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Breaking the silence

In this report the New-York based organization Human Rights Watch unequivocally describes suicide bombers, and those who send them, as war criminals.

UPDATE: There are some comments below disagreeing with the term “suicide bomber” and suggesting various alternatives that better get across the idea that these are evil people. While I certainly do think they are evil I prefer to stick with the term “suicide bomber”, as it accurately describes the factor that makes them striking and newsworthy. Any terrorist bombers – the Basque separatists ETA, for instance – can be described as homicide bombers. In our present world, when you say “suicide bombers” everyone knows in a second who’s killing who and where and why. This is an aid to efficient transmission of information, if nothing else. If the trend spreads we may need to particularize further.

However, I quite agree that the suicide angle is irrelevant to their status as terrorists and war criminals. Morally, suicide affects only themselves. I also agree that their suicide is used to glamourize and excuse their evil. This needs to be debunked. However I think the debunking can be done as well or better by argument as by changing a generally accepted and efficient term.

So let me rephrase my original post to bring all this out more clearly: “…Human Rights Watch unequivocally describes those who kill Israeli civilians, and those who send them to kill, as war criminals. It does not go along with the idea that suicide somehow legitimizes this.”

May I add that I think this report is quite big news. HRW’s website gives the impression that they are generally within the same mildly-lefty tradition as Amnesty International, Oxfam and so on. The record of this tradition in speaking out against the recent murders of Israelis by suicide bombers is not that impressive. It is therefore slightly surprising and very welcome to see HRW speaking out so clearly. Hence my title, “Breaking the Silence.”

10 comments to Breaking the silence

  • A Non

    I think we should start referring to them as homicide bombers.

    It is more descriptive of what they are and removes the mythological context from their actions.

  • ‘Homicide bomber’ might prove awkwardly accurate for members of the Left. It’s perfectly justified. It’s not like these bombers take themselves to a quarry, summon the media, list their grievances then detonate themselves, is it?

    It’s myopic to define them by arguably the only positive outcome of their action – their own death. Their avowed intent is clearly to kill – let’s call them what they are.

  • Grant: There’s a huge difference between being the root cause of something, and being responsible for it. For example, drug laws in the U.S. are the root cause of a lot of violent crime, but the criminals are still responsible for their actions. I don’t see anything flawed in their logic.

    Many of the causes that you mention are either a precursor to or are caused by the occupation (to some extent). That in no way excuses the evils of Palestinian militancy, and HRW is right to speak out against this. They’ve overly focused on the evils of the Israeli occupation, which hurts their credibility. No longer, and hence “Breaking the Silence”

  • Lucas: My rant was written before I read the post. And I get your point. But I still disagree with the “root cause” nonsense. Its very nice and tidy to point to one event and label it. For example, why not point to the Pal attacks on Israel, which have indisputably driven the Israelis to retaliate (and “occupying” formerly Jordanian territory). Maybe go back further and point at the meddling of Arab governments, or the militant Zionists.

    This is an endless game of hot potato. The buck stops somewhere and it does not stop at the Israeli occupation, but with the sadomasochistic mob. Don’t forget the Saudis were not being occupied by Israel or US when they attacked. As I see it (your thoughts appreciated) this “root cause” language is without substance and is there because HRW cannot bring themselves to make a moral judgement. Their understanding of the situation has not turned a corner, they have merely adapted their language for more palatable public consumption.

    And your point about US drug laws is interesting. One can also argue that the criminal element exists anyway and will be attracted to those places in society where they can compete based on brute force.

  • Julian Morrison

    The “suicide angle” has one other, quite deliberate intentbeyond glamour and excuse: it’s used to thwart the victims of their rightful revenge.

  • Although I find the term frustrating, I do see Natalie’s point about the phrase being a clear identifier of who is doing what. I guess it’s one of these examples of the English language not describing human behaviour well enough.

    The report is comprehensive, damning stuff. I’ve not read much of HRW’s output before but if they have been biased in the past this material must bolster their credibility. How influential are they – next to Amnesty and so on?

  • Personally, I find the term apt. It says to me that not only are these people mass murderers, but that they are extra-extremely-sickly-evil ones too. Because, the suicide is part of the Big Show, not inherent to the mass-murdering objective (if anything, it’s lazy- it makes it physically easier than using their brains to come up with a mass-murder plan that included a getaway).

    Killing yourself as a method of trying to get publicity and impress people is unutterably vile, and sums up exactly what it is about these people that means we should get rid of them.

    If we stop calling them sucide bombers (which is what they are: people who kill themselves and bomb lots of others too) we are effectively *agreeing* that suicide is a good thing which we don’t want to attribute to these evil bastards. Well, it’s not a good thing, except if there is a good reason for it, which they certainly don’t have.

    I prefer your original text to the new version, which has less impact.

    I think we must be wary of morally relativist attempts to restrict the use of clear, plain, perfectly meaningful language.

  • PRF

    Two wrongs don’t make a right no matter how many times you try it. Hitler was wrong in the ’40s the British partition of Palestine was wrong the bombers by they individuals or B2s are wrong. Killing people for ideological world view reasons will always lead to more death and destruction which will again be justified because “They did it to me first.”