Suicide bombers

Thursday, August 11th, 2005

“Whoever kills a person (unjustly) . . . it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Koran, 5:32)

A convergence — you might say a dovetail — of appeals for nonviolence in recent weeks has thrown light on the cynical assumptions of the governing class and interrupted the narrative of blood sacrifice by which it governs.

We’ve just marked the 60th anniversaries of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have become distant enough events that the myths and lies constructed to contain them are breaking down, and truth is leaking out.

I was told in school, for instance, that several days before we dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on the citizens of those cities, we dropped leaflets warning them to leave. Turns out, according to Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, authors of “American Prometheus,” a biography of Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer, we only leafleted Japanese cities after we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. America made no attempt to minimize civilian suffering there

Turns out, also, that the military censored the courageous coverage of the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing — and the terrifying radiation poisoning (“Disease X”) that was killing people in droves a month later — by George Weller of the old Chicago Daily News. Instead, the first draft of The Bomb’s history was written by an “embedded” New York Times reporter, William Laurence, who was actually on the military payroll — a paid propagandist, in other words, who dutifully downplayed the prevalence of radiation sickness and launched half a century of official denial about the effects of nuclear fallout.

These anniversaries put a number of contemporary events in perspective, including the quoting of that passage from the Koran about a week earlier by the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Muslim scholars, when it issued an edict — a fatwa — condemning terrorism.

“Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives,” the fatwa reads. “There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram — or forbidden — and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not ‘martyrs.’”

These words radiate with a rare quality: religious leaders taking an unequivocal stand against violence. What if America’s Christians, in the same numbers that shout “family values” at the media, took a similar unequivocal stand? What if they saw no “homeland security” compromise with Matthew 5:39: “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

“Taking seriously the actual message of Jesus, though, should serve at least to moderate the greed and violence that mark this culture,” writes Bill McKibben in the August Harper’s, in an essay called “The Christian Paradox.” “It’s hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq. If some modest part of the 85 percent of us who are Christians woke up to this fact, then the world might change.”

All of which brings me to the extraordinary event happening right now in Crawford, Texas, where Cindy Sheehan and her supporters have been camped since last weekend near the ranch of the vacationing president — and she intends to stay there until she gets to meet with him.

Sheehan’s son, an Army specialist, died a little over a year ago in Sadr City, Iraq. “I want to ask the president, ‘Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for?’” she told reporters.

This could become George Bush’s worst nightmare. Other military families who have lost loved ones in Iraq — members of Gold Star Families for Peace (which Sheehan co-founded) and Military Families Speak Out — are traveling to Texas to join her and also demand to meet with the president. Indeed, this could become a nightmare of historic proportions for all warmongers, present and future.

“Whoever kills a person (unjustly) . . . it is as though he has killed all mankind.”

The war in Iraq heats up a world still under nuclear threat, which is more serious and worrisome than ever thanks to decades of proliferation and the reality of terrorism the war has aggravated. This threat intensifies the urgency — and prescience — of the words from the Koran. For 60 years, we really have had the power to “kill all mankind.” The use of nuclear weapons is the ultimate in suicide bombing.

I have a terrible sense of the inevitability of this, which won’t dissipate until more religious leaders begin acting with the conviction of Cindy Sheehan and the other parents who have felt too acutely the killing of all mankind.