Suicide: A Sin, a Disease, a Vampire or
All Combined - III
By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
Pittsburg, CA

THE WORLD: A VALE OF TEARS. The current streak of suicidal missions carried out in the name of religion, Islam, is similar to those once carried out in the name of Christianity, as described by Alvarez: “Stoic claim was easily assimilated into the religious hysteria of the early Christians… Christianity, which began as a religion for the poor and rejected, took that blood lust, combined it with the habit of suicide, and transferred both into a lust of martyrdom” the glorious company of martyrs came to number thousands of men, women and children….martyrdom was a Christian creation as much as a Roman persecution”.
In other words, the more powerfully the Church instilled in believers the idea that this world was a vale of tears and sin and temptation, where they waited uneasily until death released them into eternal glory, the more irresistible the temptation to suicide became… “Why then live unredeemed when heavenly bliss is only a knife stroke away? ... Christian teaching was at first a powerful incitement to suicide.” Is it not interesting that Islam in its distorted form, gets abused for exactly the same reasons by those who are in the business of suicide industry, as Christianity was once.
The syllabus is the same. The “Martyr/Shaheed” would be received half-way by a troupe of more than 70 virgins Hoors; he would have an all-season ticket to Paradise; he would have the power to seek redemption from the past and future sins, and a free entry into heaven for all members of his family and close relatives; he would have the honor to choose a certain number of his friends within a radius of 4-5 miles of his residence for placement in the paradise; he would meet the most envious and noble end in place of a life full of degradation and humiliation in this world; his name would remain preserved in the annals of history for ever; posthumous glory would bedeck his name for ever. All this would be his and much more, if he blew himself and “the Western oppressors and their confederates” with him.
The Romantics of the 19th Century, however, were a queer lot. They sowed the idea that suicide was one of the many prices to be paid for genius. Men of intellect must have this fashionable trend. Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and Byron were all “half in love with easeful death”. Suicide permeated Western culture like a dye that cannot be washed out. Whatever the outdated laws decreed, it was never thought of as a criminal act. Melancholy remained a rationale behind such trends in this era. Spleen replaced melancholy next. Absurdity and futility outmoded spleen. In a symposium a question was asked, “Is Suicide a Solution?” The answers that came were an emphatic “Yes”. Artists of great repute developed great fancy for it. Rimbaud abandoned poetry at the age of twenty, Van Gogh killed himself, Strindberg went mad, Virginia Woolf drowned herself; Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan drank themselves to death; Antonin Artaud spent years in lunatic asylums; Delmore Schwartz was found dead in a run-down Manhattan hotel; Joe Orton was murdered by his boyfriend, also a writer who later committed suicide; Gorki, Mark Gertler, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, all these great painters committed suicide. Hemingway also followed them.
Gifted artists who did not kill themselves were rare exceptions. The better the artist, the more vulnerable he seemed to be, became a law in the Twentieth Century. . Eliot, Joyce, Valery, Pound, Mann, Forster, Frost, Stevens, Ungaretti, Montale, Marianne Moore didn’t job the club, but that did not set the figures right.
IS THERE A SOLUTION? As Durkheim said, suicide is not an endemic problem; it has its roots in the society, which in the present times is global in nature. We have already discussed that neither Christianity nor Islam promote suicidal trends; in fact, both emphatically declare it a mortal sin. Some vital steps, however, need to be taken as early as possible:
1. There should be an unequivocal condemnation of suicidal killings, with no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. No appeasement from any corner, no half-hearted approach. Pakistan that once gloated on its happening in Kashmir, is a victim of it itself. It just backfires on those who father it.
2. The expensive ‘mistakes’ America has made in Afghanistan and Iraq must be corrected. The war should be against terrorism, not against Muslims or Islam.
3. America must encourage a rule of true democracy in Pakistan and in other countries, and its support should not be a mere lip-service.
4. In the tribal areas the altruistic suicide trend finds an easy relevance because people adhere to the group or clan there. According to the Economist, June 23, “Perhaps it is carelessness or perhaps it is just a spell of back luck. Either way, the spate of Afghan civilian deaths carried by Western forces is as dangerous as the most callous of Taliban suicide-bombs.” Even a docile Karzai feels constrained to say, “Civilian deaths and arbitrary searches of people’s homes had reached an unacceptable level”. Despite ‘abject apologies’ from the Allies, the ‘mistakes’ go on.
5. Not all religious people in the Tribal areas are extremists. A good majority of them are just pawns in the hands of foreign extremists, and are just ‘sympathizers and mourners”. A strategy must be evolved that brings them back into the mainstream fold, and are once again linked to the desire to live. Now they deem death as a good release from the kind of life they are forced to live. Poverty is a major factor behind all forms of extremism.
6. Islam bashing has served a doubly negative purpose: it has given strength to the extremists in their propaganda against the West; it has demurred and dismayed the majority Muslims who are moderate and progressive. And are as much lovers of freedom and democracy as the people of the West. Denigration of Holy personalities, Holy Books and Holy Beliefs, can never be construed as a sane and logical way of dealing with extremists. In fact, this is exactly what they impatiently desire to happen.
7. Since the Red Mosque siege, some 50 soldiers have been killed by suicide bombers in the Tribal areas. In the words of Ahmed Rashid, Al-Queda has found the space and support to regroup in Pakistan’s tribal areas; the Afghan Taleban have found a safe refuge in Balochistan and Pakistan Taleban have spread their propaganda across the Pashtun belt of northwest Pakistan. It is a very delicate situation. The country’s survival is at stake. Without strong political support, which in the past came from the Mullahs, who have never been a part of the solution, but a part of the problem, it must come from the two main political parties whose leadership remains exiled.
8. Extremism appears to have come full circle in Pakistan, which makes the task easier to deal with, but the solution warrants an unswerving and honest commitment to make no deals with the extremists. Extremists always find a reprieve through their religious counterparts who play a double game. It is through such reprieves that finally they found haven in the heart of Islamabad. Remember, 80% of the students in the Red Mosque came from the Tribal areas.
9. A powerful judiciary should have been an asset; President Musharraf chose to have confrontation with it. Correction of mistakes should never have been as hard as he thinks it is.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.