Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Politics of Martyrdom

I could handle Chris Matthews on the day of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, mainly because he was sobered by the turn of events in Pakistan. His voice wasn't shrill, he spoke in a more measured manner - he sounded like a journalist. No doubt, he was worried as much as we all should be about the turn of events, which are likely to have a profound effect on our nation's future for the next year or two especially. Nonetheless, I was concerned about the media's jump to the conclusion that it was "al Qaeda," within several hours of the incident, mainly because as intelligent as we think our intelligence community is, it is still filtered by beliefs and concepts that are alien to the average American which has to interpret the information. So I set out to ask the question of whether Benazir Bhutto had imposed upon herself the tragic fate (in my eyes) of martyrdom for which so many Muslims are known. So I looked in my Introduction to Islam book that I bought months ago at a Border's check out stand (it was cheap and cheerful, and I was waiting in line --- (yeah, sucker). Anyway, it's index made no mention of martyrdom. And the reviews were no good - no more impulse buying anymore.

I'm trying to figure out if Ms. Bhutto was a non-proclaimed martyr who gave her life for the cause of her people, but, perhaps also because of a religious belief that she, too, might have held, that she would be bestowed with wonderful blessings (I am not sure what a woman earns as a martyr so I cannot state what glory, if any, meets her in giving up her life). But if martyrdom is the culture (in the way that kamikazi's were in the Japanese tradition, or the Death Penalty is in ours), perhaps suicide bombing is just something we Westerners can't fathom. Nor can we understand the fearlessness with which she marched to her end.

While looking for quick answers, I came upon an article, which made me rethink the martyrdom "thing." It's a bit clunky reading at first, but the author does get into her stride and writes a very rational, yet passionately persuasive piece that opines that martyrdom has been so distorted by fanaticism that everyone has gone mad, as it were (my words). The author turns down the volume and explains that martyrdom can only be in defense of Islam (and nothing else). Written in 2004, the author writes about in martyrdom in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, arguing that the belief that martyrdom can be based upon politics is a distortion of the Qu'uran. She explains that the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians is about land more than it is about religion (at least to the author of the article) and that the Palestinian suicide bomber's sacrifice and rewards are not only misunderstood, but they are misplaced because of the misquoted source of the so-called rewards to be bestowed upon the martyr.

[B]eing a Lebanese Muslim Sunni woman, I know too well the meaning of challenging religious orthodoxy in an environment that often literally 'eliminates' dissent. I and others like me may be politically correct in the USA or Western Europe, but are indeed politically very incorrect in the Middle East. In any case, I don't care for being politically correct as much as I want and strive to be 'religiously' correct in the eyes of God. If some 'traditions' and interpretations, including Hadith, tell me things that contradict what is unequivocal in the Qur'an, I know as a Muslim that the Qur'an is the highest authority for Muslims. A case in point is the hadith oft quoted by religious clerics to encourage suicide bombers. According to that hadith, Palestinian 'Shuhada' or 'martyrs,' accepting the interpretation of the apologists, not only get 72 virgins but also get to guarantee heaven for their entire family. The above-mentioned verse (35:18) clearly states the opposite, saying that each individual is strictly responsible for his/her own acts on earth (see also 53:38 and 60:3).

I do not list the verses, encouraging you to click the link below to read the whole article, rather than my Cliff Notes simplistic version. Amina discusses the teachings of Prophet Mohammed (praise be upon him)(I write this so as not to offend anyone who might object to my using his name without adding the suffix that usually follows when His name is uttered)[ So much for my saying Jesus Christ when I get angry... I imagine I'll be roasting on a pitchfork for my occasional, -- I said, occasional, okay?-- blaspheme].

Back to the issue at hand -- apparently, there are the teachings of The Prophet (pbuh) that instruct the reader to only take His written words to heart, and not to attribute what He may have said while He was living. It sounds as though the Prophet understood well the perils of hearsay. Apparently Mohammad (pbuh) died a natural death, so one who "fights" or wages battle cannot do so on his behalf, but for God and nothing more.

I'm getting into dangerous territory here, even in paraphrasing, so I'll let you read the article. It is not for the intellectually faint of stamina - it is long, well thought-out, insightful, and worth reading.

I wrote this today to make my own case that, right now, the last thing I want to hear is pontification by Americans about a culture and a people we don't know or understand. You will not learn from the media except what they want you to learn. I will give credit for the effort to learn about what has transpired, but let's face it -- Pakistan was on the back burner (Barack Obama credits himself with the foresight of seeing this as the sleeping giant, or so he said -- so he must be given credit if that is the case). But truthfully, it's time to dialogue with those in the know, or to hear from those in the know, without the spin of interpretation by cable pundits and politicians. We need to hear from Muslims, Pakistani and Taliban supporters - to form our opinions ourselves.

I cannot understand anything except my experience, truth be told, and sometimes I need help interpreting that. So, this is a time when we who wish to understand the fate of our lives and world should not look to people whose job it is to have "something to say" to be the source of our education. Educate yourselves. This website: might be a good place to start.

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