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Cherry blossom season 02

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — cherry blossoms and kamikaze, Palm Sunday and istishhad ]
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It’s cherry blossom season, it’s Palm Sunday. Blossoms fall, while temporary followers of Christ — they’ll abandon him to crucifixion later in the week — celebrate Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem strewing palm leaves at this feet.

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In the upper panel, Japanese self-sacrifice with intent to kill Americans:

The Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka (“cherry blossom”) was a purpose-built, rocket powered human-guided anti-shipping kamikaze attack aircraft employed by Japan towards the end of World War II

Kamikaze pilots — the term translates to “divine wind” — drew strong associations between the transience of cherry blossoms and their own lives.

From WIkipedia:

The names of four sub-units within the Kamikaze Special Attack Force were Unit Shikishima, Unit Yamato, Unit Asahi, and Unit Yamazakura.[22] These names were taken from a patriotic death poem, Shikishima no Yamato-gokoro wo hito towaba, asahi ni niou yamazakura bana by the Japanese classical scholar, Motoori Norinaga. The poem reads:

If someone asks about the Yamato spirit [Spirit of Old/True Japan] of Shikishima [a poetic name for Japan] — it is the flowers of yamazakura [mountain cherry blossom] that are fragrant in the Asahi [rising sun].

From Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers:

As Hayashi entered the military and struggled to come to terms with death, he came to identify himself with cherry blossoms. In a letter to his mother, he laments his fate: the cherry blossoms at the Wo?n-san Base in Korea, where he was stationed, have already fallen, and yet the time for his sortie has not come. To his younger brother he writes from the Kanoya Base: “Cherry blossoms are blooming and I am going” (90). Hayashi consciously draws an analogy between himself and the fl owers; their falling signifi es the time for his death.

Other people also used the metaphor of cherry blossoms to refer to Hayashi. A poem written by his mother after the end of the war contains the idiomatic expression the “falling of my son,” applying the word conventionally used for the falling of cherry petals to the death of Ichizo¯. Hayashi’s friend Hidemura Senzo¯ laments that “Hayashi’s youth is fallen,” like cherry petals, but adds: “Peace arrived but not the peace you wished to bring through your sacrifi ce; it is only in the miserable aftermath of defeat.” Hidemura concludes, “Beauty appears in a sensitive vessel and life is short” (143–47).

See also: Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko (2002). Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History.

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In the lower panel, the face of a child killed in the ISIS-claimed suicide bombing of a church in Egypt this Palm Sunday, following an earlier ISIS announcment that they would be targeting Egyptian (Coptic) Christians.

ISIS Claims 2 Deadly Explosions at Egyptian Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday

TANTA, Egypt — Islamic State suicide bombers attacked two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday, killing at least 40 worshipers and police officers stationed outside in the deadliest day of violence against Christians in the country in decades.

The militant group claimed responsibility for both attacks in a statement via its Aamaq news agency, having recently signaled its intention to escalate a campaign of violence against Egyptian Christians.

The first explosion occurred about 9:30 at St. George’s Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo, during a Palm Sunday Mass. Security officials and a witness said that a suicide bomber had barged past security measures and detonated his explosives in the front pews, near the altar.

At least 27 people were killed and 71 others injured, officials said.

Hours later, a second explosion occurred at the gates of St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. That blast killed 13 people and wounded 21 more, the Health Ministry said.

The patriarch of the Egyptian Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, who is to meet with Pope Francis on his visit to Egypt on April 28 and 29, was in the church at the time but was not injured, the Interior Ministry said.

See also:

‘God gave orders to kill every infidel’ ISIS vows to massacre Christians in chilling video<

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The joyous palm leaves of Sunday, greeting Christ‘s arrival in Jerusalem, will ritually and symbolically turn to ashes later in the week, as the adoring crowd turns vicious and demands his crucifixion.

