What most westerners have yet to realize is that in the Muslim world, the death-wish has become chic, and suicide in the name of a cause may now be the ultimate in self-fulfillment.
In courting United Nations sanctions and a dynamic confrontation with the infidel West, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may actually be savoring the chance to provoke misery and destruction in his country. In the years since Ayatollah Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country’s transformation has not been merely political — or even, as some expatriate Iranian intellectuals may want us to believe, a manifestation of national independence from the United States. It has also involved a radical re-embracing of some of the culture’s darker social traditions. And it may be the first time in human history when an entire country appears headed towards physical and economic suicide, guided inexorably by its national leaders.
It is not that Islam, any more than Christianity or other religions, has a love affair with death. But like certain aspects of Christianity which reject the lures of this temporal world (worshipping the living death of asceticism, for instance), so does a particular interpretation of Islam which has dominated the religion and the region recently, at least in the news.
The black-clad, permanently mourning Christian women to be found in Greek villages, and the Muslim women covered head to toe in 100-degree climates are but two of the most visible manifestations of this ascetic doctrine. So too is the permanent beard worn by every self-respecting Iranian man.
Shia Islam, far more than Sunni, has always been a doctrine of mourning, a step away from self-sacrifice and death. It is a religion based on atonement and self-flagellation in commemoration of its founding Imam’s suffering. On the day of commemoration, throngs of Shia whip themselves. The most fervent want to bleed themselves — perhaps overwhelmed by religious passion, but also for social show. On more than one occasion in happier times, Iranian colleagues joked that young men would use the occasion to outdo each other to show the young women who was manliest. This commemoration had been a religious festival until Khomeini codified the ideology into a serious national aspiration.
Stern Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia was just a step away from Khomeini’s Islam. For more than 20 years, it faced one major challenge: how to out-Islam Iran. Sternness bred a clear fascination with the culture of death spread and funded by militant apostles throughout the Muslim world, finding its most obvious expression in the events of 9/11. Stir in the Islamic world’s inability to absorb modernity and a disenfranchised youth population, and the recipe for disaster is clear.
Religious atonement and fulfillment by suicide has permeated the war in Iraq. It has metastasized among the Islamic youth of Britain and other countries who plan and/or execute suicide missions, and it has become the dominant belief among several Middle East groups. Consider this: Israel with all its might could not defeat Hezbollah, even if every one of Hezbollah’s members in South Lebanon were killed and the entire place leveled. How could a country defeat a group whose slogans reportedly include “The Jews love life, we love death”?
Why is all this more than a pesky new world order that causes concern and consternation at airport security checkpoints? Because countries under the spell of this worldview control one of the most vital and necessary world commodities: oil. Sanctions against Iran are now all but certain. In response, oil supply cuts are that country’s first line of defense and they are also certain. Though such a move would be unthinkable in almost any other oil-producing country, cutting off its own lifeblood is something to be savored in Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Suicide, while simultaneously taking along the infidels, would be his beautification. And do not forget that Israel is just a missile flight away.
The trouble with the sanctions is that the U.S. cannot afford to commit economic suicide. It is now imperative to talk and deal with the new messengers of death, no matter how unsavory the task.