reaction of the law enforcement agencies in Britain to
the bombings of July 7 and July 21 are entirely understandable.
But we did not need the death of a Brazilian electrician
to show us that relying upon coercive measures alone would
be the wrong way to go. While more vigilant policing and
intelligence work is necessary, the curbing of the civil
liberties, including the right to life, of a targeted
minority, will only alienate it further.
and his colleagues may be focusing single-mindedly on
coercive measures to minimise a possible connection with
Iraq. But this is only taking the government further from
the issue that lies at the heart of the London bombings.
This is not why are British born Muslim youth taking
revenge for Iraq , Afghanistan or whatever, but why
are they killing themselves when they do so. Suicide
and revenge are normally born of very different motives.
Why are they being fused together by ever larger numbers
of young Muslims all over the world, including the western
world, today ?
is the most extreme form of protest a human being is capable
of the final rebellion against a world he or she
cannot change but also cannot continue to live in. Admittedly,
something has to snap inside a person to make him or her
want to commit suicide, and mental fragility makes the
breakdown easier. Brainwashing then becomes much easier.
one does not have to be psychotic, or brainwashed, to
chose this form of protest. On May 6, 1998, Bishop John
Joseph ended his own life in a courthouse in Sahiwal,
Pakistan, when Ayub Massih, a 25-year-old Catholic was
condemned to die for blasphemy against Islam. On 21 January
2001, five members of Falun Gong tried to commit suicide
in Tian Anmen square by burning themselves. By then the
Chinese government had jailed 450 of its members, sent
600 to mental hospitals, 10,000 to labour camps and 50,000
to detention centres. In February 2003 five young Iranian
women from villages near the city of Shiraz burnt themselves
to death because their families refused to let them go
out to work
is also an expression of helplessness. A Chinese writer
, Si Si Lu, summed up the motive for suicide as follows:
"People who have the power and resources to make
choices and changes in their lives are usually also able
to express their views in a variety of moderate and socially
acceptable ways. For those who lack the power or resources
to address the sources of their discontent, however, suicide
may provide a last resort".
revenge for the invasion of Iraq been the sole motive,
the bombers would have planned to set off the bombs without
killing themselves. Suicide was an escape from a conflict
that was tearing them apart but which they could not resolve.
This was the conflict between their inherited Muslim identity
and their acquired British one. Contrary to what most
people believe, this conflict is virtually non-existent
in those who make the decision to migrate. Their cultural
identities are already fully formed and most of them ask
for nothing more than a friendly reception from their
confusion, and therefore conflict over identity, usually
starts in the first generation born or raised from infancy
in the host country. This new generation considers itself
a part of the host nation, but has not severed its ties
with its parent culture. It therefore actively seeks ways
of fusing the two. Some of the most creative fiction,
film and theatre in Britain is a fruit of this effort.
the more successful it is in fusing its two inheritances,
the greater is the potential for conflict if the still
incomplete process is disrupted. That is what 9 / 11 did
to the Muslim diaspora. The extravagant condemnation of
Islamic fundamentalism, thinly disguised distrust of Muslims,
and heightened surveillance reversed the process of assimilation.
Many reacted by rebelling against their host cultures.
This rebellion took them back to the veil, the beard and
skull cap, the mosque and the madrassa.
this road was not open to all. The further anyone had
gone down the road to assimilation the more difficult
did it become for him or her to choose rejection as a
form of protest. Even the option that German Americans
had had, of rejecting their German origin entirely because
of Hitler's excesses, was not open to them because in
the Iraq war and to some extent in Afghanistan, it was
the US and the UK that had committed the aggression and
many of the excesses that followed.
we have come to know about the suicide bombers is explained
by the predicament described above. Their sheer normality,
their participation in team sports like cricket, and their
lack of overt religiosity, reflects the level of their
assimilation into British society. The fact that they
kept their parents utterly in the dark about their intentions
shows that the conflict they were unable to handle affected
only their generation and not that of their parents. The
fact that two of them were able to plan their own extinction
despite having wives and children reflects the acuteness
of the struggle within them and, finally, the serenity
with which they casually said goodbye to each other, hours
before their deaths, shows that in them the conflict had
at last been resolved.
is a profoundly important moral in the London bombings.
A globalised world in which cultures will increasingly
be intermixed, cannot coexist with the amorality of the
19th and 20th century nation state. The former demands
that host nations extend the same rule of law to the home
countries of their immigrant populations as they live
under themselves. The latter exempts powerful nation states
from the rule of law altogether.
the present chaos in the international state system continues,
then, unable to turn back and unable to go forward, more
and more first generation Muslim Europeans and Americans
will be in danger of suffering a psychotic breakdown.
Turning themselves into human bombs could become the revenge
that a few of them take on a society that has left them
with no psychological space to inhabit. It is an act not
far removed, in its horrific intensity, from matricide.
It may also explain why there seems to be an inexhaustible
supply of suicide bombers for Iraq.
step that Britain takes on the road to denial will make
another attack more certain. For it will belittle the
sacrifice, and ignore the message
that the bombers sent with their deaths. This will make
others more determined to send the message again and again
till they are heard.
The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former
editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic
Times and The Financial Express,
and a former information adviser to the prime minister
of India. He is the author of several books including,
The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy
of Reform in Russia, India and China, and
Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a
regular columnist with several leading publications.