The reversal of Maugham’s Samarra

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — how British and American literature, a Talmudic tale and a Sufi teaching story conspire — twice — to illuminate current events in Iraq and Syria ]
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Let’s start with Somerset Maugham‘s telling of the Appointment in Samarra, which John O’Hara borrowed as the epigraph of his novel by that name:

The speaker is Death

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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Here’s the version of the same story found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 53a:

R. Yohanan stated: A man’s feet are his guarantors? they lead him to the place where he is wanted. There were once two Cushites who attended on Solomon, and these were Elihoreph and Ahyah, the sons of Shisha, scribes, of Solomon (I Kings 4:3). One day Solomon observed that the Angel of Death was distressed. He asked him: Why are you distressed? He responded: They have demanded from me the two Cushites who sit here. [Solomon] gave them over to the demons and sent them to the district of Luz. When they reached the district of Luz they died. On the following day he observed that the Angel of Death was smiling He said to him: Why are you smiling? He responded: To the place where they expected them from me, there did you send them!’ Solomon immediately began to say: A man’s feet are his guarantors? they lead him to the place where he is wanted.

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In February 2014 in the US Jewish magazine Forward, writer JJ Goldberg made fine use of this tale, applying it to a then-contemporary news event in his piece, Lesson of the Talmud in an Iraq School Suicide Bombing:

School massacres have become so commonplace that they scarcely shock us anymore. And yet, occasionally mayhem invades the sanctity of the classroom in a way that can still puncture our complacency. At these moments we’re reminded how fragile is this thing we call civilization. Such was the case February 10 in a rural schoolroom outside Samarra in north-central Iraq, where a terrorism instructor teaching a class in suicide bombing accidentally detonated a live explosive belt. Twenty-one students died along with their teacher. It happened in a training camp run by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Sunni terrorist group that was recently expelled from Al Qaeda for, of all things, its excessively brutal extremism in the Syrian civil war. [ .. ]

The location of the suicide school in Samarra has layers of poetic resonance, probably unintended by ISIS. Though predominantly Sunni, the city is revered by Shi’ites as the place where the last caliphs are buried and the Mahdi disappeared. Its name resonates in medieval Islamic lore with mysteries of suicide and predestined death, echoed in modern Anglo-American literature and linked to Talmudic legend.

After discussing the Talmudic and Maugham versions, Goldberg concludes:

Thus, the lesson of Samarra. In Arabic lore, we’re drawn helpless to our predestined deaths. In the Talmud, it’s kings who dispatch us with the best intentions to what they assume will be a cakewalk, but it’s we — or, per the Talmud, the king’s black soldiers — who do the dying.

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The Afghan Sufi writer Idries Shah tells the story in his brilliant little book Tales of the Dervishes, under the title When Death Came to Baghdad:

The disciple of a Sufi of Baghdad was sitting in the corner of an inn one day when he heard two figures talking. From what they said he realized that one of them was the Angel of Death.

“I have several calls to make in this city during the next three weeks,” the Angel was saying to his companion.

Terrified, the disciple concealed himself until the two had left. Then applying his intelligence to the problem of how to cheat a possible call from death, he decided that if he kept away from Baghdad he should not be touched. From this reasoning it was but a short step to hiring the fastest horse available and spurring it night and day towards the distant town of Samarkand.

Meanwhile Death met the Sufi teacher and they talked about various people. “And where is your disciple so-and-so?” asked Death.

“He should be somewhere in this city, spending his time in contemplation, perhaps in a caravanserai,” said the teacher.

“Surprising,” said the Angel; “because he is on my list. Yes, here it is: I have to collect him in four weeks’ time at Samarkand, of all places.”

Shah attributes his telling thus:

This treatment of the Story of Death is taken from Hikayat-iNaqshia (Tales formed according to a design’).

The author of this story, which is a very favourite folklore story in the Middle East, was the great Sufi Fudail ibn Ayad, a former highwayman, who died in the early part of the ninth century.

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All of which brings me to this Kurdish news story published yesterday, ISIS captive begs Peshmerga to kill him for 4 o’clock appointment

DUHOK, Kurdistan Region — An Islamic State (ISIS) militant caught in fighting near Mosul last week begged his Peshmerga captors to shoot him dead on the spot so he could reach paradise the same day, a frontline Kurdish soldier said.

