Martyrdom mythology’ creates suicide bombers, expert says

From reading the Quran, it is clear that killing civilians, especially Muslims, is against the foundations of Islam, Mohammed Hafez said, yet jihadists and suicide bombers in Iraq are committing these forbidden acts in the name of Allah.Havez said the contradictory behavior is the result of a “martyrdom mythology” that is being used by terror cells in Iraq to brainwash Muslims into committing acts that go against their religious beliefs.”It’s about the selective use of history and tradition to justify objectives,” Hafez said. “This essentially appeals to someone who knows nothing about the Quran.”Hafez, an expert and author on the Middle East, spoke about the mythology of Iraqi terrorist groups Thursday before a full crowd at the Hinckley Institute of Politics. His speech kicked off a three-day conference on Middle Eastern and Central Asian affairs.The “martyrdom mythology,” he said, has three themes that are repeatedly used throughout insurgent propaganda to influence Muslims to join terrorist groups: the humiliation of Muslims at the hands of American soldiers, impotence and collusion among Arab leaders and heroism that celebrates personal sacrifice.”The point is to show that (suicide bombers) aren’t manipulated or brainwashed, but are religious heroes,” he said.Hafez said the mythology is aimed to enrage young male Muslims and convince them that the war in Iraq is a war on Islam as a whole.While Hafez said he disagreed with the Iraq war in the first place, he also said the United States should remain in Iraq for several more years to prevent civil war and genocide among groups in the country. Most of the terrorist attacks taking place in the country are being carried out against Iraqi security forces, not Americans, Hafez said.Kristian Alexander, a graduate student in political science, said he agreed with most of Hafez’s points, but thinks Iraq is a tricky situation.”I don’t know if it is worth endangering American lives,” he said. “Either case is problematic.”Hafez said the best way to counter the insurgency in Iraq is to confront the “martyrdom mythology” itself.”We have to become culturally astute, learn the language, culture and start creating counter-mythologies.”

Kim Peterson

Professor Mohammed Hafez of the University of Missouri discusses the nuances of Iraq at the Hinckley Institute as a part of the Middle East Conference on Thursday.