The murders and the martyrs

Posted: Aug 25, 2003 12:00 AM

Eleven-month-old Shmuel Zargari was buried in Israel this week with only his 14-year-old brother in attendance from his immediate family. His parents and three other siblings missed the funeral, having been grievously wounded by Shmuel's murderer, a 29-year-old Muslim cleric named Raed Abdel-Hamid Mesk, who believed Allah would invite him to paradise for self-detonating a Jerusalem bus packed with the Zargaris and other young families.

Mesk's ultimate destination is debatable, but the number of people he murdered on Tuesday is not. Twenty Jews died in the wreckage, among them five Americans; scores more, including some 40 children, face recovery from injuries exacerbated by metal shards packed among the explosives. No further suffering will pain Shmuel Zargari, a murder victim before his first birthday, but the desolation of his funeral accentuates the trauma of the crime. No bright side here; no silver lining and no light at the end of the tunnel -- unless you are the killer-cleric's widow. "I thank God that my husband has become a martyr," said pregnant Arij Mesk, who is also the mother of the couple's two- and three-year-old children. "God gave Raed something he always dreamed of. All his life he dreamed of being a martyr."

We may expect celebrations of such murderers in the Arab world -- Reuters reported on one in Lebanon this week in which hundreds of Palestinian men took to the streets to celebrate the bus attack -- but that doesn't happen here, right? Following the bus bombing, however,, an avowedly Muslim Web site originating in Bridgeview, Ill., some presumably young and presumably North American Muslims mainly blogged approval of, and even sadistic delight in, the Jerusalem carnage.

Most chilling was the theological justification for "martyrdom operations" that cropped up on the Web site. A blogger from Canada identified as "Egyptian Guy" (with a Hezbollah logo) quoted at length from a fatwa originating from an organization of Islamic scholars called the European Council for Fatwa and Research. "Martyrdom operations are not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one's life," wrote the council's Sheik Faysal Mawlawi. Indeed, they "are a sacred duty carried out in form of self-defense." (Self-defense against 11-month-old bus passengers?) "Whoever is killed in such missions," concluded the sheik, "is a martyr, may Allah bless him with high esteem."

Not exactly what I would bless him with, but there's more. The Middle East Media Research Institute ( reports that the European Fatwa and Research Council hunkered down in Stockholm this summer to discuss "Jihad and Denying Its Connection to Terror." It all depends, it seems, on what the meaning of terror is. According to the council's Sheik Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, one of the leading figures in Sunni Islam, "martyrdom operations ... are not in any way included in the framework of prohibited terrorism, even if the victims include some civilians." ("Some" civilians.) The sheik listed six reasons, among them the following: "It has been determined by Islamic law that the blood and property of people of Dar Al-Harb (the Domain of Disbelief where the battle for the domination of Islam should be waged) is not protected." That means non-Muslims aren't "protected" in non-Muslim lands (and it's no bed of roses in Muslim lands) -- not even by, or rather, especially not by, the loftiest religious precepts of a significant swath of Islam.

This point reminds me of a passage in one of the greatly readable primers on Islamic jihad (the historical movement, not the terrorist group), "Jihad in the West," (Prometheus Books, 1998) by Paul Fregosi. Comparing Christian and Muslim war crimes in the 16th century, Fregosi writes, "Both sides murdered and tortured equally well. But," he adds, quoting historian Jack Beeching, "'the bloody deeds done by nominal Christians went contrary to the utterances of the founder of their religion. ... The Christians guilty of such deeds must have been aware at the backs of their minds that what they did was wrong.'" Fregosi notes: "The Muslims who carried out the same deeds, and worse, felt no guilt at all. On the contrary, they felt they were obeying the will of God. Surveying the Christian scene with an unblinking eye, Beeching adds, 'From this friction between doctrine and practice might come a change for the better.

Perhaps,' he adduced, 'this is the reason why the Christian West has never stagnated.'"

Perhaps. It is certainly true that as currently preached by many leading Islamic clerics around the world, no such friction between religious doctrine and murderous practice exists.

Killing Jews -- and by extension, Americans and other Westerners -- is doctrinally OK according to way too much of Islam. This is what must cease if ever there is to come a change for the better.