Teenage Suicide Missions: The Role of Religion in the Recruitment of Young Suicide Bombers

Article excerpt

Introduction

It is difficult to be objective about the chilling practice of teenage suicide bombing. One is repulsed by the numerous video clips of children posing as "holy warriors," appalled when reading reports of a disabled child (possibly with Down Syndrome) being used to carry out a suicide attack, or saddened when viewing video clips of young Palestinian youth reading their last will and testament before carrying out a suicide attack. (1) It is extremely distressing to think that anyone would strap explosives to young people and send them off to kill themselves and to maim and kill others. It is also deeply disturbing when sacred texts and religious authorities, be they Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Shinto, Sikh, or of any other religion, are used to legitimize suicide attacks and similar activities.

This paper arose out of concern for the way religion is used to validate and to perpetuate violence against children. The recruitment of teenagers for suicide missions is really the sharp end of a global trend to deploy children as soldiers. The paper seeks first to gauge the extent of teenage suicide bombing and secondly, to critique the commonly-held view that religion plays a minor part in the recruitment of children and teenagers for suicide missions. I have adopted the straight-forward method of examining whatever documentation is available, much of necessity from the internet, concerning "underage" suicide missions. In terms of demonstrating religious influence on teenage suicide bombers, the paper examines four case studies from separate geographical regions in the world and from different religious traditions: Shinto/Buddhist influence in Japan during World War II on Kamikaze recruits some as young as fourteen and fifteen; Ayatollah Khomeneini's religious justification of Iran's suicide battalions--tens of thousands of young Shi'aIranians, some as young as twelve and thirteen-- during the Iran-Iraq War in the mid 1980s; the influence of Hinduism on young Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka; and, finally, the highly politicised activities of Hamas, a Sunni militant group, among Palestinian youth.

There are two definitional matters that immediately present themselves: the first concerns the use of the word "suicide" (sometimes renamed "homicide") in admittedly, emotive expressions like "suicide missions," "suicide bombers," and "suicide attacks." Most religions are generally chary of the word "suicide," so, persistently those who glory in suicide missions either reframe them with theological argument or refer to them euphemistically as "holy martyrdoms," "martyrdom operations," (ishtishahd in Arabic) "voluntary deaths," "giving yourself," or "self-gift." I am persisting with the word "suicide" because martyrdom operations normally involve a deliberate act of suicide and, as well, I see nothing holy or altruistic, in sending young people to murder others and to a certain death, even if we admit (as we must) the socio-political conditions that often give rise to this social evil. I also abhor such language as "smart bombs," "human bombs," and "the poor man's atomic bomb," to describe suicide attackers. The other problematic issue concerns the definition of a child. Is a child a person under fifteen- sixteen- r eighteen-years of age? For both International law and Shari'ah (Islamic law) this is a fuzzy area, especially when it comes to the involvement of children in hostilities and armed conflict throughout the world. (2) The deployment of child soldiers is not new in either the West or the East, however arming them with extremely lethal weapons does appear a new development. (3) For the purposes of this paper, I have taken eighteen as the cut-off point which is in line with Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 November 1989. (4)

The Extent of Teenage Suicide Bombings

While most experts on terrorism seem to agree that suicide bombers are primarily young people, it is notoriously difficult to determine what percentage of them are under eighteen. …