What justifies suicide bombing? (Serious Question)

I wanted to put this in GQ, but I know there will be strong feelings that would get this moved here. So, I put it here, but I really do want to know what their reasons are.
Not really the suicide part (that’s more of a ‘personal’ issue), but the targeting of civilians? I don’t know why, but I feel that it’s wrong to attack civilians/non-combatants and haven’t heard an understanble explanation why it could be acceptable in this situation.

The reason I’ve generally heard is that while it’s not normally ok, it’s understandable, because of the desperation of the situation. I guess there’re two things about this explanation I don’t understand.

  1. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank & Gaza is often compared to Nazi occupation, yet even in the darkest days of the Hollocaust with exploitation/rape/torture/slaughter/humiliation of millions of Jews, Jews did not target non-fighting German women, children, etc, because that would wrong. What makes the current situation more of a justification?
  2. What are they trying to accomplish. Do they specifically rejoice in the killing of civilians or do they feel they’re actually advancing their cause? Is it revenge against Jews/Israelis generally (like the attacks in France) or is it calculated to bring more self-determination to Palestinians?

Is there really religious justification? I can understand the idea of dying for your country/people/belief, but if I blew myself up in the market place in Kabul (even if it was before the US began the operation in Afganistan), (reasonable) Americans would not say I was a patriot dying for my country to stop terrorism, I would be terrorist fanatic who’d murdered civilians. Do the bombers believe Allah is made happy by these attacks?


First part, last - Is there really religious justification? If we’re talking specifically the Palestinian situation - Not IMHO. There are Muslim religious teachers that have argued otherwise, claiming that Israeli ( or American ) civilians are tacitly guilty of supporting governments that oppress or kill Muslims and are therefore de facto combatants. But the vast majority of mainstream Muslims ( and Muslim scholars ) reject such tangled reasoning. Islam specifically abhors the killing of non-combatants in war and suicide. If Muslim cosmology is correct, all those suicide bombers are ending up hell.

You can pretty much repeat that reasoning ( with variations ) for suicide bombers of other religions as well, I’m sure. The kamikaze were a more unique case, but even here it was more imperial ideology, rather than relgious belief per se ( as weirdly militant as some forms of Japanese Buddhism was ).

Political justifications? The generally stated one is the “by any means necessary” argument. The Palestinians ( IRA, ETA, whoever ) are incapable of winning a conventional war, so they resort to guerilla tactics. By attacking civilian centers the reasoning is that you will either:
A) break the will of civilian populace, thereby causing a withdrawal, or…
B) more insidiously and cynically in the case of some Palestinian ultra-extemists, trigger an all-out war of annihilation wherein the Arab nations of the world will be “forced” to take up arms against their enemies in all-out apocalyptic slugfest.

The problem, of course, being that both those scenarios are idiotic. Attacks on civilians terrify, but the also incite blind rage. Those fanatic Islamists that hope to “use” that rage to trigger an all-out war are just as deluded. Never, ever going to happen ( and “the Arabs” would lose anyway ). All attacks on civilians accomplish is to ratchet up the violence, notch by notch. There are no good results that can be derived from it.

  • Tamerlane


Ok, I can understand that religious reasoning. The political one doesn’t really address right or wrong, but I see how it may be thought to advance the cause. Does that mean the bombers either believe that all people in Israel deserve to die or that they believe their actions are immoral, but the “good” of the cause out weighs the “evil” of the murders?


Some are undoubtedly just racists that believe all Jews should be killed.

Some may believe that they are committing a sin ( or they are completely irreligious - plenty of secular Palestinians around ), but feel what they are doing is worth damning themselves.

Some believe the exhortations of extremist “clerics” and follow the Osama bin Laden-style reasoning that I laid out in brief above - i.e. that there is religious sanction for the targetting of civilians in this particular conflict, because of the context. These are the ones you generally read about and they do indeed exist.

  • Tamerlane

A mad man has a nuclear bomb and is about to set it off, so I charge into the building with a block of C4.

My hero :stuck_out_tongue:

One of the protestors in Wash DC yesterday was arguiing that suicide bombers are “a poor man’s F15”. Not very convincing, IMO, given that the suicide bombers are deliberately targeting the innocent.

