The Cult of the Suicide Bomber, David Batty (2005)

Beginning with Ayatollah Khomeini’s development of a culture of martyrdom during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), which likely inspired the 1983 US embassy bombing in Beirut, Robert Baer, former CIA, traces the history of the suicide bomber as a weapon in the struggles of radical Islam. The analysis is sometimes simplistic, but this movie is very much worth watching because of Baer’s incredible access. He gets interviews with Hizbollah officials, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, Hamas provocateurs, and on and on. The movie reminds me of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, in that it switches point of view to the “other” side; I’ve heard a million reports about suicide bombings, it feels like, but I’ve rarely seen a reporter look back at the Israeli border from Hizbollah-occupied southern Lebanon.

In the last 11 years, more than 200 Lebanese have blown themselves up in suicide bombing attacks.

Note that Iranian and Hizbollah Lebanese suicide bombers were Shiites, a minority sect whose tradition is rooted in a tradition of martyrdom. It was Palestinian Hamas suicide bombers — Sunnis — who really brought suicide bombing into the mainstream of militant Islam. In Iraq today, in bitter irony, its Sunni insurgents who are the suicide bombers, and their targets are the Shiite government.

In Hebron, there are 130,000 Palestinians, 7,000 Jewish settlers, and 1,000 Israeli soldiers to protect them. Hereis where Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshippers at Ibrahimi Mosque.

Yahya Ayyash
is profiled as the mastermind of Hamas’s suicide bombing campaigns. He was perhaps the man who transformed suicide bombing from a weapon of war (as in Iran and Lebanon) to a weapon of terror. Astonishing interview with the last man to see him alive. He was assassinated by Israeli secret service, which put an explosive in his cell phone. And then, per policy, the Israeli army went to Ayyash’s home village, and blew up the house of his family. This is Israeli policy.

Really interesting and informative, and the footage — of Gaza in particular — goes a long way toward helping me visualize what are normally really abstract conceptual spaces.

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