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Aayesha Soni
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Open letter to Hussein Solomon: “Countering the cult of the Martyr”

31 December 2011, 08:27
Professor Hussein Solomon’s latest piece titled “Countering the Cult of the Martyr” leaves one bewildered that something so academically flawed and outright biased, lacking in any solid evidence or reasoning, could have been written by somebody appraised with the title of being a Professor. He launches into the very complex issue of martyrdom without providing any explicit working definition, leaving the reader confused throughout the article with his many references to it being religiously, politically or ideologically motivated. The Professor also throws around many quotes from various “terrorist” sources, failing yet again to put these references into context and serving to confuse the reader so much as to believe that his outlandish ideas could be perceived as true. However, anybody who knows even a little about the topic will be able to pick up on his discrepancies and notice how his arguments are so obviously fuelled by previously conceived misconceptions.

The Professor begins his academic downfall from the very first paragraph. By failing to provide us with an adequate definition of what a martyr is, he immediately delves into the subject and labels Mohammed Bouazizi as one. The actions of Bouazizi were no doubt politically and economically motivated, with no visible ties to his religion at all. And yet in the same breath, Solomon groups this young man’s actions with religious motivations. By failing to see the distinct line between the motives of martyrdom operations and what Bouazizi did, Solomon exposes himself from the very beginning as having no real understanding of the subject, or choosing to be ignorant of the distinct difference.

He then spends considerable effort making sure the reader thinks that martyrdom is an ideologically motivated act, propagated by Islam alone. Practically, his argument is deficient, as he fails to recognise that in nearly all cases of martyrdoms, the reasoning is strategic rather than ideological, with the tactical advantages of suicide missions playing a great role in their choice of implementation. In the American Political Science Review of August 2003, the logic behind suicide terrorism is explained as follows: “... (it) is undertaken as a strategic ef¬fort directed toward achieving particular political goals; it is not simply the product of irrational individuals or an expression of fanatical hatreds”. It further elaborates on recent martyrdom operations by rightly stating that groups that use these means “consistently an¬nounce specific political goals and stop suicide attacks when those goals have been fully or partially achieved.” This credible finding clearly rebuts Solomon’s stance that martyrdom is merely an ideological state of mind, and exposes his shallow understanding of these acts.

His clear bias towards Islam and Muslims is highlighted by the fact that he blatantly attributes martyrdom to it been given legitimacy through its sanctioning by Muslim societies. The Professor’s obvious lack of knowledge regarding historical evidence has probably led him to this short-sighted conclusion. The idea of martyrdom operations and the concept of being a martyr has been around for centuries. The word martyr, and the concept of it thereof, can be traced back to the New Testament of the Bible. People dying for their faith and renouncing all to stay true to their religion can be found in nearly all of the religions today, with many scholars of the Gospel recently stating that Jesus himself was a martyr. From Judaism, where according to W. H. C. Frend: “Judaism was itself a religion of martyrdom”, to Hinduism, Sikihism, the Baha’i faith as well as the Chinese Culture where martyrdom was extensively promoted by the Tongmenghui and the Kuomintang party in modern China, martyrdom has its roots in all religions. By singling out Islam as a religion which promotes such principles, it becomes clear to one how biased and outwardly selective in his presentation of facts, the Professor is. Religion aside, however, martyrdom operations were made famous by the Japanese kamikaze pilots who were driven solely by nationalistic principles. These attacks, which began in October 1944, proved vitally important and strategic during World War II. As the Allied forces advanced towards Japanese home islands, it allowed them some way of protecting themselves. Till today, the kamikaze pilots are lauded for their bravery and undying loyalty unto their country, and yet Solomon has nothing to say about this.

Professor Hussein Solomon finds it very easy to quote the training manual notes of Al-Qaeda about not wanting to engage in any form of dialogue. Yet the hypocrisy of this is evident by the number of times the then President of the USA, George W Bush made it clear that under no circumstances would they enter into diplomatic relations with a terrorist organisation. His idea of dialogue and debate was freezing all funds to Al-Qaeda, isolating them from the world and refusing any contact or form of negotiations with the leaders of the organisation. A picture is painted of Al-Qaeda being the radical fundamentalists, but when the leader of the free world is quoted as saying “God told me to strike at Al-Qaeda and I struck at them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did… ‘’ (remark made by Bush to Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath, made to and reported by BBC News on Thursday, October 6 2005), any person with even an inkling of common sense is left questioning who the real religious extremists are in this world.

With little academic basis for his reasoning and highly emotive language such as “jihadists” and “cults” used to validate his argument, there is very little left of a credible argument made by the Professor. His sentiments echo his previous anti-Islamic views. It provides the motive for his blatant bias and obvious misrepresentation of martyrdom.
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