Sunday, April 15, 2012

Suffer the little children: the burden of God

Just when I thought I had a full grasp of the moral depravity that is suicide bombing, another level of horror is revealed. Al Qaeda’s preferred target group for recruiting suicide bomber is—orphans.

As one Pakistani political activist writes:
We have observed that most of the suicides bombers are orphans who are less than 17 years old. These vulnerable children are being used as the main tool for terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has announced that:
Al-Qaeda has over the past two years used 24 children to carry out suicide bombings in Iraq, the director of military operations for the Interior Ministry, Abdelaziz Mohammed Jasim, told pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat.
In Somalia, a 13 year old orphan reports on how he was recruited to be a suicide bomber.

Adoption vacuum
Sharia increases the opportunity for jihadis to recruit orphans because it has usually been interpreted to bar adoptions (though a form of guardianship, or khalat, is permitted). Without adoption as an alternative in most Muslim countries, there is a larger pool of vulnerable recruitment targets in orphanages for al Qaeda and its ilk to recruit as self-activating bombs.

It is not surprising that Sharia should be resistant to adoption. Sharia arose in a society where lineage was crucial: the role of daughters was to breed sons for the lineage (hence the propensity for cousin marriage, so they “breed in”). If there is no living parent, a child’s status as “asset” for the lineage is much weakened. And permitting adoption would open up the risk that they become “assets” to another lineage. (As ever, Philip Carl Salzman’s analysis is a necessary starting point for understanding the social dynamics of Islam’s home region.)

There is a push to re-interpret Sharia to permit adoption, part of the general tension between Islam and modernity which has done so much to shape the contemporary jihadi outlook. (Which is not to say that jihadis are merely some modern phenomenon; it has been a recurring feature of Islam that it produces violent “purification” movements—after all, what was the Prophet himself after he took over Medina if not the leader of a violent religious purification movement?)

Use of orphans as a potential political asset is not unique to al-Qaeda. It was widely rumoured that the Romanian Ceaușescu tyranny sought to recruit orphans as loyal secret police operatives. Though not strictly orphans, the Kim dynasty that owns North Korea uses its illegitimate progeny in a similar fashion.

To use orphans as suicidal military assets is, however, rather more distinctively a jihadi activity. Iran used children en masse during its war with Iraq (which makes the regime’s current public angst about plummeting fertility grimly ironic). Child fighters have been a feature in Africa’s horrors and the Tamil Tigers used both child fighters and suicide bombers. But to specifically target orphans for recruitment—indeed, as your preferred source of suicide-bombers—seems a new, vile twist.

But we come back to the point about lineage. Orphans are cut off from family: this makes them both more vulnerable to recruitment and means they come with fewer entanglements. Being no lineage’s “asset”, their loss has fewer social resonances.

Loving death
Of course, part of the horror of using orphans is precisely their vulnerability. The Somali lad telling of how his jihadi recruiter/mentor offered him purpose and love missing from his life is repellent reading. The horror from so using children comes from the violation of innocence and the sense of life thrown away so early. But that assumes one loves and reveres life. This is not a feature of the jihadis.

[Read the rest at Skepticlawyer or at Critical Thinking Applied.]

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