The Manchester Bomber: Martyr or Murderer?

The most radical part of President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia was not the moment when he referred to “Islamic extremism” and “Islamic terror,” but the next moment when he said, “Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear… If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED” (caps in original text).

That’s a fairly confrontational thing to say when you’re speaking to a crowd of people who believe that your soul will be honored if you commit jihad for the sake of Allah. Martyrs are the most honored people in the Islamic world. For instance, in the West Bank, streets, squares, parks, and schools are named in honor of “martyrs” who, by non-Muslim reckoning, are simply terrorists.

The day after Trump’s speech, a Muslim in Manchester, England provided a test case for the new initiative the president is urging on Muslim leaders. He blew himself up outside a concert arena and, at last report, killed 22 people and injured 59 in the process. Trump said “Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear … if you choose the path of terror … YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED.” The question is, what do Muslim religious leaders think about the Manchester murderer—or is he the Manchester martyr?

Has he gone straight to paradise, or has he ended up in the other place? It’s not an academic question. The lives of countless potential victims of jihad terror depends on the answer.

Islamic leaders in the West have ways of fudging the answer in cases like this. Typically, they say that “Islam condemns all terror” or “Islam condemns the taking of all innocent life.” But this is pure evasiveness because, from an Islamic perspective, jihad is not an act of criminal terror, but of justified retribution; moreover, non-Muslims are, by definition, not innocent; and, finally, Muslims are not required to explain any of this because they are allowed to practice taqiyya (deception) in order to defend Islam.

In addition, Muslim leaders can count on Western reporters not to press the issue. A reporter might logically ask “Is this particular individual now in paradise?” But he most probably won’t because paradise is not something that secular reporters are comfortable talking about. For them, it’s alien territory.

But that’s really the central question, isn’t it? If a pious Muslim kills non-believers for the sake of Allah, isn’t he entitled to his reward? And won’t Allah reward him? If that’s not the case, then shouldn’t Muslim religious leaders clearly say so? If Allah condemns suicide bombers to hell, the least that the mullahs and imams can do is to inform impressionable young Muslims of the truth and save them from an eternity in hell. Of course, they would also be doing a great favor to potential future victims of jihadists.

After the Manchester attack, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to “defeat the ideology that often fuels this violence.” We’ve been hearing the mantra about “ideological war” for some time now, but it wasn’t until President Trump’s speech that a world leader actually pinpointed the central front in the ideological war. Young men join the jihad for a variety of reasons, but we know from letters, diaries, and interviews that virgins in paradise is a primary motive. Take away the eternal reward and you take away one of the major incentives to commit terror.

The Koran contains many detailed accounts of the tortures of hell. In fact, these accounts appear on almost every page. The young men who believe in the virgins also believe in hell. And many—especially if they have been indulging in Western-style vices—are fearful they might end up there. Luckily for them, Islam provides a get-out-of-hell-free card called martyrdom. All your sins, whatever they are, can be wiped away by a single act of jihad for the sake of Allah. Many people think that the sinful lifestyle of some jihadists is proof that they are not pious Muslims, but it may simply prove that they trust that Allah, all-Merciful, will forgive the sins of those who sacrifice all for his name.

In line with Trump’s advice and in the wake of the latest atrocity in Manchester, now would be a good time for all the imams and mullahs of the world to set the issue straight and to inform their communities that the reward for killing innocents in concert arenas or any other place is everlasting hellfire.

Will they do so? Probably not without a great deal of pressure. And even then, we can expect lots of fudging, prevarication, and, from some quarters, outright praise for the martyrs. But it’s worth making the effort because, apart from massive worldwide military and police operations, there is no other way of breaking the cycle of jihad violence. The best way to break the back of jihad is to forcefully nudge Muslim leaders to cast doubts in the minds of potential jihadists about their prospects for paradise.

With that in mind, the major world media outlets ought to dispatch reporters to interview prominent imams worldwide and ask them what they think of the Manchester massacre and, specifically, whether the perpetrator is now in paradise or in hell. If the news teams can’t get their act together before the Manchester story has cycled out of memory, they can ask the same question after the next terrorist attack—because there will be more. Many more.

