In the prime of their lives, it is the young who most suffer senseless enmity. They may think that it is their bounden duty to go out and fight somebody they never saw or knew because some of their elders have commanded them to do so. Even so, it is they and not the political or religious elders who face mutilation of their bodies and talents, if they survive at all. Those who elect to follow suicidal acts in furtherance of an alleged religiously inspired idea of spiritual fulfillment are equally wrong. Unfortunately, today it is too often the case of the young following elders seeking to achieve their own goals and theologies, which are strongly argued to be extremist.
One major source of enmity between some groups and others has been the use of suicide to defeat an enemy. Let us examine the recent history of this particular form of human conflict. In 1945, The Americans had prepared the Atom Bomb to drop on Japan, after Hitler and his Germans had already surrendered. The US President Truman was well aware of the moral stigma associated with dropping such a bomb, even though it had never yet been done. He really did not want the USA to go down in history as the very first great power to use this horrific weapon.
So the politicians and military were hesitating. Were there not alternative ways to bring the Japanese war to an end, other than dropping Atom Bombs with unknown effects on into future generations? Were the nuclear weapons really necessary?
At that moment in History, the Japanese choose to send more than two hundred fighter planes in suicide dives against the biggest naval concentration of the USA’s Pacific Fleet, destroying almost all of it. [These kamikaze pilots were in large measure motivated by their Shinto beliefs, which incorporated Japanese imperialism.] It was the impossibility of defense against such suicide warriors that brought about the decision to drop the bombs. This military use of suicide created a mass fear in the Americans, such that two nuclear bombs were dropped. In spite of Japan’s quick and unconditional surrender, the USA has been excoriated ever since for the “heinous” act of dropping these nuclear bombs.
Later, the Tamil Tigers used suicide in their bid for independence from Sri Lanka – and lost. Some Palestinians resorted to killing innocent victims (the Olympic athletes in Munich/ Hamas bombing on a public bus in 1994), as well as a lot of individual suicide (even of pregnant women!) later on, and they continue to lose the sympathy of the world.
The problem of suicide is just one manifestations of the form of religious extremism prevailing in all religions due to socio-political and economic conditions and misunderstanding of the basic fundamental teachings of religions. For Muslims, one fundamental teaching is to surrender to what Allah has willed and to accept those things which we cannot change or He has decreed for us to endure and resist and change those things which are not moral or ethical. The Christians and Jews have to endure life as it is and live life as it is within this same context. Under no circumstances is suicide accepted as a proper religious, moral or political tool by any religion, [with the exception of the Shinto argument discussed above.]
The historical truth of the matter is that suicide never succeeds in solving a stated problem. Instead, however oppressed the culture resorting to suicide may have been, it ends up even more oppressed than before. Japan loses its war, Tamil Tigers lose their revolution, and Muslims loose all hope of their own freedom and development.
There are many other issues involved in disarmament, to be sure. However, nowadays the issue of suicide among youth at the direction of their elders is a primary obstacle to any progress in inter-faith or inter-cultural dialogue. The human race will continue to ostracize the proponents of suicide in political struggle, and other solutions cannot be found until goal-oriented suicide is excoriated from the humanity.
The attack on New York’s World Trade Center, while seemingly successful from the terrorist point of view, in fact set the entire human race straight back to the worst days of the Cold War, when the very survival of humanity itself could no longer be assured from day to day. One of the tragedies of this event was the widespread cheering of young people who seemed to think the WTC collapse was some sort of videogame.
So the first thing world youth can do to move us all toward peace is REFUSE to commit suicide when some demented religious or political teacher promises them heaven for doing so. As Nancy Reagan used to say about offers of marijuana, “JUST SAY NO!” They might also like to start by rejecting all forms of violent and murderous videogames, which prepare their mentality to cheer such events as 9/11.
Our Muslim scripture says that only Allah creates life out of death, and death out of life. Life and death (i.e., the Afterlife) are of equal value, and only Allah swt can create us in these two states. They are equal creations, dependent on Allah alone. It is not our place to usurp this or any other function of divine action.
If you ask an Indian Sikh whether he or any of his people would kill themselves for some political reason, he will simply laugh, and you will laugh with him in a shared moment of psychological and spiritual SANITY.
What we need is “shared security”, a security that goes well across national borders to encompass entire regions and even continents. The USA and Canada have such a “shared security”. Perhaps the European Union has it, to an extent. And in order to protect regional groupings, all sorts of understanding and agreements have to be achieved between different countries. This is the youth work of the future.
For this, we need young experts in conflict-resolution. We need political philosophers willing and able to reduce the war-like nature of nation-states by challenging assumptions and arguments made by governments to support it. We need leaders who are able to label suicide as the “mortal sin” that it is, and who can fearlessly label nuclear conflict as a form of suicide for themselves, as well as for unborn future generations whose very genes would be hopelessly corrupted by the residual radioactivity of nuclear conflict. Leaders are both born and made; it is, as Voltaire has said, often the greatest truth begins with a majority of one. One can quickly multiply to whole society insisting on a changed perspective, allowing dialogue and rationality to control rather than anger, emotion and arms.
The most pertinent question we must ask ourselves is how to create an environment conducive enough to instill among ourselves and the global community the moral imperatives of each religion. We must start with our individual selves; by correcting our own understanding of religion, and struggling to cleanse our hearts from enmity that become the source of the bigger problem we are inheriting today. This point is perhaps best summarized by quoting an excerpt from Hamza Yusuf’s introduction in his book “Purification of the heart” (2004), and I quote – “If we examine the trials and tribulations all over earth, we’ll find they are rooted in human hearts. Covetousness, the desire to aggress and exploit, the longing to pilfer natural resources, the inordinate love of wealth, and other maladies are manifestations of diseases found nowhere but in the heart. Every criminal, miser, abuser, scoffer, embezzler, and hateful person does what he or she does because of a diseased heart. So if you want to change our world, do not begin by rectifying the outward. Instead, change the condition of the inward. It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring. … We of the modern world are reluctant to ask ourselves—when we look at the terrible things happening—“Why do they occur?” And if we ask that with sincerity, the answer will come back in no uncertain terms: all of this is from our own selves. In so many ways, we have brought this upon ourselves. This is the only empowering position that we can take.” Unquote.
We are in the middle of tumultuous times, and it is for the youth to correct the horrible mistakes made by their elders, and move resolutely in the direction of human integrity, mutual respect, and absolute refusal to resort to violent public acts. It all starts at home, where the youth leaders of this world must pro-actively shun all forms of suicide, hidden and direct, and commit themselves strongly and clearly to LIFE and the continuing, miraculous unfolding of the human genome in human history. The human destiny is Allah’s greatest gift to us, and we must struggle without ceasing to safeguard its radiant sanctity.
Azril Mohd Amin
Text of speech delivered at the International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders On Disarmament for Shared Security held at Radisson Hotel, Kathmandu, Nepal 10-11 July 2009.