Worshippers of Death

Hat Tip-Margo I.

By ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ
March 3, 2008; Page A17
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Zahra Maladan is an educated woman who edits a women’s magazine in Lebanon.
She is also a mother, who undoubtedly loves her son. She has ambitions for
him, but they are different from those of most mothers in the West. She
wants her son to become a suicide bomber.

At the recent funeral for the assassinated Hezbollah terrorist Imad
Moughnaya — the mass murderer responsible for killing 241 marines in 1983
and more than 100 women, children and men in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994
— Ms. Maladan was quoted in the New York Times giving the following warning
to her son: “if you’re not going to follow the steps of the Islamic
resistance martyrs, then I don’t want you.”

[Worshippers of Death]
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Zahra Maladan represents a dramatic shift in the way we must fight to
protect our citizens against enemies who are sworn to kill them by killing
themselves. The traditional paradigm was that mothers who love their
children want them to live in peace, marry and produce grandchildren. Women
in general, and mothers in particular, were seen as a counterweight to male
belligerence. The picture of the mother weeping as her son is led off to
battle — even a just battle — has been a constant and powerful image.

Now there is a new image of mothers urging their children to die, and then
celebrating the martyrdom of their suicidal sons and daughters by
distributing sweets and singing wedding songs. More and more young women —
some married with infant children — are strapping bombs to their (sometimes
pregnant) bellies, because they have been taught to love death rather than
life. Look at what is being preached by some influential Islamic leaders:

“We are going to win, because they love life and we love death,” said Hassan
Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. He has also said: “[E]ach of us lives
his days and nights hoping more than anything to be killed for the sake of
Allah.” Shortly after 9/11, Osama bin Laden told a reporter: “We love death.
The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us.”

“The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death,” explained Afghani al Qaeda
operative Maulana Inyadullah. Sheik Feiz Mohammed, leader of the Global
Islamic Youth Center in Sydney, Australia, preached: “We want to have
children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam. Teach them this: There
is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid.” Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei
said in a speech: “It is the zenith of honor for a man, a young
person, boy or girl, to be prepared to sacrifice his life in order to serve
the interests of his nation and his religion.”

How should Western democracies fight against an enemy whose leaders preach a
preference for death?

The two basic premises of conventional warfare have long been that soldiers
and civilians prefer living to dying and can thus be deterred from killing
by the fear of being killed; and that combatants (soldiers) can easily be
distinguished from noncombatants (women, children, the elderly, the infirm
and other ordinary citizens). These premises are being challenged by women
like Zahra Maladan. Neither she nor her son — if he listens to his mother
— can be deterred from killing by the fear of being killed. They must be
prevented from succeeding in their ghoulish quest for martyrdom. Prevention,
however, carries a high risk of error. The woman walking toward the group of
soldiers or civilians might well be an innocent civilian. A moment’s
hesitation may cost innocent lives. But a failure to hesitate may also have
a price.

Late last month, a young female bomber was shot as she approached some shops
in central Baghdad. The Iraqi soldier who drew his gun hesitated as the
bomber, hands raised, insisted that she wasn’t armed. The soldier and a shop
owner finally opened fire as she dashed for the stores; she was knocked to
the ground but still managed to detonate the bomb, killing three and
wounding eight. Had the soldier and other bystanders not called out a
warning to others — and had they not shot her before she could enter the
shops — the death toll certainly would have been higher. Had he not
hesitated, it might have been lower.

As more women and children are recruited by their mothers and their
religious leaders to become suicide bombers, more women and children will be
shot at — some mistakenly. That too is part of the grand plan of our
enemies. They want us to kill their civilians, who they also consider
martyrs, because when we accidentally kill a civilian, they win in the court
of public opinion. One Western diplomat called this the “harsh arithmetic of
pain,” whereby civilian casualties on both sides “play in their favor.”
Democracies lose, both politically and emotionally, when they kill
civilians, even inadvertently. As Golda Meir once put it: “We can perhaps
someday forgive you for killing our children, but we cannot forgive you for
making us kill your children.”

Civilian casualties also increase when terrorists operate from within
civilian enclaves and hide behind human shields. This relatively new
phenomenon undercuts the second basic premise of conventional warfare:
Combatants can easily be distinguished from noncombatants. Has Zahra Maladan
become a combatant by urging her son to blow himself up? Have the religious
leaders who preach a culture of death lost their status as noncombatants?
What about “civilians” who willingly allow themselves to be used as human
shields? Or their homes as launching pads for terrorist rockets?

The traditional sharp distinction between soldiers in uniform and civilians
in nonmilitary garb has given way to a continuum. At the more civilian end
are babies and true noncombatants; at the more military end are the
religious leaders who incite mass murder; in the middle are ordinary
citizens who facilitate, finance or encourage terrorism. There are no hard
and fast lines of demarcation, and mistakes are inevitable — as the
terrorists well understand.

We need new rules, strategies and tactics to deal effectively and fairly
with these dangerous new realities. We cannot simply wait until the son of
Zahra Maladan — and the sons and daughters of hundreds of others like her
— decide to follow his mother’s demand. We must stop them before they
export their sick and dangerous culture of death to our shores.

Mr. Dershowitz teaches law at Harvard University and is the author of
“Finding Jefferson” (Wiley, 2007).

 

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