Archive for January, 2005

DSW, #68

January 27th, 2005

Ben Tillett, trade unionist and one of the leaders of the 1889 dockworkers’ strike; born 1860, died 27 January 1943.

Some Half-Baked Thoughts on Suicide Bombers

January 26th, 2005

Harry, criticising a not-very-good piece in today’s Guardian by Terry Eagleton (on which see also here), has this to say:

I’m all in favour of trying to understand what is behind the actions of suicide killers but that must involve an examination of the ideology of the martyrs.

First, a cheap point: it’s good to know that one can now ask about “understanding” what lies behind the unreasonable behaviour of political and/or religious extremists without being accused of apologising for that behaviour. At least, I don’t think that Harry’s apologising for suicide bombers. (But then, I didn’t think that a lot of the people who were attacked after 11 September for asking to take the causes of unreasonable, criminal, murderous behaviour seriously, etc., were apologising for terrorist atrocity, either. So maybe that’s just me.)Second, the remarks that prompted the post. I’m not sure that I really agree that it’s terribly important to understand what motivates suicide bombers, especially if that means doing a detailed examination of crazy opinions about the theology of martyrdom, which are, like most crazy theological opinions, crazy, and, I suspect, not especially interesting or illuminating. Or, to put things another way, why should we do them the favour of taking them at their word?

(If crazy theological opinions are not especially interesting or illuminating, though, it might be more interesting to ask about the circumstances or environments that makes people more likely to subscribe to crazy, destructive beliefs of these kinds. But then we really are on the terrain of “root causes” which will get someone accused of apologising for atrocity pretty soon, which won’t be pretty. In any case, I don’t want to go there right now.)

In the comments to Harry’s post, Matthew quotes Johann Hari: “The biggest falsehood is that suicide bombing is an exclusively Muslim phenomenon. Two-thirds of the suicide killings committed in the past two decades were not committed by Muslims.”

I’m not sure that the “two-thirds” figure is quite right, though maybe it is. (Robert Pape’s data — APSR, 2003, p.348 — suggests that in the period 1980-2001 there were 68 suicide attacks organised by the Tamil Tigers, which was far more than any other group managed. But I think to get to the two-thirds figure you have to count some bombings organised by Muslim groups which Pape nevertheless classifies as “having a secular orientation”. So Muslims, perhaps, but not “Islamists”. Whatever.)

The particular point, that suicide bombing is not an exclusively Muslim phenomenon, is sound, though I’m not sure whether anyone sensible has ever denied it (for the obvious reason that it’s obviously not true). Indeed, it’s not even exclusively a religious phenomenon: though the Tamil Tigers recruit from among Hindu Tamils, they are secular nationalists, and I don’t think the PKK is a terribly religious bunch of guys, either (though I don’t know much about them).

(Note that there is an infelicity in Hari’s writing: if “suicide killings” include the people the suicide kills, then of course more than a third of the victims were victims of Islamic suicide attacks: the 3,000+ who died in the World Trade Center outnumber those killed in all the other suicide attacks of the previous twenty years. But I don’t think Hari means to include them in his claim.)

Post-2001, though, I’d guess — because I don’t have good data to hand — that the majority of suicide attacks are being carried out by Islamist groups of one kind or another, and certainly that is dressed up in an ideology of martyrdom, etc. (Question: are there secular nationalist suicide bombers in Iraq, or are the attacks there organised exclusively by the religious wing of the armed resistance? Not something I’ve seen discussed, though I haven’t been looking hard.)

But we can still ask what, if anything, is the relationship between Islamist ideology and the use of suicide attacks, and the extent to which theological opinions actually explain anything interesting. And, in general, it strikes me as most likely that Pape is right, that suicide attacks are on the increase because the people who organise them think that suicide attacks are more likely to help them achieve their aims, as compared with other things that they might be doing with their scarce resources. (Though see Chris Young for a good discussion of the point about aims with respect to Hamas.) And those who organise such attacks have various ways of persuading other people to lay down their lives for the cause, which may of course include criminally exploiting the people Gene calls “deluded and desperate” — though studies suggest they are often pretty well educated and from comparatively affluent backgrounds — through appeals to (possibly shared) crazy religious ideology.

It seems to me that in these kinds of cases the ideology follows the strategy, rather than determining it, whatever people may say about themselves on video just before they blow themselves up in Israel/Palestine. Which means that we might not learn very much about the phenomenon of suicide bombing by talking or writing or thinking much about whatever religious claims are made on its behalf by religious extremists and apologists for murder.

It’s a far more interesting (and worrying) phenomenon than that.

Or so it seems to me.

