Brave jihadists

In this GQ thread, some posters are outraged by my passing description of the 9/11 jihadists as ‘brave’.

What do you think?

I think - not counting those who are brainwashed or blackmailed into it, even though that still takes some balls - there is at least as much bravery in a suicide bombing as say in a ‘to the last man’ military defence or assault.

Now, they were also murderous zealots, who made no attempt to distinguish civilian from military targets. But they, along with the 7/7 bombers, did show some bravery in being willing to die for their beliefs. Not that this is a good thing - if everyone showed that kind of bravery the world would collapse in short order.

Now, a separate case.

Consider Iraq, and a suicide bombing there against a US/UK base or checkpoint. This is unquestionably a military target, and I’m not sure how we could deny the bomber is at least as brave as someone who makes a frontal assault with an ak-47.



Not really, although I don’t get excited/offended over them being referred to that way like some do; many people seem to think that only the good guys can be brave. If you die while sincerely believing that you’re going to paradise and will be rewarded for your martyrdom, then it’s not brave at all. It only takes bravery to sacrifice your life if you consider death to be a bad thing.

Of course, some of them may not have really believed that they were going to paradise; they were brave.

As an aside, I’ll say that bravery in my opinion is one of many virtues that I do not consider to be virtues all. They are sometimes good; sometimes bad. Bravery, loyalty, love, and honesty come to mind off the top of my head.

They were assholes, and they had balls. There’s no contradiction between the two.

I’ve heard this argument before, and it strikes me as rather glib. No matter how seriously you believe that you’re off to heaven, there’s still bravery needed to overcome self-preservation instincts, I think.

Consider an incredibly devout Christian who kills himself to save an innocent child. Or a martyr for the faith, who could escape if only she’d recant. Even though the Christians might sincerely believe that their self-sacrifice/martyrdom will gain them a place in heaven, I don’t think anyone would doubt their bravery.


I would. Although at least the person dying for the child is dying for a noble cause - a verifiably noble cause; the child’s right there, you don’t need faith in it. As for dying for the faith, that’s greed at best.

Very well - you are consistent. Respec’.


The child may be there, but the notion that its life is worth preserving is an intangible opinion. Admittedly, an opinion shared, I think, by most humans.

That’s interesting but irrelevant, I think: the issue isn’t tangible vs intangible, the issue is whether it’s brave to die when you (know/believe/think) you’re going straight to heaven.


Perhaps not relevant to the original question, but it’s a response to (and relevant to) a point made by Der Trihs.

It might be brave to visit the dentist, knowing/believing/thinking that after a little pain, there will be relief.
I’d say that for some definitions of ‘brave’, terrorists fit the bill. Bravery doesn’t necessarily have to mean laudable bravery.

Is it all opinion, though, or is there an element of instinct there as well? I don’t consider instinctive drives to be as intangible as subjective opinions. YMMV.

Sure, but if it’s instinctive (and to some extent therefore involuntary), it isn’t bravery either.

Stupidity is sometimes easily confused with bravery.

Can you clarify this a little? I think the only way the jihadists could be ‘stupid instead of brave’ is if they thought they would survive crashing an airliner into a building -but that’s possibly moronic.

They might be stupid in another sense, thinking that crashing airliners into buildings is an effective way to advance their cause (I make no comment on this) but I think one can be both brave and stupid in this sense:

  • stupid in deciding to carry out goal X (eg a suicide bombing)
  • brave in actually going through with X.

For example, many people would argue that the invasion of Iraq was an act of supreme stupidity. But I don’t think we can doubt the bravery of many of the soldiers who carried it out.


Since “worth” is a human defined concept - it’s not like there are “worth particles” we can build a detector for - and since there’s no objective, factual reason to NOT value the kid’s life, I’d say that the opinion of humanity in general and the rescuer and the kid is enough.

More importantly, I was making the point that unlike dying to get to heaven or make God happy, it’s a goal that is provably achievable. If you sacrifice your life to save a kid, you can be sure that if you succeed that you were actually sacrificing yourself for something. As I said, you don’t need faith to believe in a child when he’s right there in front of you.

But if they believed in an afterlife they did think they would survive.

It makes more sense put that way - thanks.
BTW, it was your mention of ‘verifiably noble cause’ that threw me. I don’t think there could be any such thing.

That’s certainly true.

Back to the OP - What’s needed is some way to verbally distinguish noble form ignoble bravery, I guess. Right now, while you are strictly true in your application of the word to say the Sept. 11 plotters, you also can’t deny that the word “bravery” carries with it some associations, an implicit “…that I approve of” tacked on. We speak of “brave firemen” or “brave soldiers”(our side), and we may grudgingly acknowledge the bravery of the other side occasionally, but not too often. Usually, it’s “brainwashed” or “foolhardy” or “wasteful” - like kamikaze pilots or suicide bombers.

In fact, I think the word “foolhardy” is exactly the word I prefer. It carries notions of courage but also misguidedness.

I’d go along with that. I think most commonly-accepted definitions of ‘bravery’ (also 'courage) do carry some implication of chivalry or heroism, otherwise it would be called foolhardiness or recklessness or something.

Of course that does mean someone who supports the terrorists in question could quite legitimately consider them brave without redefining the word at all.

I agree - *I *wouldn’t use the word, for instance, to apply to the Sept 11 bunch. I wouldn’t use it apply to market bombers either. *I *would use it to apply to Iraqi insurgents attacking military targets, however. But I also realise that others won’t necessarily agree with me.

ETA: with the market bombers etc., I’d be more inclined to say “That took some guts”.

I’d probably ruin it by adding “Look, there’s some guts over here, and some guts over there…”

This seems crucial. It takes bravery as an ‘insurgent’ to take on the Allied military in Iraq, while it surely takes relatively little bravery to walk into a crowded civilian area and ‘know’ that you are a button-push away from a martyr’s heaven. To operate under the expectation of eternal bliss in an instant may take away the free will necessary to be truly brave.

Would you say the same of a very strongly Christian US soldier, who believes that he surely will go to heaven if he dies giving Iraqis their freedom?

I’m also not convinced that religious beliefs often override instinctive self-preservation imperatives.