Unfinished Biz

A little unfinished business. I meant to add something to that N&C about Terry Eagleton’s comment last month – and then I forgot. Now I’ve remembered again.

Like hunger strikers, suicide bombers are not necessarily in love with death. They kill themselves because they can see no other way of attaining justice; and the fact that they have to do so is part of the injustice…People like Rosa Luxemburg or Steve Biko give up what they see as precious (their lives) for an even more valuable cause. They die not because they see death as desirable in itself, but in the name of a more abundant life all round. Suicide bombers also die in the name of a better life for others; it is just that, unlike martyrs, they take others with them in the process. The martyr bets his life on a future of justice and freedom; the suicide bomber bets your life on it. But both believe that a life is only worth living if it contains something worth dying for. On this theory, what makes existence meaningful is what you are prepared to relinquish it for. This used to be known as God; in modern times it is mostly known as the nation. For Islamic radicals it is both inseparably.

“Suicide bombers also die in the name of a better life for others”. That’s what I wanted to say more about. No they don’t. Not all of them. Some may, but certainly not all. Some die in the name of, or for the sake of trying to attain, a much much worse life for others. Orders of magnitude worse. Specifically, some suicide bombers die for the sake of trying to attain among other things a much, much worse life for women. All women. All women on the planet. If some suicide bombers got what they ‘martyred’ themselves for, every single woman on earth would be walled up indoors under the ownership of a man, forbidden to go outside, forbidden to work, to go to school, to learn at home, to get medical attention. Subject to beating by armed gangs of thugs if she does venture outside and accidentally allows a piece of hair or a bit of wrist to show. Subject to being buried up to the neck and killed by having large rocks thrown at her head if she is accused and convicted of adultery; subject to being convicted of adultery (and thus stoned to death) if she charges a man with rape and he is acquitted – which must happen a lot since she is required to produce witnesses of the rape in order to make the charge stick. This is the ‘better life for others’ that some suicide bombers dream of. A regime of unmitigated hatred, contempt, violence, control, confinement, and stultification for all women.

“The martyr bets his life on a future of justice and freedom; the suicide bomber bets your life on it.” No, he does not. Justice and freedom? Justice and freedom? Under what perverse definition of justice and freedom? I would be charitable and suggest that Eagleton must have forgotten the suicide bombers of September 11, and the ones who blew up the two African embassies – but he mentions the people who jumped from World Trade Center to escape the fire, in the column, so he can’t have forgotten it. So does he think those suicide bombers were betting anyone’s life on a future of justice and freedom? Does he even think they thought that? They were betting other people’s lives (as well as their own) on a future of purity and submission, not one of freedom and justice. (Justice by their definition, maybe. But I earnestly hope their idea of justice is not Terry Eagleton’s.)

What’s going on here? What did Eagleton even think he was saying? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that he was confusing commitment and passion and a sense of grievance with something else. With legitimate or valid or halfway decent commitment and passion and sense of grievance. A lot of people seem to get confused about that. Seem to think that sincerity and authenticity are some kind of sign of virtue and altruism. They can tell the difference (usually) when the passion and grievance are neo-Nazi or otherwise fascist in some familar way, but they seem to lose the ability when the fascism is in some way mixed up with postcolonialism. At least, that’s my guess, although I find those two re-quoted remarks pretty baffling.

But this kind of thing is why the ruling in the Shabina Begum case is not good news, and why the right to manifest her religion cited in one article on the subject does not say it all. Because in the current context it’s more than just a manifestation of religion. Political Islam is political. Backword Dave has good comments on the subject here and here. The second one discusses Azam Kamguian’s ‘Why So Much Fuss About a Piece of Clothing?’.

It’s international women’s day. Here’s hoping we can start to figure out what a better life for others actually means, before too long.

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