Are we witnessing a turning point in the Muslim world’s attitude toward terrorism? Self-described “martyrs” who kill in the name of Islam have long been revered figures among Islamists. Yet on Friday, the Algerian government denied a request from family members to bury the body of Toulouse terrorist Mohamed Merah in Algerian soil. More significantly, Merah (who claimed his rampages were motivated by, among other things, a desire to “take revenge for Palestinian children”) earned a harsh, posthumous rebuke from Palestinians: “It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad said last week.
Skeptics might argue that these leaders are expressing disgust with Merah’s actions only because he took the singularly repulsive step of targeting children. Yet that has never been a red line for Islamists. In 2004, Ingush and Chechen terrorists took 777 children hostage (at least 156 died) in a horrific incident known as the Beslan massacre.
Then there is the case of unrepentant child murderer Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze who infiltrated Israel as a Palestinian Liberation Front terrorist in 1979, and participated in the botched kidnapping of an Israeli family. During the episode, Kuntar killed a 4-year-old girl by smashing her head against a rock. In a scene straight out of Schindler’s List, the family’s mother unintentionally suffocated her two-year-old child as she tried to quiet his crying as Kuntar stalked the family home. In the long and bloody annals of Palestinian terrorism, Kuntar arguably stands out as the movement’s most hideous figure.
And yet, perversely, Kuntar has long been a hallowed name in Palestinian lore: When he was released into Lebanon, as part of a prisoner exchange in 2008 (live Arabs in exchange for Israeli bodies), he was greeted by Arabs as a national hero. Palestinian activists and politicians who denounce Merah’s actions should be asked the question: “Exactly when did it become wrong to kill young Jewish children in the name of Palestinian rights?”
The answer is relevant not only to the Middle East, but also to Western nations such as ours, where attitudes toward self-described terrorist “martyrs” comprise one of the biggest factors separating militant immigrant constituencies from mainstream society.
The most recent example was on display this week, when hundreds of Canadian Sikhs demonstrated on Parliament Hill to express support for Balwant Singh Rajoana, a convicted terrorist who, in 1995, masterminded the killing of Beant Singh, a fellow Sikh who was then chief minister of the state of Punjab, and 17 innocent bystanders. As the CBC’s Terry Milewski reported, the demonstrators hailed Rajoana as a “living martyr” and a “political prisoner,” and “cloaked their rally in the banner of ‘human rights.’” Posters advertising a similar event in Toronto were titled “I am Rajoana.”
Canadian politicians avoided the Sikh rally like the plague – a fact that seems to have rankled and confused the organizers. They don’t understand that heaping praise on a “human bomb” – as he is widely known in India – really isn’t such a great idea in the post-9/11 era.
I got a glimpse into this ideological gulf when I wrote a blog post earlier this week that criticized pro-Rajoana rhetoric. In response, I got a torrent of email and Tweets claiming that I was spreading “hate” and attacking Sikhs in general. My critics also said I was ignoring all of the horrible things that India had done to Sikhs in the 1980s that led up to Rajoana’s terrorist attack.
Indeed, the Indian campaign against the Punjab insurgency of the 1980s was often a vicious affair, as all counter-insurgency battles tend to be. An untold number of innocent Sikhs died, just as innocent Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza. But as Canada’s silent majority of moderate Sikhs would agree (one hopes), such historical grievances, however well-founded, do not justify cold-blooded terrorism against leaders of a democratic state, let alone innocent bystanders.
Until activists understand that fact, their gestures in support of terrorists will continue to alienate the Canadian mainstream.
— Jonathan Kay is Managing Editor for Comment at the National Post, and a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.