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Political responses in the Middle East: from civil disobedience to martyrdom

Final Activity Report Summary - SICILIA (Political responses in the Middle East: From civil disobedience to martyrdom)

This research looked at cultural determinants on the use of suicide bombs as a strategy in political agenda. Within a comparativist framework it examined the rhetoric of the appeal of martyrdom, concentrating on Middle Eastern Christians. The analysis was influenced by the sociology of Durkheim. He emphasised the importance of identity and the individual in relation to society and religion, both affected by modernisation.

Modernity implies the replacement of religion as the core of cultural values with science. This is reflected in modern law with its rational principles. Acts are defined in their own 'objectified' terms and religious motivation is ruled out. Thus to devalue individual life for group life becomes culturally alien to western man. Yet this is what the suicide bomber does, which reflects the more important social ties of a traditional culture. However the general principle will be mediated via the specific culture of each group and the theology of each religion. This implies that groups will respond to a different degree according to the same principles. But for the outside world the degree of closure between different religious responses to the same events may act as an index of the extent of social offence caused to the respondents.

From the interviews conducted resulted: confused emotions; being caught between forces of occupation and fear of radical Islamic domination aided by the outside Muslim world (with no equivalent support from the Christian West); being out-bred by those who lack a westernised approach to family responsibility. Extended families help keep Muslims less inclined to move since large extended families are difficult to move. A sense of hopelessness therefore pervades Christian thoughts so that 'getting out' seems the only option. And the lack of outside support continually came back to in respondents' replies: the fear of being a minority under a theocratic intolerant of their life.

However, whilst Christians interpret their salvation in a more secular manner (moving on) Muslims interpret it with a return to religious principles. Thus Christians feel an ambiguity about their attitudes to suicide bombing. They can empathise with the cause yet are scared of the outcome that may occur. The west appears to offer no solution to their shared (with Muslims) suffering. Christians feel forced into a tacit support although they disapprove on religious-moral grounds. This is where the role of theology in informing moral actions is so important. Christian culture is informed by passivity and individual salvation that is not replicated in Islam (communal salvation). Thus in Christianity the taking of individual life is viewed in a different way from Islam, whose innocent is the community for whom the individual is only a part. Sacrificing ones individual life for the community is acceptable since it is an act in defence of God. However, because Christians and Muslims both suffer from the same external incursion they are forced into a mutual acceptance of the same tactic, although with great reservations on the Christian part.

The research tried to explain the different perspectives on suicide bombs from a socio-political perspective based on anthropological fieldwork, particularly how the Christian view is different. It also tried to chart the causes for the violence in the Middle East in general terms and show how this has affected both Muslim and Christian. However, if the region is to develop, it is the Christian values that the west needs to support, which are being chased out of the region as a result of their incompatibility with Islamic radical values. Christians can help building bridges with their western culture but shared experiences with Muslims co-inhabitants. By ignoring their plight the west is losing a major resource in seeking an equitable solution. Paradoxically it is because they have some of the western 'virtues' that they are leaving, just when the west most needs them in the region