The Culture of Suicide Bombing

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In the wake of Friday's bomb attacks in Egypt, NPR's Alex Chadwick talks with Christian Science Monitor Middle East Bureau Chief Dan Murphy about his recent reporting on the culture of suicide bombing.


In the other terror attack, Egypt, authorities say they're looking for several Pakistani men who were in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh before the Saturday bombing that killed nearly 90 people. Police say they've surrounded two villages in the nearby hills where two of the wanted men may be hiding. There's been shooting. With us now from Cairo is Dan Murphy. He's Middle East bureau chief for The Christian Science Monitor.

Dan, welcome to the program. In the paper today, you write about the rise of the culture of suicide in radical Islam as well as the defining of civilians as enemies. Explain, would you please?

Mr. DAN MURPHY (The Christian Science Monitor): Well, you know, of course, these guys have been attacking civilians for a long time and certainly suicide tactics aren't anything new. You know, they really get going--there was Hezbollah in the early '80s. But there was a time that even amongst these very fringe, very radical circles, where there were debates about, you know, whether the great sin of suicide was outweighed by the advantages of using it as a tactic and also whether or not it was moral and Islamically appropriate to attack civilians. Within radical circles, it doesn't seem that that debate exists anymore, and we've gotten to a point where more and more extreme tactics are becoming commonplace, and I think, in a way, since that breaks down barriers and taboos, people that are already of a militant mind-set are more likely to be the next suicide bomber.

CHADWICK: You go through the numbers. There is a significant increase in these suicide bombings over the last several years in several places. How big a factor do you think Iraq is?

Mr. MURPHY: You know, this is obviously a very controversial topic, but I think that Iraq does play a role, definitively at least, in the sheer volume of suicide attacks there. We've had at least 180 suicide attacks in the past two years alone there. Some numbers go as high as 400. This is, you know, a record, you know, sort of tenfold over what any other place or time's experienced in terms of this tactic. And, you know, for the fan following on at home, the jihadi fans who can get on the Web site and can get into the chat rooms--and they do; they talk about the exploits of their great heroes and how they've gone to a better place and so forth--they begin to sit at home, again if they're already inclined this way, and say, `Hey, I can do that.' So, you know, on that basis it's become more normal and less unusual and so it begins to feed on itself.

CHADWICK: Earlier on, when we saw these tactics, I think there was a feeling in the West that eventually you would run out of suicide bombers, that the tactic itself would be limiting. But that just doesn't seem to be the case.

Mr. MURPHY: No. And if you look in Iraq, you have a sort of apparently unlimited supply at the moment. The whole flypaper theory was based on a very, you know, incredibly false premise, which is this was sort of a finite member of wackos who, you know, could be dealt with on that basis. But what it is, is an ideology that propagates itself and adapts itself and has been doing so for a long time. And, you know, what we're finding is when you have conditions like Iraq, which is the major field of jihad for these people in the world right now, it can draw in lots of recruits. Let's remember, these are tiny numbers of world Muslims, but if you imagine it was only, you know, half of a percent of the Muslims in the world, that would be about six million people. So this is not something that can be dealt with by just killing enough people.

CHADWICK: Joining us from Cairo, that was Dan Murphy. He's Middle East bureau chief for The Christian Science Monitor.

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