The fundamentalism debate often makes the incorrect assumption that violent, religious fundamentalists want a return to a premodern era. Journalists, who so eagerly want to link everything and everyone to fundamentalism, take little notice of what is scientifically demonstrable or not. However, theories on fundamentalism are often established in the ivory tower before any sort of concrete movements has been investigated in detail. Actually, fundamentalist movements are often very modern, in that they develop completely new theological concepts and put them into action. The hope that in time they would become ‘more modern,‘ and for that reason more peaceful, is illusory.
The justification of suicide attacks in Islamism is a modern development that continues. Indeed there used to be the concept of martyrs as warriors who died in Jihad, which is a concept that has never existed in Christianity (though it has been found in the nationalistic garb of European states or, for instance, in Japan in world wars). But it has always been a war called for by a leader – for instance a caliph or a sultan. One died in battle against unbelievers, and one naturally tried to live as long as possible. This is to say that the individual did not commit suicide. (Exceptions were assassins between the 11th and 13th centuries, for which no line leads to the present.)
Terror attacks during the time of Yassir Arafat were hardly able to be justified religiously and did not consist of an actual suicide attack. The concept of the suicide attack is something that has progressively developed in modern Islamism in increasingly intensive phases, which anyone who has followed the last 25 years of reports in the media can understand.
Phases in the Development of the Theology and Practice of Suicide Attacks in the last 25 Years
- Jihad no longer has to be called for. Rather, military Jihad is a permanent condition against unbelievers. An individuals can designate himself, or a small group can designate themselves. Whoever dies in the process goes to paradise as a martyr.
- An individual is allowed to kill himself, if in the process unbelievers are also killed.
- Male children are also able to be suicide attackers (initially in the Intifada)
- An individual is allowed to do the same if in the process, as collateral damage, Muslims also die (this occurred initially in Israel, then on September 11, 2001).
- An individual is allowed to do the same if in the process almost exclusively or exclusively Muslims die but unbelievers are disquieted (initially in Iraq).
- Women can also be suicide attackers who up till now have only appeared as proud mothers of suicide attackers (a very recent phenomenon).
- In the most immediate past girls have emerged as suicide attackers. In short: a girl who with an explosive kills other Muslims and, for that reason, is lauded as a martyr used to be unthinkable in Islam. It is, rather, a completely new theological and practical development that has little in common with premodern Islam.