Oppression doesnt incite suicide bombings, leaders do

As suicide bombings increase in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia and in Israel, more and more people have come to believe that this tactic is a result of desperation. They see a direct link between oppression, occupation, poverty and humiliation on the one hand, and a willingness to blow oneself up for the cause on the other hand. It follows from this premise that the obvious remedy for suicide bombing is to address its root cause — namely, our oppression of the terrorists.

But the underlying premise is demonstrably false: There is no such link as a matter of fact or history. Suicide bombing is a tactic that is selected by privileged, educated and wealthy elitists because it has proven successful.

Moreover, even some of the suicide bombers themselves defy the stereotype of the impoverished victims of occupation driven to desperate measures by American or Israeli oppression. Remember the 9/11 bombers, several of whom were university students and none of whom were oppressed by the United States. They were dispatched by a Saudi millionaire named Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden has now become the hero of many other upper-class Saudis who are volunteering to become shahids (martyrs) in Iraq, Israel and other parts of the globe.

Majid al-Enezi, a Saudi student training to become a computer technician, recently changed career plans and decided to become a martyr; he crossed over into Iraq, where he died. His brother Abdullah celebrated that decision. “People are calling all the time to congratulate us, crying from happiness and envy. There are many young men who wish they could cross over into Iraq, but they can’t. Thank God he was able to.”

These rich kids glorify the culture of suicide, even in distant places. As Tufful al-Oqbi, a student at the elite King Saud University, described this situation, young people are wearing T-shirts with bin Laden’s picture on them just the way people used to wear pictures of Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary. According to a recent news account, wealthy women students sport Osama bin Laden T-shirts under their enveloping abayas to show their approval for his calls to resist the United States.

Why do these overprivileged and well-educated young men and women support this culture of death, while impoverished and oppressed Tibetans continue to celebrate life despite their occupation by China for half a century?

Why have other oppressed people throughout history not resorted to suicide bombings and terrorism? The answer lies in differences among the elite leadership of various groups and causes. The leaders of Islamic radical causes, especially the Wahhabis, advocate and incite suicide terrorism, while the leaders of other causes advocate different means.

Recall Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., whose people were truly oppressed but who advocated nonviolent means of resistance. It is the leaders who send suicide bombers to blow themselves up. No suicide bomber ever sent himself to be blown up.

The bombers accept death because they have been incited into a frenzy of hatred by imams preaching “Kill the infidels.” Sheik Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, the leading Islamic scholar at the elite Al-Azhar University in Cairo (which is not occupied), has declared that martyrdom operations — which means suicide bombings — are the highest form of jihad and an Islamic commandment.

Even more mainstream role models, such as Yasser Arafat’s wife, who lives in a multimillion-dollar residence in Paris, has said that if she had a son, she would want him to become a suicide bomber because there is no greater honor than to become a martyr.

Children, some as young as 12 and 13, are incited and seduced into strapping bombs around themselves by these older and better-educated elitist leaders. The children are promised virgins in heaven, praise and money for their families here on earth, and posters portraying them as rock stars. It is an irresistible combination for some, and the blame lies squarely at the feet of the elitists who exploit them, use them and eventually kill them.

There is absolutely no evidence to support the claim of a direct relationship between occupation and suicide bombing. If anything, occupation makes it more difficult to launch successful terrorist attacks. This is not to argue for occupation; it is to separate the arguments regarding occupation from the claim that it is the fact of occupation, and the oppression it brings, that causes suicide bombing.

Indeed, were Israel to end its occupation of Gaza and most of the West Bank (as I have long believed it should), it is likely that terrorism would actually increase as terrorist commanders secure more freedom to plan and implement terrorist actions. The same might well be true in Iraq, were the United States to pick up and run.

The time has come to address the real root cause of suicide bombing: elitist incitement by certain religious and political leaders who are creating a culture of death and exploiting the ambiguous teachings of an important religion.

Abu Hamza — the cleric who tutored Richard Reid, the convicted shoe bomber — recently urged a large crowd to embrace death. Islamic young people are in love with death, claim some influential imams; but it is these leaders who are arranging the marriages between the children and the bomb belts.

Perhaps, now that suicide bombers have attacked Saudi Arabia, responsible Islamic leaders will better understand that it is their people who will be the ultimate victims of this tactically imposed culture of death.

Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. His latest book is “American Trial.”