Meanwhile, world leaders can stop talking about defeating “the ideology that often fuels this violence,” and actually do something about it. They could, for example, put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to stop providing cash incentives to jihadists. In the Palestinian version of Islam, jihad is rewarded not only in heaven but also on earth. If you die while committing jihad, your family will be well provided for. If you live and end up in an Israeli jail, the Palestinian Authority will put aside a pension fund in your name. The Palestinian practice of jackpot jihadism is a fairly blatant incentive to murder. Can Muslim nations be persuaded to condemn the practice? Can Western nations do the same? It would be an important sign that they are really serious about fighting radical ideology.

How about Saudi Arabia? As far as we know, the Saudis don’t offer cash rewards for suicide bombers. On the other hand, they are the world’s largest funder of radical Islamic ideology. Saudi money pays for countless TV stations, madrassas, radical textbooks, mosques, and the extremist imams who commonly staff the mosques. The U.S. just offered the Saudis a massive military aid package as an incentive for fighting ISIS and Iranian terror. We ought at the same time to be threatening massive dis-incentives should the Saudis continue on their path of financing ideological indoctrination.

Even if attempts to pressure Muslim leaders to condemn jihad martyrdom should fail, these efforts would at least have the salutary effect of clarifying things for non-Muslims. It would serve to show naïve Westerners that violence does indeed have something to do with Islam, and that jihad martyrdom is not an aberration of the faith, but a central feature of it.

It will be interesting to see how Catholic and Anglican leaders respond to the Manchester attack. They can play an important role in informing the uninformed about what is really happening and what is really at stake. But so far they haven’t done that. Instead, after every jihad attack, prominent clergy talk in terms of “tragedy” and “blind violence,” as though there were no rhyme or reason to the terror. Unfortunately, that narrative shows no sign of changing. A statement just issued by the Vatican says:

His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the barbaric attack in Manchester, and he expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence.

Which is pretty much what the pope says after every terrorist attack. The trouble is, these attacks are not “senseless acts of violence.” They make a lot of sense to those steeped in Islamic ideology. How so? Well, you get to punish those who have offended Allah (mere unbelief is considered an affront to Allah’s majesty). You get remission of all past sins (no need to worry about hell). And you get a ticket to paradise.

Of course, jihad martyrdom doesn’t make sense from a Christian point of view, and maybe it’s time for the pope and other Christian leaders to advance that viewpoint more forcefully and unapologetically. That might involve saying that the idea of Heaven as a brothel is offensive to God and demeaning to women. It would certainly involve saying that those who kill innocents are risking their immortal souls. For the benefit of young Muslims, the pope might even explain the Catholic belief in purgatory—that merciful place which offers the opportunity for sinners to eventually get to heaven without having to resort to the murder of young girls.

According to reports, Salman Abedi, the Manchester suicide bomber, was “chanting Islamic prayers loudly in the street” in the weeks before the massacre. Undoubtedly, some Muslim leaders, especially in England, will be willing to strongly condemn his actions and—predictably—to leave it at that. They are confident that they can leave it at that because they know full well that the British press will be quite content to leave it at that, and not raise the troubling question of the fate of Mr. Abedi’s soul. It seems well past time, however, to press for an answer to the troubling questions. If Islam really is a force for peace, then Muslim leaders could prove it by uniting to warn potential jihadists that God is not pleased with the murder of innocents, and that Mr. Abedi is now residing in hell.

If they will not say it, then the pope and other Christian leaders must say it. It should not be left to Donald Trump to be the only one talking about the possibility of spiritual damnation. The objection to be expected here, of course, is that it is not the business of the pope or the president to talk about Muslim beliefs. But when Muslim beliefs result in the mass slaughter of school-aged children in England, it’s not simply a matter for Muslims to sort out among themselves.

(Photo credit: AP)

William Kilpatrick

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William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com

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