One of the things terrorists try to do is provoke their enemies into over-reaction. Rightly or wrongly, Israel’s actions in Jennin etc in the last few weeks have seriously damaged the country’s reputation around the world and aroused greater sympathy for the Palestinians. Seeing this, the people masterminding the suicide bombings probably feel their work has produced a successful outcome.

So far, discussion has centered on the suicide bombers themselves, and I have nothing to add. I would like to put in some comments about how the leadership justify this tactic.

The modern wave of suicide bombers (I’m deliberately ignoring earlier factions such as Kamikaze pilots) springs directly from the Palestinian terrorism acts of the 1970s that Arafat (largely) masterminded and originated. The idea was that terrorism (hijacking or blowing up planes, murder of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich, kidnappings, etc.) would draw “public attention” to the Palestinian cause.

So, the goal of the leadership was Public Relations (amazingly enough) – The old slogan that “any publicity is good publicity.” I guess a good Great Debate would be the validity of that slogan, but…

Similarly, the first Palestinian uprising, putting children with rocks in the front lines to throw their rocks at Israeli soldiers, was designed for publicity, pure and simple. The photos and news stories about children being shot by Israeli soldiers were viewed as excellent publicity.

Amazingly to me, the technique works.

The pity of shooting children wouldn’t work as good if the army didn’t shoot the children. Do you want me to feel sorry for the army.

I agree with the protestor Hemlock, I also believe suicide bombers are for the poor what the F15 to the rich, simply a weapon. I am against the suicide bombers… and against the F15.
Let’s use Kosovo campaign as an example (we don’t need to go back to world war two or vietnam) when NATO forces targeted let’s say a bridge, they knew that civilians were going to die ditto oil refineries ditto every other industries they blew up. So they deliberately targeted civilians.
It’s a different case when they attack other militars, example the bombardment of the terrorists camps was acceptable, the same with the attack to U.S.S. Cole. Another example, and please don’t send me to the pit over this, had the attack of the pentagon been carried in a different fashion (say a car bomb) I wouldn’t have shed a tear, they are militars they have to take their chances. The attack was carried out with a plane full of civilians so I did shead tears.
Now a question, seeing how the NATO operates, If New York were an enemy city would they have targeted (using F-15) the Twin Towers, considering that they were the financial center of the city (country and world)?

I’m a little confused. It sounds like you are saying that suicide-bombers targeting civilians in a restaurant or shopping center is ok because bridges and refineries were targeted by airplane?
Maybe you’re equating the clubs and markets with bridges and refineries in their ability to promote warfare?

But I guess I still don’t understand while in many other situations with equally or more disadvantaged populations there were no civilian targeted attacks. Why does it become ok here?


No, when they targeted a bridge they targeted a means by which enemy forces could move reserves and supplies to their forces in the field.

Financial centers are not valid military targets. Hence you don’t see NATO forces hit many banks with laser guided bombs.

Poster child, I said that I am aginst both the bombing of a refinery (civilians usually work there) and also of a restaurant (civilians usually eat there). I condemm both the use of a suicide bomber and an f15 to bomb any of those.
Now I agree with the protestor, if the palestinian had F15 I am sure they would use them in order to bomb restaurant just as the Israelis uses tanks to assault a refugee camp. Unfortunately they have not (Warning sarcasm).
Call me an idealist war belongs to the militars, of course in reality this is impossible to achieve but still involment of civilians should be kept at a minimum. Example: You are looking for fundamentalists who are hiding in a town full of civilians. You sent in the soliders, they are taking fire, they answer, a civilian dies. Plain bad luck. Now if they sent in tanks, if they use artillery, f15 or bulldozer etc that’s wrong. Israelis soldiers are not worth more than innocent palestians, actually they are worth a lot less.

food for thought: the allied bombing campaign in WW2.

Suicide bombers are a poor man’s mass murderer. A Hamas guy blowing himself up in a pizza parlor is morally no different than George Hennard driving into Luby’s on October 16th, 1991.

A water plant is a target, a tv station is a target, an oil refinery is a target, the chinese emabassy is a target, public buildings are target. Remember that at Serbia you didn’t only bomb communications, miliatary and goverment facilities but also civilians facilities (industries, damms, electrical plants, etc) I remember that Nato claimed that they would send serbia back to the 15 century. With that point of view the twin towers are valid target

You are aware that thrown rocks have killed Israelis, yes?

Yes, but fired bullets have also killed Palestinians.

Exactly- so why let your children throw rocks if you know it could get them shot?