Beliefnet
When did the term suicide bomber enter the daily vocabulary of war? When did human weapons become a normal entry in the military arsenal? Hand grenades ... rifles ... suicide bombers?

We are no longer shocked by young Palestinians who strap explosives to their bodies, turning themselves into cheap and mobile killing machines. We are no longer surprised by the willingness to die in the act of murder. Or to murder in the act of dying.

A 22-year-old destroyed himself along with 24 Israelis at a Passover celebration. An 18-year-old killed herself and two others, including one her own age, in a supermarket. A 23-year-old blew himself up, in an ecumenical murder of Jews and Arabs at the Matza cafe.

Suicide bombers have become so common that a reporter describes a 10-year-old Israeli girl mimicking the morning news anchor: "It's 8 a.m. and there's been another suicide attack." A 4-year-old defines the word ambulance as the car that picks up dead children after a suicide bomb.

Of all the horrific news from that dead end known as the Middle East -- and there is horror to spare -- nothing has so colored this cycle of the cycle of violence than the ordnance of walking weapons whom the Israelis call terrorists and the Palestinians call martyrs.

We are witnessing a parade of young people who finally figured out what they want to be when they grow up: Dead. And we are witnessing a culture that cheers and glorifies this ghoulish march.

I know something about suicide. I know shattered families who are left to pick the emotional nails and screws out of their skin years after the event shattered their lives. I know families who still ask themselves why and how and what if. So I understand the words of the grief-stricken Arab father of one suicide bomber, the 18-year-old Ayat Akhras: "I taught my children to love others. We hope for life."

But I do not understand the words that come so much more often from Palestinians, words that describe suicide as good and brave. I don't understand the mother of another bomber saying, "I was very happy when I heard. To be a martyr, that's something." Or the father of a young man who set off a bomb on a crowded commuter bus boasting, "My son will go to heaven." Or an older brother saying, "We're proud."

If suicide attacks are the weapon of terrorist choice, it's because they shake the foundation of belief that -- at least -- we share a desire for life with our enemies. But in this conflict, a Hamas leader famously countered that belief by scornfully saying that Jews "love life more than any other people and they prefer not to die."

Many of the human weapons detonated in cafes and markets are described simply as "desperate." Indeed there is plenty of reason for despair among young Palestinians. But in the attention to the psyche of the suicide bomber, we have focused too little on the community of adults encouraging what one Middle Eastern columnist called, "a popular sport, a grand aspiration of thousands of young Palestinian boys and girls.' "

These adults begin with the recruiters who carefully transform the desperation into devastation by promoting and outfitting, planning and praising suicide as the solution. They include adults who announce suicide bombings in the newspapers as if they were weddings. And elders who hang posters in the Ramallah hospital of bombers as heroes.

The fans include religious leaders who twist the Islamic proscription against suicide by describing self-destruction as martyrdom that paves the way to heaven. They even depend on families to publicly praise their children's bravery, express pride in their "accomplishment," and in the process, condemn more parents to mourning.

In the Middle East, it's said by everyone that the Israelis want security and the Palestinians want land. Two bitter old men, Sharon and Arafat, who could make a deal, are locked in a death struggle that may take their people with them. I have no more respect for one than the other.

Moreover, others have lauded suicides as war heroes. Kamikazes in Japan, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. And virtually every tribe has sent its young out to risk their lives.

Nevertheless, any culture that takes pride in having the next generation as a ready supply of cheap weapons has already lost its future. Any leader who cultivates or condones suicide as its war plan has lost all moral standing. What do we say about societies that practice human sacrifice?

"It's 8 a.m. and there's been another suicide attack." Suicide is not a defense weapon but a delusion added to the ordinary ordnance of this conflict. That in itself is cause for mourning.

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