UPDATE [27.1.2005]: Tim disagrees with the last bit, at least.

Dead Socialist Watch, #138

January 26th, 2005

Raymond Williams [also here], theorist and historian of culture, born 31 August 1921, died 26 January 1988.

A fine webpage

January 25th, 2005

Over here.

[via Nick]

Cheloniana

January 22nd, 2005

After a fairly quiescent 2004, the new year’s started pretty well over at the Voice of the Turtle: this morning I’ve uploaded an essay on racism by Alana Lentin, which is a bit more academic than the stuff we usually print, but is still fine for all that, a piece by Peter Waterman standing up for the horizontals in the wake of the European Social Forum in London, Class Worrier Raj Patel’s report from the World Forum on Agrarian Reform held towards the end of last year in Spain, and a reprint of an essay by Karl Polanyi on “The Essence of Fascism“, all of which join two essays on the aftermath of the Indian ocean tsunami — Malinda Seneviratne, writing from Sri Lanka, and David Martinez on Banda Aceh.

A couple of the pieces still need a slight editorial tweak here and there, but they’re basically ready for consumption. So go and consume.

Translations

January 22nd, 2005

You’ve sung the Internationale in Esperanto (alternative Esperanto version here). Now you need to find the time to read the Bible in Polari

(Machine-generated, I’m afraid, but it’ll have to do until someone does a proper translation-job.)

[via WW]

DSW, #67

January 21st, 2005

George Orwell, born Motihari, India, 25 June 1903; died London, England, 21 January 1950.

DSW, #66

January 21st, 2005

Vladimir Ilych Lenin, born Simbirsk 22 April 1870, died Moscow 21 January 1924.

The Internet Contains Many Useful Pages

January 21st, 2005

This may be one of them.

Dead Socialist Watch, #137

January 19th, 2005

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French anarchist socialist, born 15 January 1809, died 19 January 1865. Good for sharp sound-bites (“Property is theft”, “Universal suffrage is counter-revolution”, and so on), though he never really did manage to get on with Karl Marx.

And Now For Something Completely Different

January 18th, 2005

I’ll be back on the subject of the Royal Family before too long, don’t worry, but just by way of an intermission, here’s The Battle Hymn of Mad Mel, by Deborah Maccoby, written for Debbie Fink, published with permission, and sent to me by Stephen Marks (for which, many thanks).

You know how the tune goes; now sing along…

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the US Neo-Con;
He is trampling on Iraqis till their homes and lives are gone;
He is giving tanks and F-16s to Ariel Sharon –
His truth goes marching on.Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah,
Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah,
Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah,
His truth goes marching on.

I have mounted a crusade against those loony Neo-Socs;
They have burst the moral boundaries and cast us on the rocks;
They may march against the war but they can only save the fox –
My truth goes marching on.

Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah etc.

I repudiate all doubts; they only burden and perplex;
If we listened to their voices, we would all be moral wrecks;
I will fight against abortion; I will stamp out teenage sex –
My truth goes marching on.

Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah etc.

All relativists, lefties and postmodernists I hate;
I will cling to all the certainties of family and state;
I will fend off the barbarians who clamour at the gate;
My truth goes marching on.

Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah etc.

For the sword of Islam threatens and its might must be withstood;
We are fighting for the soul of our Judaeo-Christianhood;
For the world is black and white and They are Evil, We are Good –
Our truth goes marching on.

Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah etc.

I will put back moral backbone in my flabby fellow-Brits;
We will launch pre-emptive strikes on every land where Evil sits;
While defending Western culture, we will blow the world to bits –
Our truth will still march on!

Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah,
Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah,
Glory, glory, bomb Fallujah,
Our truth will still march on!

I’m told that she really has been referring to “Neo-Socs”, or “Neo-Socialists”, in recent talks.Oh, and John B’s been following her most recent, um, thinking.

Away With Them!

January 18th, 2005

Jamie weighs in. The best bit…

This in turn refers back to the issue of popularity. Prince Harry may turn out not to be popular with the punters in their role as citizens, but he certainly popular with them in their role as telly watchers and tabloid buyers. His older brother isn’t quite the same buffoon, but there’ll be a girlfriend sooner or later, and she’ll talk. And there’s the ongoing saga of their dad, the green-ink prince, their pheasant strangling grandmother and her hilariously obnoxious husband.So as far as the establishment which actually runs the royals is concerned, they don’t need a credible monarchy. They need an incredible monarchy, a have-you-heard-what-these fuckwits-have-done-now monarchy. Disrespect may eventually undermine them, but for now it keeps them going. It’s their reason to exist.

But the whole thing’s good.

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