So I was listening to CBC this morning and the Current was continuing a discussion (it's mail day) about suicide bombing: causes, etc. Some comments I agreed with, some I didn't. But what struck me was how odd it is that we spend so much time analyzing the technique of suicide bombing (remember I do think it is a rational tactic). Why do we treat it so differently than, say, aerial bombing, such as by the US in Iraq or Israel in the Occupied Territories?
Well, lets think about this for a moment. (And of course, first I need to make the requisite disclaimer: I do not condone suicide bombing, or civilian-targeting violence on the part of either terrorists or governments.)
What is the difference between a bomb that falls from the airplane of a conventional army and a bomb that is meant to explode while still attached to a body? Why does the second attract such complete and vehement denunciation (just watch what kind of comments this post gets) while the first elicits barely a comment?
Here are some possibilities:
A) Certainty of death. The person responsible for exploding the bomb will only maybe die in the first case, but will almost surely die in the second. Does this explain the completely different responses? I think not. After all, both are equally willing to kill for their causes. And if someone is willing to die for a cause (which is nothing new), that's his or her business, is it not?
B) Type of perpetrators. A soldier employed by the state in a conventional army is clearly different than a fighter in an unconventional force, so the violence perpetrated by the former must be treated differently than the latter. I think this is partially true, but is not a sufficient explanation. See, if it is not the technique that matters, but the actors, then any techniques employed by any non-state actors should be denounced as vociferously as suicide bombing. There are enough examples in recent history to prove that this is plainly not the case. (Not to mention that it is crazy to think that violence committed by a state is somehow more justifiable than violence committed by non-state actors, especially when you consider a state with no legitimacy - Iraq, Afghanistan - or no state at all - Palestine?)
C) Type of victims. We are often reminded that suicide bombers often kill civilians, something completely worthy of censure. But aerial bombardment is so efficient at killing civilians, it is a bit ridiculous to even raise this point.
D) Or is it that suicide bombing is nearly the only weapon left among certain dispossessed groups, who have almost no other techniques left at their disposal? For instance, the Palestinians have tried nonviolence, they have tried political solutions, and without an army or weapons, there are few military options, aside from rock throwing or homemade bombs with low-tech means of delivery. In other words, these people can't opt for airstrikes and other high-tech forms of killing. Unfortunately for the imperial powers and colonial occupiers who wish for the end of resistance (as of course all imperial powers do), it turns out to be a weapon that is nearly impossible to prevent from being used. In some situations, like the Palestinian/Israeli situation, I think this explanation has some validity.
I think a lot of it has also to be blamed on propaganda, perpetuated by an uncritical media that has bought into the clash of civilizations model. We (of the rational, normal, enlightened West) would never consider strapping bombs to our bodies and setting them off in a public place (we pay people to do our killing for us). Therefore, there must be something pathological about their culture/religion/part of the world.
I'm mostly just thinking out loud here. I'd be curious to hear other thoughts on this. Preferably non-frothing-at-the-mouth types.