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Era of the Holy Human Bomb

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adapted from The Charleston Gazette

Abruptly, on Sept. 11, 2001, people around the planet realized that a terrible new phase of human slaughter had arrived. Muslim suicide bombings had been occurring sporadically for two decades, drawing temporary public attention, but the historic 9/11 attack jolted the world into seeing that Islamic self-martyrdom had become the worst menace of the twenty-first century.

Most Westerners were baffled. Why did nineteen young men want to kill thousands of defenseless strangers who had done them no harm? Why did they willingly sacrifice their own lives to hijack four airliners and turn them into weapons of mass destruction? While they lived in America to plan the mass murder, why didn't they feel empathy for surrounding people and families, but instead felt only a compulsion to kill them?

The best clue to the killers' motive was contained in their own rallying call, a handwritten exhortation found in their luggage after the horror. Over and over, it beseeched the zealots to kill for God and give their lives gladly, confident that they would be transported to a magical heaven where each would enjoy an allotment of adoring virgins. Here are a few passages, translated from Arabic:

"When the taxi takes you to the airport, remember God constantly.... Smile and be calm, for God is with the believers, and the angels protect you.... And say, 'Oh Lord, take Your anger out on them, and we ask You to protect us from their evils.' And say, 'Oh Lord, block their vision from in front of them, so that they may not see.'... God will weaken the schemes of the non-believers....

"Be happy, optimistic, calm, because you are heading for a deed that God loves and will accept. It will be the day, God willing, that you spend with the women of paradise.... Remember that this a battle for the sake of God, as He said in His book: 'Oh Lord, pour Your patience upon us and make our feet steadfast to give us victory over the infidels....

"Know that the gardens of paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty, and the women of paradise are waiting, calling out, 'Come hither, friend of God.' They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing.... Remind your brothers that this act is for Almighty God."

Astounding! They saw Americans only as "infidels," and they believed that killing infidels along with themselves would guarantee them eternal pleasure with houri nymphs. They were driven by adolescent male sex fantasies, plus heaven-seeking. It was mass murder as a route to paradise.

The terrorists obeyed a fatwa (holy edict) issued in 1998 by Osama bin Laden, which said in part: "We call on every Muslim who believes in God and hopes for reward to obey God's command to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions.... Launch attacks against the armies of the American devils and against those who are allied with them among the helpers of Satan."

What idiocy. Only sickos think there's a God who wants them to kill people.

The 9/11 tragedy wasn't unique. Throughout history, twisted, fermented, supernatural beliefs have caused a wide variety of horrors -- from human sacrifice to the Crusades, from the Inquisition to holy wars, from witch-burnings to bloody pogroms, from Jonestown to the David Koresh compound, from nerve gas planted in Tokyo subways by cultists to salmonella planted in Oregon restaurant salad bars by different cultists. Murders at abortion clinics are part of the spectrum. To varying extent, so are assassinations in Ulster, religious riots in India and religio-ethnic warfare that destroyed Yugoslavia.

England still celebrates Guy Fawkes Day to mark the thwarting of a 1605 Catholic plot to blow up Protestants in Parliament. America's tragedy was vastly worse, making Sept. 11 another anniversary reminding humanity to beware of the ghastly mix of religion and hate.

Religious suicide attacks have a spotty history. Ten centuries ago, the Assassin cult sent True Believers on one-way missions to stab rulers to death. Then self-martyrdom faded until recent times. In 1984, Sikh guards decided to become martyrs after they saw a falcon and deemed it a holy omen. They killed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whereupon other guards gunned them down. Indira's son, Rajiv, likewise became a victim. A Hindu woman member of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka exploded herself and the prime minister and sixteen others in 1991, because the Tigers felt betrayed by India. (And the immortal Mahatma Gandhi was killed by a Hindu who thought he was soft on Muslims - the third Gandhi to suffer religious murder.)

Gradually, suicide attacks became a hallmark of militant Muslims. In the spring of 1983, a bomber blew up his van outside the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing sixty-two. That fall, another fanatic -- grinning ecstatically -- crashed an explosive-filled truck into a U.S. barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines, while another killed fifty-eight paratroopers at a French compound. Human bombs also struck in Israel.

In the 1990s, Israel increasingly was ravaged by "martyr bombers" spawned by hopeless desperation among Palestinians trapped in slum-like refugee camps. Young, male, Islamic zealots with explosives hidden under their clothes blew themselves up on crowded buses, in stores, nightclubs, malls, etc., with ghastly effect.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)

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