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Grapes? Virgins? Does That Explain Suicide Bombers?
Published on Thursday, August 5, 2004 by
Grapes? Virgins? Does That Explain Suicide Bombers?
by Abhinav Aima

Ever since 9/11, the American mainstream media has been chockfull of instant fixes to Islamic terrorism.

Some claim the fault lies with the Arab leaders, and hence they support the slaughter in Iraq for the removal of Saddam Hussein. A lot of good that did! But still, the mass media is inundated by "experts" who request for regime changes galore.

Others claim that the fault lies with Islam itself. These Bible, Torah and Gita thumping genocidal racists would like to see all of the Middle East and the entire Islamic community disappear in a giant mushroom cloud, or be fenced in at concentration and "detention" camps. These web crawlers, thankfully, are not yet openly strutting their stuff on network news talk shows. Yet.

But what irks most is the half-hearted attempts at an intellectual argument - the condescension that tries to offer a slimy, limp hand to the suffering Muslims. The latest from The New York Times Op-ed on August 4: The fault lies in the translation and interpretation of the Quran.

Nicholas D. Kristof, in this shortsighted and ignorant article, claims that the Muslims line up for martyrdom mission because they expect to be welcomed by 72 virgins in heaven. If the martyr-wanna-be's were to realize the prize in heaven for martyrdom was the Aramaic "Hur" (white grapes) and not the Arabic "Hur" (described variedly as a beauty, enchantress and virgin), argues Kristof, then Muslims would probably would not be in such a rush to kill themselves.

This, of course, assumes that the old Hollywood stereotype of the Arab as some sort of a perverted, illiterate, maniacal sex-craving fiend is applicable to all those Muslims who volunteer for suicide missions. Take away the virgins, Kristof's argument suggests, and the fiends would simply take their salivating chops to the next whore house instead of the next bomb belt or Kalashnikov.

Never mind the years of humiliation at the hands of Israelis. Never mind the oppressive, violent regimes supported by the United States. Never mind the stripping away of their sovereignty that has left them naked to exploitation since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Take away the virgins, replace them with grapes, and all of this is resolved.

This kind of thinking, which treats the Arab and Muslim as some kind of a hapless, backward, pathetic, and sick creature is exactly the reason why Americans continue to misunderstand and, therefore, prolong the violent tussle which turns friends into foes.

Those who argue that the Quran, or its misreading, are the cause of violent Islamic fundamentalism forget that for over three generations the most violent Arab and Muslim groups coming out of the Middle East were socialist and secular.

Last year I visited various Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon where teenagers belonging to secular organizations pleaded with me to help them find a way to leave Lebanon so they could enter the West Bank. They wanted to be involved in the Intifada. A young girl told me she was ready for a martyr operation. None cared about 72 virgins or 72 grapes.

A young leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a secular group, told me in Srinagar that the youth were tiring of the frustrations of peaceful protest movements and may soon slip back into the violence of active insurgency.

The fault, Mr. Kristof, is not in their books, whether they be penned by Karl Marx or descended from the heavens. Men and women do not die by their thousands because of the promise of heavenly virgins, but because they believe they are on the right path. Because life is unbearable, and death is a release. Because suffering is unending and being on the other side of a gun barrel, even just for a moment, seems a blessing.

If your children would not embrace death for the promise of 72 virgins in heaven, then why assume the same of Muslim children? Because of their religion or your prejudices?

As many Muslims, radicals and otherwise, have told me: End their suffering and the violence shall also end. And the answer for that does not fit into a sound bite or a tidy Op-ed piece. Or an invasion disguised as a liberation.

The least that the academics and the intellectual elite, growing plump on fat grants and slim on fashionable diets, can do is offer a discourse that is constructive, realistic and grounded in reality.

In the meanwhile, you can keep your virgins and your grapes.

Abhinav Aima is an Instructor of Journalism at the University of Minnesota Duluth.


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