“The militant’s own suicide vest had failed to explode but he had sustained injuries from his friends’ vest explosions,” Peshmerga Captain Salim Surchi of the Spilk base told Rudaw. “He kept saying, ‘kill me, you infidels kill me.’” Cpt. Surchi said the militant was captured by the Peshmerga during last week’s fighting in the Christian town of Tel Skof, 28km north of Mosul. The militant was eager to be killed on the spot because it was a holy Islamic day known as Isra an Mi’raj, the day that marks Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven as mentioned in the Koran. [ .. ]

Cpt. Surchi lost three of his close friends that day and had others wounded, he said, but he still rushed to help a wounded ISIS militant to save his life. “I was filming the dead ISIS with my cell phone when I saw one of them moving his leg and I placed my hands on his chest trying to help him breathe,” the Peshmerga commander said of the moment following the fighting. “He breathed heavily a few times, he was conscious and he could even speak,” he added. Cpt. Surchi said that despite the militant’s pleas to be shot dead, he went ahead and treated his leg wound.

“When I was treating him I asked, ‘where’re you from?’ and he said, ‘I’m from Samarra and came here for jihad.’ The militant then said, ‘We were 50 suicide bombers altogether and we wanted to be in paradise by 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” Cpt. Surchi recounted. [ .. ]

“The wounded one kept asking us to kill him till the end of the day.”

Which in turn brings us full circle. In Maugham’s telling, our traveller makes his way to Samarra to avoid death, who finds him there. In yesterday’s version, the jihadist leaves Samarra to meet his death, who refuses, on the night of all nights, to oblige him.

New Book- The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House

Friday, March 25th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / a.k.a  “zen“]

The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House […] by Zalmay Khalilzad

Just received a courtesy review copy of The Envoy, the memoir of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, from Christine at St. Martin’s Press.

Khalilzad was part of a small group of diplomatic troubleshooters and heavy hitters for the second Bush administration, whose numbers included John Negroponte, Ryan Crocker and John Bolton who were heavily engaged during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like the others, Khalilzad had held a variety of important policy posts at State, the NSC and the Department of Defense before assuming ambassadorial duties; the bureaucratic experience, ties to senior White House officials and the exigencies of counterinsurgency warfare would make these posts more actively proconsular than was typical for an American ambassador.   Indeed, the endorsements on the book jacket, which include two former Secretaries of State, a former Secretary of Defense and a former CIA Director testify to the author’s political weight in Khalilzad’s years of government service.

It’s been a while since I have read a diplomatic memoir, so I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Khalilzad treats Afghanistan’s early post-Taliban years, given that he personally is a bridge from the Reagan policy of supporting the anti-Soviet mujahedin to the toppling of the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 and helping to organize the new Afghan state. Khalilzad is also, of course, an Afghan by birth, giving him greater insight into that country’s complex political and social divisions than most American diplomats could muster.

I will give The Envoy a formal review in the future but Khalizad has given a synopsis of where he thinks American policy went awry in Afghanistan over at Thomas E. Rick’s Best Defense blog.

Waiting for the other Max Boot to drop

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on the Tamil Tigers that did not bark in the night ]
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It’s interesting to read Max Boot‘s chronology of suicide attacks in his Commentary piece, What It Takes to Stop Islamic Terror today:

It’s worth remembering that suicide bombing is a relatively recent tactic: It was first used on a significant scale by Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s with bloody attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks, the French barracks, the U.S. Embassy, and various Israeli headquarters. This tactic then migrated into the Sunni world where it was picked up by al-Qaeda and then achieved new heights of macabre ubiquity as it was employed by groups ranging from the Palestinian al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Ironically, Hezbollah has now become so strong — with its own Iranian-equipped army and rocket force — that it no longer needs to rely on suicidal attacks, leaving the field to groups such as ISIS.

No mention of the Tamil Tigers, who after all were not Islamic but quasi-secular Hindu in orientation, of whom the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported:

Over the course of the conflict, the group employed both conventional military and terrorist tactics. In particular, they pioneered the use of suicide bombers, a tactic used by the LTTE over 200 times

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Come to think of it, why does Boot’s title say Islamic, when Islamist would be only one letter longer, less inflammatory, and more specific?

Two ways a resemblance can be unwelcome

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — NSFW, I repeat, NSFW , maybe ]
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You can be photoshopped from Canada to France, Sikh to Muslim, &c —

The fake (on the left), photoshopped from the authentic selfie (on the right), was apparently created and posted because of the guy’s support of women in the games industry, cf Gamergate.

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Alternatively, your name might sound suspiciously NSFW to non-Vietnamese=speaking ears:

Details at the link Cath at Sembl provides.


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