Terrorists: Why Don’t They Mind Dying?

“…a handful of people who don’t mind dying…” is how President Obama described Islam-inspired terrorists at a press conference at the recent G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey.

From my previous blog you will know that I spent the last month travelling in Spain, travel which took me to Spain’s capital Madrid, and to Madrid’s Atocha train station, scene of an horrific terrorist attack on 11 March 2004.  In what was the deadliest terrorist attack in Spain’s history–referred to by Spaniards as ‘M-11’–ten bombs were placed inside backpacks and then planted on four cercanias, ‘commuter trains’.  The bombs were detonated simultaneously by terrorists using cell phones during the height of the morning rush hour.  That morning, 191 innocent commuters died and 1,800 were injured.  An al Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell claimed responsibility for the bombings, citing Spain’s participation in the war in Iraq as their motivation.  Later, when the terrorists who carried out the attack were surrounded by police, they blew themselves up rather than be captured.

I entered the Atocha train station for the first time in a reflective mood, my thoughts turning to the innocent people who were so brutally murdered there eleven years earlier.  There was no plaque or memorial commemorating the 191 victims anywhere in the train station, at least none that I could see.  I have since learned that a memorial garden was created in their memory in a park near Madrid’s famous Prado Museum.

No terrorist attack on the scale of the Madrid train station bombings had taken place in Europe until this past Friday the 13th in Paris.  Before the nine terrorists had ended their murderous rampage, 129 lay dead (now 130) with hundreds more injured, almost 100 critically.  The terrorists carried out their operation on Friday, fully intending to die; all wore identical suicide vests packed with ‘Mother of Satan’ explosives which they detonated at various points in their co-ordinated attacks.

Why did seven young men–in their late teens or 20s, at the prime of life–“not mind dying,” to use President Obama’s turn-of-phrase?  (Was the president only feigning indifference?  Let’s hope so.)  To listen to the ‘experts’ in the media, the young men who willingly turn themselves into human bombs are “mad men,” “crazies,” “psychopathic killers.”

Earlier this month, Remembrance Day services were held to honour the young men who perished in World Wars I and II, and in the conflicts that followed.  Undoubtedly, those who died–to a person–hoped to survive the war and return to their loves ones and former way-of-life.  No so with the Paris terrorists.

Last night, for the first time, I heard someone reporting on the Paris attacks say the word “zealotry.”  When I hear the word zealotry, I think of religious fervour.  Was this an acknowledgment–finally–that the young men who blow themselves up are religiously-driven, at least in part?  Islam does not condone suicide.  The Qur’an never mentions suicide, and in the hadith, the written record of the sayings and actions of Muhammad and his companions, suicide is forbidden.  How do terrorists then justify their actions?  Suicide is held to be an act of martyrdom, and the one who commits suicide is regarded as a shahid, a ‘martyr’.  Suicide is forbidden, but martyrdom is praised.

A prime example of the glorification of martyrdom is that of Palestinian  terrorist Abu Jihad a.k.a. Khalid al-Wazir, responsible for the deaths of 125 Israelis.  One of his ‘glorious’ feats was a bus high-jacking that resulted in the deaths of 37 Israelis, including twelve children.  Last year, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah named a West Bank forest in his honour:  the Martyr Khalil al-Wazir Forest.

Praise from family and friends who remain behind, a place in paradise after death:  these are the rewards that await the shahid.  Unlike the rest of Muslim males, the shahid is guaranteed a place in Islam’s paradise, depicted in the Qur’an as a garden of never-ending delights.  There, the shahid will wear “clothing of fine, thick silk” (44:53); “eat and drink in health, reclining on couches” (52:19-20); marry “fair ones with wide lovely eyes” (52:20). The number of virgins allotted to him–72–is not stated in the Qur’an but found in one of the hadiths (al-Suyuti’s).  The shahid gets to name 70 family members to paradise as well.  How much do sensual incentives and sexual enticements like these influence young Muslim males to strap on suicide vests:  only a failed terrorist can say.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, France’s President Hollande declared war on the Islamic State (IS), the terrorist group that claimed responsibility.  Yesterday,  exactly a week after the Paris carnage, another terrorist group with the name al-Mourabitoun, aided by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), stormed the Radisson Hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako, firing at anyone who moved, killing 21.  Who has heard of al-Mourabitoun before?  We’re fighting a war against a global jihadist ‘cancer’ that is metastasizing rapidly.  It’s getting to be quite a handful, isn’t it.



