you as you read this.
No, I am not trying to paint a scary picture and suggest suicide bombers have taken over the world in general and the Middle East in particular. Far from it, they exist in pockets. But those pockets are growing alarmingly deeper and at a far greater pace than you and I had ever imagined.
What's more, the picture of the quintessential suicide bomber if there was one is being rapidly replaced by everyday faces.
But now, the question is: Why are people much like you and me dying to kill themselves, knowing only too well there will be no dignity in death?
Moments after they have pressed the trigger to blow themselves and others around them up, their bodies would be splattered into tiny pieces that may never see a funeral, let alone get recognized in the pool of blood and gore. Also, whatever it is that they choose to answer their Creator thereafter, one thing is clear: They will have to explain why they decided to play God.
And took it upon themselves to end the lives of their victims. It would certainly weaken their case if they have to account for innocent women and children in those numbers.
Without venturing into a debate on the merits or demerits of suicide bombings - given that the term is being increasingly replaced by martyrdom operation - the increase in attacks against civilians, as opposed to military targets, does raise alarm bells.
A Hamas training manual, for instance, apparently notes "It is foolish to hunt for the tiger when there are plenty of sheep around." And that's something we can ill afford to dismiss sheepishly.
(Next week: Socio-Economic Reasons.)
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