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Sunday, May 23, 2004

People of Mass Destruction 

Paul Krugman's latest column The Search for P.M.D.'s asks about the suicide bombers in Iraq. He notes several aspects that I have wondered about, too -- who are these young men who are so willing, so eager to die? What are they doing it for? Who are they doing it for? And what do they hope to accomplish? Nobody seems to know. There's no apparent organization to which they belong, no one seeks credit for their acts, there seems to be no apparent knowledge of who they are or what their families think of what they have done. Krugman writes ". . . these people are utter nihilists . . . The people running the suicide operations in Iraq, whether they are working independently or are just one organization, don't even claim credit, let alone make any demands." Krugman concludes " They just want to ensure that America fails to produce anything decent in Iraq and they are ready to sacrifice all Iraqis for that end."
But I am not so sure their goals are that strategic or comprehensible. The only thing I can compare it to is the monks who set themselves on fire in south Vietnam and the kamicaze pilots during WWII. In both these cases, their goal was primarily religious, a demonstration to their God of the purity of their faith contrasted with the corruptness of the earthly regime they were fighting.
Such intensity of religious feeling makes these tactics impossible to stop by "secular" means. Now the FBI is warning that suicide bombers might attack in the United States. Its such a useless warning -- police are supposed to keep an eye out for "people wearing bulky overcoats in the heat of summer, people with electric wires sticking out of their clothing, or people smelling of chemicals" but what are Americans supposed to do if such a person is spotted -- run screaming for the exits?
It would be better to talk to Muslim religious leaders, at a high and sustained level, about how this kind of fanaticism can be dealt with -- though considering the track record of the FBI (Waco, Ruby Ridge) and the Bush administration (some of whom seem to be actually trying to turn this into a religious war of Judaeo-Christians against Islam) this may not be a very realistic suggestion.
UPDATE -- maybe they really do want a religious war - read this article by Sydney Blumenthal about General Boykin.

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