(Not) Every Death is a Martyr

The usurption of religious symbols for justifying war, vengence, and destruction is a long held practice. Most of the time, however, this appreciation fails to register and the media and the majority of the disengaged audience assumes validity of the religiousity of their cause.

The old adage that there are no atheists in war is easily ported to modern conflicts. Many if not most of the conflicts ongoing right now have sought foundations in the religiousness of the (perceived) persecuted and their cause. These people, both men and women, are generally labeled guerillas or terrorists without regard to their fundamental motives. This is similar to the human desire to believe what somebody says at face value.

Sure, sometimes we discount the answer to question or attempt to frame it, but some information is just taken and passed along. Religious backing and justification is important to many modern terrorists. Sometimes only acknowledged within their own communities and with “immunity” to transgressions by their religious leaders that from an outsider’s point of view would be heresy, Americans Timothy McVeigh and al-Zarqawi have much in common. These religious zealots (a term originating from Jewish “freedom fighters” fighting the Roman Empire) fall into a long line of co-opters taking advantage of religion for their own benefit.

Their own beliefs aside, the problem is when the media plays into this and propagates and helps form the image of these identity thieves. The corruption of jihad, Terry Schiavo, and abortion clinic bombings and doctor assassinations receive various amounts of religious media overtones that are (usually loosely or poorly) orchestrated by the perpetrators.

This issue, better discussed by Bruce Hoffman in Inside Terrorism, is clear when looking at a Kurdish website extolling the “victories” over the Turks. Listing casualties and captured equipment like box scores in the sports section, they list their own dead as “martyrs” and even dedicate attacks to dead comrades.

Regardless of my belief on who is responsible for their current mess of Kurdish affairs and what the appropriate path to resolution should be, this is a political situation and not a religious fight. While this site does actually do justice to the political cause, at least they appear more pragmatic than other websites, the choice of nouns is revealing to what they really believe.