Seeing Spain, At Last

Those of you who follow my blog will have noticed that some weeks have passed since I last posted anything.  The reason for my silence:  I have been travelling in Europe, mostly Spain, for the past four weeks.  This was a trip that was supposed to have taken place twelve years ago, but which had to be cancelled at the last minute.  Mere days before we were to leave, while my husband and I were out for a Sunday afternoon hike, my husband started seeing birds–birds that weren’t there.  Later that day, when a ‘black veil’ slowly and inexorably began to reduce the field-of-vision in his left eye, we both knew where we were going–and it wasn’t Spain.  This year, as we were pondering what to do with some freebie air miles we had acquired, it occurred to me, “Why not take that trip to Spain we had to cancel more than a decade ago?”  So that’s what we did.

After having spent time in Spain, I would suggest that anyone with an interest in Roman history and archaeology (I include myself) should put Spain high up on their ‘bucket list’.  In Spain, the ancient Roman province of Hispania and modern-day Spain exist side by side.  Driving along a busy city street, you’ll suddenly spot a good-sized portion of a Roman wall as you go flying by at 80 km; or, walking along a side street just off a busy pedestrian mall lined with upscale shops and restaurants, you’ll come upon the pillars of a temple built in honour of a Roman emperor.

Evidence that Spain was once part of the mighty Roman Empire is everywhere, visible and accessible. To describe every ancient site of interest that I visited would make for a very long blog, so I’ll mention only three.  At the top of my ‘must see’ list of sites in Spain was the aqueduct in Segovia.  It was even more impressive than I had expected.

Segovia GMP

Built in AD 50 or thereabouts, this remarkably well-preserved aqueduct, with its two tiers of arches and 221 pillars, is a tribute to the engineering skills of the ancient Romans.

Taking a self-guided walk in the Barri Gotic neighbourhood of Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona, is to take a stroll back in time–way back in time.  Barcelona is built on the site of the Roman city of Barcino, founded around 15 BC.  On a side street off Barcelona’s famed pedestrian mall known as Las Ramblas stand four 9-meter high columns:  all that remains of a temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar.  Built sometime in the 1st century BC in honour of the Roman emperor who was regarded as divine, the temple was part of the forum located at the centre of ancient Barcino.

Temple of Augustus

The two defence towers that straddle the main gate into the Roman city of Barcino are still standing where they were erected, although only the base of the towers dates from the Roman era.  The top sections are 12th century renovations.

Roman Gates

 Spain was once an important part of a vast empire which stretched from Hadrian’s Wall in the north of Britain to the Middle East.  Two Roman emperors, in fact, hailed from Hispania:  Hadrian and Trajan. Today, Spain is part of another kind of ’empire’:  an economic union consisting of 28 member countries called the EU (European Union).  Some see the EU as a revived Roman Empire–maybe, maybe not. (I’ll write more about that in a future blog).  What is clear is that Spain faces the same dilemma as her 27 fellow members countries:  What to do about the massive influx of migrants, more than 800,000 so far this year.  In Madrid, I saw a huge banner draped across a building which read in big bold letters:  WE WELCOME REFUGEES.  That’s a great statement, but the reality is, almost all of the migrants from the Middle East and Africa head for Germany and Sweden, countries with the most generous social programs.

I have to say, there is something disturbing about the nature of this new ’empire’ taking shape on the European continent.  Just today, the EU voted to label the source of origin of all products that come from Israeli ‘settlements’ in the Westbank and Golan Heights, this despite the fact that these businesses employ large numbers of Palestinians.  So now all ‘good’ Europeans can  boycott any product that originates from an ‘illegal Jewish settlement’.  This is nothing short of economic warfare directed by the EU against the Jewish state.  I wonder:  Will the labels be yellow?  You would think the EU would want to address the heinous knife attacks now being directed by Palestinian youths at pregnant Jewish women and 80-year-olds.

My husband and I both agree that our trip to Spain–delayed for more than ten years–exceeded all our expectations.  Our exploration of Spain was not confined to ancient Roman sites.  Rick Steeve’s guidebook on Spain in hand, we visited Spain’s many magnificent cathedrals; saw the beautiful Alhambra with its Generalife Gardens in Granada and La Mezquita in Cordoba with its 850 red-and-white striped columns–I could go on and on:  the great tapas and seafood paellas , the fast AVE trains that transport you at 300 km/hr across Spain in the matter of a couple of hours, the good weather (only two days of rain in 16).  The only problem:  Now I want to see more of Spain.