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Monday, 1 July, 2002, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Suicide Bombing
Suicide Bombing

The photo of a toddler dressed as a suicide bomber was as shocking as anything seen in the Middle East in recent years.

The Israelis say their soldiers found the picture in the home of a militant Palestinian in Hebron, and whether or not they are telling the truth, the image will lodge immediately with everyone who sees it.

If Palestinian children are being brainwashed into believing that suicide bombing is a righteous way to die, where does the idea come from?

Peter Marshall reported.


PETER MARSHALL:
This is their era, those who are determined, even blissful, to destroy others by destroying themselves. Now it seems some are being raised to be human bombs, and some promote that.

SHEIKH OMAR BAKRI:
(Shari'ah Court of the UK)
If our children are going to die anyway, let us prepare them from now, in order for the future themselves to die for the just and good cause. The purpose of life is to sacrifice your life in this life for the sake of almighty Allah.

Dr MAGNUS RANSTORP:
(Centre for the Study of Terrorism, St Andrews University)
Now, there is a great difference in terms of the number and the sheer scale of recruits that both the Islamists and non-Islamist Palestinian factions have at their disposal as human bombs, that are ready to be exploded at any moment.

PETER MARSHALL:
At any time and at any age. Another video released by the Israelis shows young Palestinians at play, rehearsing the unthinkable.

Like everything in the Middle East, the first suicide killing dates back to the Old Testament, with Sampson bringing down the temple at Gaza to destroy the Philistines. By the 11th century, suicide killing had become part of warfare. The Islamic sect, the assassins, ambushed the crusaders with knives, inviting their own certain death in response. In the last century, Japanese kamikaze pilots were flying into allied ships. In all these cases, from Sampson to Shinto, the urge to kill was tied to religious fervour.

As a secular, political tool, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers introduced suicide bombing on a wide scale. A woman called Dhanu killed the Indian premier, Rajiv Gandhi, using a bomb like that. In the Middle East, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both used suicide bombing to devastating effect, and circulate videos of what they call martyrs.

CHERIE BLAIR:
As long as young people feel they have no hope but to blow themselves up, we're never going to make progress, are we?

PETER MARSHALL:
When the Prime Minister's wife looked at the political background for an explanation, she invited some derision, but some support. Only ten days on from Cherie Blair's comments and, of course, the picture is different because of the picture, the toddler dressed to kill. The apparent discovery and release of that photo is undoubtedly a propaganda coup for the Israelis. It suggests the emergence of a sort of death cult among some Palestinian families, and it raises the spectre of suicide bombing not as an act of desperation but of exploitation.

Dr MAGNUS RANSTORP:
There are talent spotters recruiting people, youths particularly, in mosques, and universities.

PETER MARSHALL:
What do they look for?

Dr MAGNUS RANSTORP:
They look for the test of faith by making them go to early morning prayers, but then they test them by placing them in the line of fire. By placing and testing and seeing that they can withstand pressure, that they have the right psychological material to be able to handle, and to actually carry out this operation. They're usually not told what target that they are after until the last moment, so that they will not back out. This is a whole process that occurs.

PETER MARSHALL:
It's a gruesome business, but martyrdom, as they call it, was promoted at a summer school in Gaza, filmed by the BBC last summer. It was later closed down by the embarrassed Palestinian Authority.

But across the Middle East, there are many who extol the suicide bombers. This is a reported quote from the chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists' Association in Cairo.

"As a professional psychiatrist, I say that the height of bliss comes with the end of the countdown: ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. When the martyr reaches 'one' and he explodes, he has a sense of himself flying, because he knows for certain that he is not dead. It is a transition to another, more beautiful, world. None in the western world sacrifices himself for his homeland. If his homeland is drowning, he is the first to jump ship. In our culture it is different... This is the only Arab weapon, and anyone who says otherwise is a conspirator."

UNNAMED LECTURER:
Nothing can strike fear in the heart of an enemy more than the self-sacrifice operation. No doubt about it. No doubt about it. There's no security on the planet Earth which can stop somebody who wants himself to die for the sake of Allah...

PETER MARSHALL:
This was tonight, two hours ago. Not in Jerusalem or Cairo, but in North London. It was a meeting of an Al-Muhajiroun, that incendiary group who talk of the glory of jihad, and encourage recruitment. Their leader lionises the suicide bombers, the numbers are growing.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Newsnight's Peter Marshall
reports on the 'justification' for suicide bomb attacks

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