Palestinians' cult of child suicide (National Post, March 10, 2004)
MONTREAL - Retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, veteran of the Rwanda genocide of 1994, during which Hutu teens hacked Tutsis to death with machetes, recently spoke to high school students in Montreal, and cited the issue of child soldiers as a peculiarly modern horror: "We've entered an era where we in fact permitted ... a new weapon of mass destruction."
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International estimate there are about 300,000 child soldiers globally, and it is on these organized, arms-bearing children that abuse-monitoring groups have focused their attention. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child condemns the recruitment or use of any soldier under the age of 15.
But does arms-bearing alone define a "child soldier"? And what constitutes "recruitment"? A North American children's rights group, Operation SICK -- Stop Inciting Children to Kill -- while engaged with the problem of ill-trained rifle-bearing teen cadets in Africa, Latin America and South Asia, feels the current paradigm is too restrictive. Op SICK says organizations to end the exploitation of children should also censure all those who encourage children at any age to sacrifice their lives for a political cause.
I attended an Op SICK event on the subject of Palestinian "shahid" (martyr) culture, hosted by their fledgling McGill chapter. Previous McGill Op SICK events have dealt with child soldiers in Sierra Leone and Columbia. Because stone-throwing Palestinian children are urged into the line of fire against armed soldiers, Op SICK claims they are in fact and deed child soldiers, and their "recruitment" toward eventual suicide is a form of child abuse.
The speaker was Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch ( www.pmw.org.il). PMW monitors and translates Palestinian media and educational content from the original Arabic into English. PMW was recently called as a reliable source to testify before a Senate sub-committee investigating Palestinian incitement of children to violence. They saw the video I saw, "Education to Hatred and Violence in the Palestinian Authority," a riveting montage of real-life images and words revealing the process through which children are recruited for suicide/terror.
Incitement to Jew-hatred and suicide terrorism begins at birth and never stops. Sports teams and summer camps are named for shahids. A beaming Yasser Arafat poses on TV with bombers' parents. Religious leaders harangue their flock toward "shahada."
Music videos, playing in a continuous loop all day every day on the single official station, are the primary tool for arousing the death wish. A typical lyric aimed at children is, "You should be on the front lines"; "Allah Akbar the young ones ... " is repeated, hypnotically, like a mantra. A father tenderly wraps his baby's fingers around a stone. A shahid's mother cries: "Praise Allah, the honour is mine ... ."
The videos aim to combat a child's natural fear of violence and death. Violence on screen is accompanied by soothing music: "Don't be afraid, Allah is with them ... ." Shahids are pictured in paradise with angelic smiles, riding on ferris wheels, playing with kites. Staged videos demonize "Israeli soldiers" as Nazis deliberately shooting at children, which in reality never happens.
Seventy to eighty per cent of Palestinian children aspire to shahada. An 11-year-old enthuses on a popular TV program: "Shahada is a beautiful thing ... ." There are three million Palestinians, 53% of them under 18. Do the math, as they say.
But here was the worst thing I saw: A woman journalist interviews a little boy, and asks if he wants to be a martyr for his people. "Yes," he says. She asks, "You are not afraid to die?" Hesitating, he begins nodding Yes. The journalist quickly shakes her head No as a cue. He hangs his head, whispers "No." No, he is not afraid to die -- or won't be after a few more years of such depraved manipulation. The collaboration in the cult of child suicide by what poses as the fifth estate in Arab countries illuminates the real meaning of Noam Chomsky's famous phrase, "manufacturing consent," and gives the lie to the "despair" motif so beloved of terrorist apologists.
The Palestinians are one of the few "societies" in the world encouraging their young to choose death as a cultural imperative. The world has signed on to this perversion of communal life. Far from condemning the practice, the UN blocks all resolutions to the Security Council defining suicide bombings as a crime against humanity. Last April the Human Rights Commission sanctioned the use of "all available means including armed struggle" (code for suicide bombings) as a legitimate tactic against Israel.
McGill Op SICK is seeking official club stature. SPHR -- Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights -- is circulating a petition to abort the accreditation process. SPHR alleges Op SICK uses "suspect sources" to invoke racist claims against Palestinians and that it is funded by Israel through the New-York based Hasbara Fellowship, a grassroots leadership program for Jews and non-Jews. Hasbara refutes the allegation.
McGill Op SICK's founder, Elana Setton, is distressed by SPHR's accusations which, she worries, could presage the same escalating militancy at McGill that shut Op SICK down at Concordia University. Their modest fundraising program is local and transparent, she says, and Op SICK's political neutrality reflects their belief that "no political cause, philosophy or ideology can justify the exploitation of children." Just so.
Online Extra: Find out more about the scourge of child soldiers at www.nationalpost.comRelated (Link opens in a new window)
McGill Student project: Stop Inciting Children to Kill
© National Post 2004