Friday, January 7, 2011

The illusion of honor. Friday, January 7, 2011.

"Whosoever killeth a human being... it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind." –The Koran

On New Year’s Eve, a green car drove up in front of All Saints Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt, during the holiday service. A few moments later, a bomb inside the car, filled with 100 KG of explosives as well as glass, nails and iron balls, went off. Twenty-three people inside the church were killed, and more than 100 injured.

Details remain sketchy as of this writing. Depending on the news source, the bomb was planted by someone on behalf of Al Qaeda, or not. The man in the car was a suicide bomber, or else the bomb went off prematurely before he was able to get away.

Whether or not this particular act was the work of a suicide bomber, it affects me directly because I happen to have personal ties to the community that was attacked so brutally. And we hear stories every week of suicide bombings all over the world. What happened here on 9-11 was a gigantic suicide bombing, using airplanes. The media quickly spread stories about the perpetrators committing “jihad,” expecting to be rewarded in paradise with 72 virgins.

It’s not the first time suicide has been used as a war tactic. In 1945, the Japanese – who were losing WWII – began filling planes with just enough fuel for them to crash into a target, and began sending their pilots on “kamikaze” missions. The word kamikaze means “divine wind,” and even today, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. Culturally, the Japanese have tolerated suicide, even encouraged it for reasons of “honor.” Today, unemployment and work stressors are the main reasons for suicide in Japan. “Suicide Clubs,” which people join so they can commit suicide together, are growing as a result of economic hardship.

So it would seem that Islamic and Japanese cultures approve of suicide, even promote it, which is a foreign thought to those of us in America and Europe. But if you scratch under the surface, there’s more to the story.

Japan is largely Shinto, and the Shinto religion allows suicide for a number of reasons. However, the Japanese government recognizes suicide as a major problem it its society. The suicide rate increased almost 35 percent in 1998 alone, to almost three times that of the United States, with people jumping in front of trains and leaping off high places all over the country. “Honorable” or not, these individuals leave grieved families behind, destabilizing their communities.

The Japanese government calls the problem of suicide “very serious,” and has released a nine-step plan, called a “counter-suicide White Paper,” which is intended to curb suicide by 20 percent before 2017. Among the Paper’s goals are a change in the culture’s attitude toward suicide.

And as my Moslem friends will tell me, Islam in general rejects the beliefs of the suicide bombers and condemns the work of such terrorists. “Jihad,” they explain, simply refers to a divine struggle – which can be internal – and in no way promotes the killing of non-Muslims. And while the Holy Bible contains no verses condemning suicide specifically, the Koran has several, including “And do not kill yourselves, God is merciful with you. And whosoever does that (kills self) with aggression and inequity, we will make them suffer in Hell fire, and this is easy for God to do.”

The true martyrs in the Coptic Church bombing were the thousands of Egyptian Muslims who showed up at Coptic churches all over Egypt last night, to serve as “human shields” during Orthodox Christmas celebrations. By attending Christmas services in order to prevent radical Moslems from bombing them, these Muslims put their lives, and their families’ lives, at risk – not just now but for the foreseeable future, and all on behalf of strangers of a different religion.

While the families of suicide bombers are often given financial awards by radical Islamic organizations, these Muslims who protected Christians are on their own. But I believe their sentiments are much more typical of the average Muslim. And I believe they’re a million times more brave than any suicide bomber.

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