Given its horrors, we tend not to understand or even seek to understand what motivates terrorists.
That is why this piece in the Los Angeles Times is so stunning. Far from dehumanizing a would-be terrorist, reporter Borzou Daragahi manages to hook hometown readers by finding some common ground between local industry and a Lebanese Muslim high school student. Here’s the provocative lede:
Hiba Qassir dreams of making movies. She’s ambitious and precocious enough. At 18, she’s taught herself how to edit video and sound on a computer, and has her sights set on directing gripping social and psychological dramas.
But if the movie business doesn’t work out, that’s OK. She has other dreams: perhaps to become a cop or a pilot. Or maybe a suicide bomber.
The story is written in a very straightforward manner. It doesn’t excuse or condemn the religious views of its subject. I must admit it is somewhat funny, or sad really, to compare the Times poorly reported and horribly written condemnation of “fundamentalist” Gov. Sarah Palin’s, uh, “fundamentalism” with this nuanced piece about suicide bombers.
Anyway, the reporter incorporates the subject’s religious views while painting a nice picture of her life as a teenager in Lebanon. Hiba is an English-speaking tour guide at a Hezbollah exhibit devoted to honoring Muslim martyrs:
She points to a hall lined with posters adorned with artificial flowers. “The first one was in 1982 here in Tyre,” she says. “You can see that [late Israeli leader] Yitzhak Rabin said that this operation took the lives of many people, especially those with special qualities and skills.”
That suicide bomber was 18, just like her, when he drove an explosives-filled Peugeot sedan into the Israeli command post here on Nov. 11, 1982, and killed 75 Israeli soldiers, border guards and intelligence officers, according to Lebanese accounts. Israel has long maintained that the blast was an accident, caused by a gas leak.
His name was Ahmad Qassir, and Hiba is particularly proud of her uncle, martyr No. 1 in the official history of Hezbollah’s long war against Israel.
“Israel usually says that these people are hopeless people and lovers of death,” Hiba says. “But we always say that martyrdom is our way to heaven.”
As she leads people through the tour, she excitedly discusses how many Jews were killed by each operation. Hiba talks about how Muslim history would be nothing without such martyrs. She wants to go to college and travel the world and be a director. She also desires martyrdom:
“We have many martyrs in the family, and we like this thing,” she says. “As ordinary people, we have to work and say prayers, and despite all of that we might not go to heaven. But the martyrs go directly to heaven.”
Hiba insists that she’s not just repeating political slogans. She says if given the chance, she would sacrifice herself and her dreams to become a martyr.
“Let’s speak logically,” she says. “The path of each person is not decided by us, and our years are limited by God’s wants, so if it was offered to me to die as a martyr, it’s better than to live life with all its sins.”
The story has a very limited scope. It’s about what suicide missions mean to a young high school woman. Still, it would have been nice to have a bit of context about the history of martyrdom, the history of suicide missions as an expression of that martyrdom and, perhaps, some feedback from Muslims who disagree that suicide bombers are martyrs. Still, it’s an fascinating story. I don’t know how the reporter found Hiba but what an interesting subject for a story.