Muslim world's "kamikazes"won't go away anytime soon.

Back in 2002, I confessed that I once thought suicide bombing would be "self-limiting." At the time, I was referring to the Palestinian intifada, which had turned to suicide bombings even though the Palestinians were widely thought to be secular or moderate Muslims. Since then, however, suicide bombings have become a worldwide daily occurrence producing an unimaginable slaughter of the innocent. The Muslim world seems to have gone nuts. The figures for Iraq alone are appalling - about 400 suicide bombings since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. Even if the number includes a preponderance of foreigners - Saudis, in particular - it would have been hard at one time to conceive that there were so many people willing to end their own lives, not to mention those of others, particularly children. In the Western world, suicide is anathema. We often attribute suicide to mental illness - profound depression, for instance - and try to deny it even to the terminally ill. And in the Western world, particularly in America, we are wont to attribute our beliefs to others. Once again, we have learned the hard way that our beliefs are not universally shared. The first London bombings were a particularly frightening reminder that the last frontier for the cultural geographer is the human mind. The alleged suicide bombers were not smuggled into the country from the Islamic world; three of the four had been born in Britain, one on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Two had infant children. None of the bombers fit a profile. Now, however, they do: the European Muslim. There are 15 million to 20 million of them, about 5 percent of Europe's population, 10 percent of France's. There are bad days coming. It has been 60 years since the successful testing of an atomic bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The next month, August 1945, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated. There were, I think, good and sufficient reasons to use the bomb - some of it based on what, for lack of a better phrase, I'd call Japanese culture. The use of kamikaze pilots who purposely crashed their planes into U.S. warships unnerved Americans. So did the Japanese military ethic of never surrendering, fighting almost literally to the last man. But the Japanese military was not alone. In the waning days of the battle of Saipan in 1944, hundreds of Japanese civilians killed themselves - some by jumping off cliffs - rather than submit to U.S. occupation. To Americans, these and similar actions were downright frightening and a warning of what would happen if the Japanese mainland was invaded. All this set the stage for the use of the atom bomb. Now we are similarly confronting another enemy that seems so alien it might as well not be considered human. This will particularly be the case if, as some predict, there are continuing suicide bombings in Europe and maybe, in due course, in America. Terrified and enraged people can be remarkably brutal and illogical. We are at war in Iraq because of terrorist attacks that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with. We were entitled to be angry. But we were obliged to be smart. Somewhere, in Europe or America, suicide bombers are making their plans. We cannot afford to believe otherwise. They have already struck in New York, Washington, London, Madrid, over and over again in Israel, and virtually daily in Iraq. They are all Muslims and they seem, to most of us, to have lost their humanity. Maybe so. But it will only benefit the suicide bombers if we lose ours in return. n Richard Cohen is a member of the Washington Post Writers Group.


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