File spoon-archives/foucault.archive/foucault_2001/foucault.0108, message 70

Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2001 07:14:56 +0100 (BST)
Subject: Suicide's not painless -- and this Message is Not for Charles Stivale who is an Ar.... You can read between the buttons Ruth


 Note: forwarded message attached. because you are
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backchannel you .


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Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001 22:47:46 -0700
Subject: [JPN] Hani Shukrallah: Suicide's not painless


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[In this article from the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, columnist Hani
Shukrallah discusses why it is so difficult to address the morality
of suicide bombing, when the world seems to have lost its more
general moral compass where it comes to the Palestine-Israel
conflict.  Indeed, Shukrallah adds, the debate is even more
constrained by the gross simplifications that have taken root around
it -- both in Arab countries and in the West -- as to what
contributes to or reduces the conflict, the intifada, or the
achievement of justice.  Chauvinism as well as doctrinaire political
sentiments inevitably prevail.  But Shukrallah asserts that the real
strength of the Palestinian cause is its fundamental morality: the
demand for liberation.  And here he takes his own moral stand, by
insisting, against assaults from all directions, that morality does
have a universal (if historically contextual) dimension.  "Is it not
worthwhile, then," Shukrallah asks, "for [Palestinians] to take the
moral high ground that is theirs by right, and suit their means of
struggle to the substance of their cause?"  --LS]

Suicide's not painless
By Hani Shukrallah

The state of the Arab world today, and especially of Egypt, is such
that reasoned debate is next to impossible. The process of reducing
the Intifada (in people's minds, if not yet fully on the ground) to
"martyrdom operations" is almost complete. Thus, if you criticise
such operations, you open yourself to accusations of playing into
American hands, of acting to bring an end to the Intifada. The matter
becomes even more sensitive given that Arab governments, under US
pressure, are doing just that, with considerable PA complicity -- and
we have yet to draw attention to the vulgarity, viciousness and
slanderous accusations that have characterised the debate of such
"sensitive" issues in our country.

Here, I might point out that I'm fully aware of the dubious advantage
that this column gives me. My little bit of partially liberated
territory (we're talking armed struggle, so we might as well use
military metaphors), being in English, is safer than most. That,
however, is a privilege I do not welcome. I would like to think of
this column as sniper fire, but I'm the first to admit that my "safe
haven" or "foco" (as Che Guevara/Régis Dupré might have put it back
in the '60s), may well be so safe that the bullets are not hitting
any worthwhile target.

Let me first of all underline a certain dilemma that faces all of us
in addressing the issue of suicide operations. It is, like many other
issues in contemporary Arab life, a debate under siege. In this case,
the blatant hypocrisy of the Western world -- its political leaders
and media -- in viewing the Israeli/Palestinian confrontation tempts
one to shout "a plague on all your houses, we will do our best to be
the vicious, heartless beasts you make us out to be. Our children are
no less precious than yours, our lives no less sacred, our dignity no
less worthy of preservation." I need not cite the multitudinous
examples of the flagrant double standard. They're only too familiar.

I could cite one of the less flagrant examples of this double
standard, however, which struck me as especially poignant just for
being so. It is the statement made by German Foreign Minister,
Joschka Fischer, at the time of the Tel Aviv disco bombing.
Expressing his horror at the suicide bombing, he said that it
conjured up the image of his own teenage children, who also queue up
to go into discos. It struck me at the time that Mr Fischer (a nice,
left-wing social democrat who would be horrified at the suggestion
that his body harbours a single racist bone) would never think of
drawing a similar parallel in the case of Palestinian children and
teenagers, who are being killed and maimed daily, and in much greater
numbers. Some of them would even frequent discos if they could find

Mr Fischer, who was in Israel at the time, is supposed to have "saved
the day" by rushing to Arafat and pressuring him to declare a
unilateral cease-fire immediately. It was this declaration -- we've
been told -- that stayed Sharon's hand from carrying on with the
Israeli military's plan to reoccupy parts of the self-rule
territories and destroy the PA. But that is another story.

I have described armed attacks against Israeli civilians as
"immoral." I realise that this is a particularly weak aspect of my
argument -- not because there is no such thing as an Israeli
civilian, but because the "masters of the universe," in Washington
and elsewhere, have made a total mockery of any humanitarian moral
standard. Even organisations mandated to uphold the humanitarian
moral standards that have been codified into international law (e.g.
the International Red Cross) have conspicuously failed to do so in
any consistent manner.

The purely arbitrary nature of horrified condemnations of certain
military acts against civilians, and the approving justification of
others, seems to deny the existence of a moral standard of any kind
in this matter. This is especially true because we know that
sanctioned killing and maiming of non-combatants claim so many more
victims, and cause far greater human suffering, than the operations
that give rise to horrified condemnation of the sort expressed by Mr

I do believe, however, that humanitarian moral standards do exist,
that they express something fundamental about our human nature, and
that they are subject to historical development -- essentially
through struggle. Take racism, for example, if only for the sake of
the forthcoming conference in Durban, South Africa. In moral terms,
humanity has come a long way over the past 50 years toward
recognising racism for the abhorrent monstrosity it always was. There
is no doubt in my mind, moreover, that this "moral development" can
only be understood as the outcome of the anti-colonial struggles of
the peoples of the South and of ethnic minorities (particularly
African Americans) in the imperial North. That such struggles do not
merely lead to the defeat or weakening of particular structures of
racial supremacy, but are conceptually appropriated and expressed in
general terms as a rejection of any and all forms of racism, is what
human moral development is all about.

The Palestinians' is a liberation struggle. Theirs is a supremely
moral cause. And it is from the morality of their cause that they
derive their greatest strength. Is it not worthwhile, then, for them
to take the moral high ground that is theirs by right, and suit their
means of struggle to the substance of their cause?


Jewish Peace News (JPN) is a service provided by A Jewish Voice for Peace. JPN's editors are Adam Gutride, Mitchell Plitnick, Lincoln Shlensky and Alistair Welchman.

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