These killers are neither hopeless nor victims.
By Michael Gove, June 25, 2002
Jack Straw takes his cue from John Donne. Asked by The Times last week
what lesson could be drawn from the killing of 20 Israelis by a Palestinian
terrorist, the Foreign Secretary invited observers to feel “a degree of
compassion” for suicide bombers. Any man-s death diminishes me, Donne
wrote, because I am involved in mankind.
My colleague Matthew Parris takes his cue from another poet. In seeking to
argue that there was something “ennobling” in the suicide bombers-
self-sacrifice, he quoted from Horace “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.
Both Parris and the Foreign Secretary are seeking to do what a certain type of
civilised Englishman has long sought to do in the face of wickedness – bring the
protagonists within the pale of civilised understanding.
They, and Cherie Blair, urge us to feel the suicide bombers- pain. Consider
yourself without hope, and imagine to what ends you might be driven.
The cumulative effect of these interventions has been to make the
“desperation” which “drives” these bombers to blow themselves up the central
question for observers of the conflict in the Middle East. How, we are invited to
ask, can we remove the “hopelessness” which leads to “self-sacrifice”?
Powerful as this line of argument can be, it is also a profound, and dangerous,
What these arguments evade is the reality of the bombers- motivation.
Their acts are not expressions of despair or hopelessness, “cries for help” as
the West has come to understand suicide. Nor are they the noble stands of
outnumbered warriors, like the Spartans at Thermopylae, or Samson in the
Temple. They are the calculated acts of men and women whose ideology
celebrates death in a fashion which almost defies Western comprehension.
Indeed, these acts are designed to elicit compassion in the West for the killers,
a sentiment which the bombers know undermines the West-s capacity to resist
The terrorist responsible for the bus bombing which killed 20 Israelis last
Wednesday, Mohammed al-Ghoul, was explicit in his motivation. “How
beautiful it is to make my bomb shrapnel kill the enemy,” he wrote immediately
before he did just that, “how beautiful it is to kill and be killed.” These are not
the words of one in despair, but on the verge of exultation.
Al-Ghoul was not a wretched, hopeless, outcast but a student pursuing a
master-s degree in Islamic studies. His act was not a cry for help but the
culminating affirmation of an ideology which holds sway in the Palestinian
Authority and other centres of Islamist fundamentalism across the world. It is
an ideology inculcated in children from their earliest years.
At a recent “graduation exercise” in a Gaza kindergarten children burnt an
Israeli flag and a young girl had her hands dipped in red paint to celebrate the
lynching of two Israeli soldiers.
Another child dressed as the Hamas leader, Hassan Nasrallah, recited
lines praising Hezbollah for its fight against the Israelis, a struggle that would
win rewards “from above”. Other children carried toy rifles.
What, I wonder, is “ennobling” about such a ceremony?
There is a moral gulf of almost unbridgeable proportions between the
stand which we in the West can admire, of taking one’s life in one’s hands
against formidable odds, the stand of the rearguard action, of Horatio on the
bridge or the Coldstreamers at Dunkirk, and the deliberate grooming of
kindergarten children for their place in a death cult.
This culture of death has not taken root in an arid desert of despair but a land
irrigated by outside money.
EU cash has helped to fund an education system which twists minds
with anti-Jewish propaganda.
The Saudis and Iraqis have created a perverted “welfare” system which
rewards the families of suicide bombers with significant wealth.
The Palestinian Authority has used its autonomy, and the period of negotiation
which followed the Oslo agreement, to build an infrastructure. It is not,
however, one of a state pledged to peace, but a society configured to kill. Both
its Jewish neighbours and its own.
This ideology of death is not then the product of hope denied, but hope fed.
Fed not just by money and arms from neighbours, but fed, above all, by the
folly of the West. The hope that terror will bring concessions, the hope that the
West is weakening, the hope that fanaticism will prevail, is daily reinforced.
That hope is nurtured by movement towards a Palestinian state which is
accelerated, not delayed, by bombing. It is encouraged by news that decisive
action against one sponsor of terror, Iraq, has been delayed. It is supported by
news that the world’s most energetic sponsor of terror, Iran, is to be appeased
by the granting of EU trade privileges.
It is also advanced by the moral confusion which suicide bombing has produced
among Western elites. The campaign has been designed to obscure the
wickedness of ethnic mass murder by seeking to place the killer on the same
moral plain as his targets – both are to be seen as “victims”.
But that is only true in the sense that a Khmer Rouge, Waffen SS or
Interahamwe footsoldier and those he slaughters are “equally” victims of
totalitarianism. One is implementing an ideology of death, the others are that
ideology’s necessary sacrifices.
To contextualise the acts of the killers by arguing that they have no
hope, to see “nobility” in their blitheness about the consequences as they take
others’ lives, is to locate moral reasoning in individuals who wish to erase the
most fundamental moral principle – respect for life itself.
It is difficult for the civilised man or woman to admit that barbarism can take
possession of a soul, or a society. But unless we do, we cannot stop its advance.