The first suicide bomber

The President thinks of terrorists as sociopaths. If he thought of them as Samsons instead, he’d make better predictions about their behavior. That could save American lives.

Left Blogistan is making great sport over the President’s description of terrorists as “these people who have no soul.” [Whopundit got it first, followed by Atrios and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Brad DeLong, and no doubt others.]

Of course, it would be a terrible mistake in Christian theology to deny that the people you hate lack souls. (Otherwise you couldn’t imagine them being tormented forever in Hell by a loving God.)

But it’s virtually certain that (1) no one who would otherwise have voted for Bush will believe that he’s a heretic, or care; and (2) Bush doesn’t really imagine that we’re fighting the UnDead, or that al Qaeda is made up of Zombies.

It’s obvious from context that “no soul” was a slip of the tongue for “no conscience,” which is what the President said about our enemies earlier in the speech.

That’s not as funny a mistake as denying them souls, but it’s much more deadly. It could cost untold American lives.

There certainly are Iagos in the world: people without much in the way of conscience, who can do things they know are wrong and feel no remorse. Psychiatry calls them “sociopaths,” and Christianity, as far as I know, has never denied their existence.

But it’s a dangerous mistake to imagine that most terrorists fall into that category, for precisely the same reason it’s a dangerous mistake for “progressives” to think that about the right wing.

“Doing objectively rotten things” and “having no conscience” simply aren’t the same thing.

Lincoln saw that with respect to slavery. It was clear to him that slavery was wrong, but he never denied that its defenders thought they were fighting for the right. He said, of the Union and the Confederacy:

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

President Bush, with his own religious commitment, ought to be able to understand that other people have religious (or politico-religious) commitments that lead them to commit awful crimes. Do the abortion clinic bombers of Operation Rescue have “no conscience”? Not at all. They’re extremely conscientious. It’s just that their consciences are warped by their fanaticism.

The notion that killing lots of innocent people is pleasing to God seems very odd to secularists. But it shouldn’t seem odd to someone who believes that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

The first “suicide bomber” in world literature was Samson, and there is not a hint anywhere in the text, or in subsequent theological or popular opinion, that his death (and the thousands of people he took with him — more, if the text is to be taken literally, than died on 9-11) ought to be thought of as anything but redemptive and heroic.

Judges 16:23-30

Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.

And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.

And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.

And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.

Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.

And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.

And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.

And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

As the Rev. Gary Davis sang:

If I had my way,

if I had my way in this wicked world,

if I had my way

I would tear this old building down.

If the President thought of our enemies as so many Samson wannabees, rather than so many Iagos, he would make better predictions about their behavior and therefore have a better chance of influencing the terrorists or thwarting their plans. But intellectual and moral laziness, his besetting sins, tempt him to think of them as self-consciously evil.

Big, big mistake. Some of us may die for it.

Update Patrick Nielsen Hayden has more: conflating the Iraqis who are fighting to expel foreign occupiers with people who fly airplanes into buildings would also seem to be a mistake, and an odd mistake for those who are themselves strongly nationalistic to make.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

One thought on “The first suicide bomber”

  1. Bush, Bombs, the Bible, and The Blues

    Any blog that can connect Iraq, the Bible, The Blues and the intellectual and moral laziness of George W. Bush is well worth the read.

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