US army personnel inspecting the remains of a bomb site in Kabul, Afghanistan (Pic by Army.mil @ Flickr)
The following is the edited text of a speech delivered by the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (Abim)’s outgoing vice-president, Azril Mohd Amin, at the International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security held at the Radisson Hotel, Kathmandu, Nepal, from 10 to 11 July 2009
IN the prime of their lives, it is the young who most suffer senseless enmity. They may think that it is their duty to go out and fight somebody they never saw or knew because some of their elders have commanded them to do so. Even so, it is they and not the political or religious elders who face mutilation of their bodies and talents, if they survive at all. Those who elect to follow suicidal acts to further their supposed spiritual fulfillment are equally wrong. Unfortunately, today many young people are following elders who themselves are seeking to achieve their own goals and theologies, which are strongly argued to be extremist.
One major source of enmity between some groups and others has been the use of suicide to defeat an enemy. In 1945, the US had prepared to drop the atom bomb on Japan, even after Hitler and his German army had already surrendered to the Allies. US President Harry S Truman was well aware of the moral stigma associated with dropping such a bomb, even though it had never yet been done. He did not want the US to go down in history as the very first great power to use this horrific weapon.
Were there not alternative ways to bring the Pacific war to an end, other than dropping atom bombs with unknown effects on future generations? Were the nuclear weapons really necessary?
At that moment in history, the Japanese army chose to send more than 200 fighter planes in suicide dives against the biggest naval concentration of the US’s Pacific Fleet, destroying it almost entirely. These kamikaze pilots were in large measure motivated by their Shinto beliefs, which incorporated Japanese imperialism. The Japanese military’s use of suicide created mass fear in the Americans, such that two nuclear bombs were dropped. Thus, in spite of Japan’s quick and unconditional surrender, the US has been excoriated ever since by many quarters for its “heinous” act of dropping these nuclear bombs.
USS Bunker Hill hit by two kamikazes in 30 seconds on 11 May 1945 (Public domain; Wiki commons)
Later, the Tamil Tigers used suicide attacks in their bid for independence from Sri Lanka — and lost. The Palestinian militia Black September took hostage and murdered Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics, while Hamas militants have been bombing public transport in Israel since 1994. Even pregnant Palestinian women have become suicide bombers, and Palestine continues to lose the world’s sympathy.
Suicide is not painless
Suicide attacks are just one manifestation of religious extremism prevailing in all religions due to socio-political and economic conditions and misunderstanding of the basic teachings of religions. For Muslims, one fundamental teaching is to surrender to what Allah has willed. We must accept those things which we cannot change or Allah has decreed for us to endure, and resist and change those things which are not moral or ethical. Christians and Jews have to endure and live life as it is within this same context. Under no circumstances is suicide accepted as a proper religious, moral or political tool by any religion, with the exception of the World War II Shinto followers discussed above.
The historical truth of the matter is that suicide never succeeds in solving a problem. Instead, however oppressed the culture resorting to suicide may have been, it ends up even more oppressed than before. Japan lost its war, the Tamil Tigers lost their revolution, and Muslims all over the world are losing hope of their own freedom and development.
There are many other issues involved in disarmament, to be sure. However, nowadays the issue of suicide among youth at the direction of their elders is a primary obstacle to any progress in interfaith or intercultural dialogue. The human race will continue to ostracise the proponents of suicide in political struggles, and other solutions cannot be found until goal-oriented suicide is excised from humanity.
The attack on New York’s World Trade Center (WTC) was seemingly successful from the terrorist point of view. In fact, it set the entire human race straight back to the worst days of the Cold War, when the very survival of humanity itself could no longer be assured from day to day. One of the tragedies of this event was the widespread cheering of young people who seemed to think the WTC collapse was some sort of video game.
The World Trade Center ablaze with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground
(Public domain; Wiki commons)
“Just say no!”
So the first thing the youth of the world can do to uphold peace is to refuse to commit suicide when some demented religious or political teacher promises them heaven for doing so. As former US first lady Nancy Reagan used to say about offers to take marijuana, “Just say no!” They might also like to start by rejecting all forms of violent and murderous video games, which condition them to cheer such events as 9/11.
Our Muslim scriptures say that only Allah creates life out of death, and death out of life. Life and death, or the afterlife, are of equal value, and only Allah can create us in these two states. It is not our place to usurp this or any other function of divine action.
If you ask an average Sikh Indian whether he or she would commit suicide for some political reason, they would simply laugh, and you too would laugh in a shared moment of psychological and spiritual sanity.
What we need is “shared security“, a security that goes well across national borders to encompass entire regions and even continents. The US and Canada have such a shared security. Perhaps the European Union has it, to an extent. And in order to protect regional groupings, all sorts of understandings and agreements have to be achieved between different countries. This is the youth work of the future.
For this, we need young experts in conflict resolution. We need political philosophers willing and able to reduce the warlike nature of nation-states by challenging assumptions and arguments made by governments to support war. We need leaders who are able to label suicide as the “mortal sin” that it is, and who can fearlessly label nuclear conflict as a form of suicide, not only for us but for the generations to come who will suffer from the fallout.
Leaders are both born and made, and often the greatest truth begins with a majority of one. And by extending this principle, society can start insisting on a changed perspective, allowing dialogue and rationality to mediate issues rather than anger, emotion and arms.
We are in the middle of tumultuous times. It is for the youth to correct the horrible mistakes made by their elders, and move resolutely in the direction of human integrity, mutual respect, and absolute refusal to resort to violence. The human destiny is Allah’s greatest gift to us, and we must struggle without ceasing to safeguard its sanctity.
Peace (Pic by Jayel Aheram @ Flickr)
Azril Mohd Amin is the outgoing vice-president of Abim and a practising lawyer.