Masada: Suicide Turned Inside Out

(posted circa 2004)

One reader’s replies regarding a post on Bernard Lewis:

Around six months ago I read “The Crisis Of Islam” by Bernard E Lewis and I thought it was an excellent book. Lewis is a professor (I think at Princeton University, USA) and this is one of his latest books. I thought it would be interesting to read a viewpoint from a non-Muslim about issues facing the Muslim Nations and I was surprised to find I agreed with a lot of points he made.

The book is not a review of the actions of Al-Qaidah but more about where the hatred for America comes from in the Muslim world.

A major theme he discusses is the silence among the Muslims in general, about Despotic Muslim leaders who oppress their own people.

Such examples he gives is that of Syria, Iran and Iraq (all within the last few decades) where thousands have been killed but the Muslim community did not notice (in other words turned a blind eye).

He also highlights how Arab nations made pacts with the (then) USSR in a bid to play off the Americans against the Russians. Again the Arab governments had nothing but praise for the Russians whilst they (Russians) were oppressing Muslims (brutally) in their own nation (there were around 10-15 million Muslims living in the USSR – we all know how badly they were treated by the Commies). Even when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in the late ’80’s no condemnation could be heard.

I think the main point Lewis makes is that the terrorist actions and hence the hatred of America comes from the people of these (primarily arab) nations revolting against their leaders. The reaction is Al-Qaidah (and those groups like it). He suggests the people have had enough of their leaders suppression – but uprisings are heavily crushed (e.g. Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi ) so the only way that certain people can show their anger is by focusing it on the nation that to some extent has helped support these oppressive regimes. i.e. America (obviously in its own self-interest). Five months ago Muslims tried to do a coup in Egypt but America got their puppet Mubarak to safety then the revolutionaries were forced to fight to their death and then Lewis quips that, Muslim’s don’t stand up against their rulers?

My one criticism is that he all too easily skates around the Issue of Israel and the damage that certain American policies have had (such as supporting these regimes). Something even Michael Moore didn’t touch upon in his documentary.

Anyway, I was impressed by this book – it makes many more points but I’ll leave that up to you to find out.


My reply:

How refreshing it is to read your post! Your screen name, Think2ice is certainly appropriate, since what you write is worthy of several readings and re-thinking. ~odyssey/Quotes/History/Bernard_Lewis.html

I stumbled across the Bernard Lewis Post page while searching for the origin and meaning of “tin pot dictator” which occurs in the paragraph:

“In modern times, the power of the ruler has been vastly augmented by these huge revenues so that he doesn’t need public support or public approval of his taxes. It has also been increased by all kinds of modern devices for surveillance and repression so that any tin pot dictator today wields far greater powers than were ever wielded by Suleyman the Magnificent or Harun al-Rashid or any of the legendary rulers of the Islamic past.”

It is curious how our wanderings in search engines may lead us to topics and goals very different from the initial question which set us off on our quest.

An acquaintance of mine recently asked me to see the movie “Farhenheit 9/11” and help with ideas for an essay. I was hesitant to see the movie, because I thought it would be about the actual collapse of the twin towers, and I felt I had already seen quite enough. I did not realize that it is a documentary about the political dynamics allegedly at work in the Bush administration. Since I am in the midst of writing about “Farhenheit 9/11,” I would value anyone’s comments and observations and constructive criticism.

For me, the most important statement to be made about Michael Moore’s documentary is that it is an example of freedom of speech in a free society. A film critical of a dictator’s regime would earn its author a prison sentence or a death sentence.

The when I first heard the name of the documentary, “FAHRENHEIT 9/11,” I immediately thought of the science fiction novel by Ray Bradbury, “Fahrenheit 451.” Bradbury described a society in which all books are burned. The temperature of burning paper is 451 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bradbury describes a future in which all books are banned and censored in an attempt to keep the human race from thinking for themselves. This frightening world is one in which people are controlled by the government in every way. A number of restrictions are placed upon the people of this society. One of which is the prohibition of the possession and/or reading of literature. The firemen of this time are paid not to protect citizens from the danger of fires, but to burn all books to ashes.

Recently, I was watching one of the many panel discussions which air nowadays on public educational television analyzing the current climate in the Arab world. One speaker cited the curious statistic that each year more books are translated into Spanish than have been translated into Arabic in the past THOUSAND years. The point he was trying to make with this statistic is that the Arab world is rather close-minded to new ideas and isolated from the intellectual life of the rest of the world.

There is no need to burn books which do not exist.

One of the major problems with Islamic ideology and theocracy is that it attempts to force beliefs and behavior upon society with threats of violence, with acid in the face of a woman unveiled, with public beheadings and amputations, with the honor killing of a sister by her own brother.

I do not believe that one can successfully impose moral codes of behavior with violence and punishment. Such behavior, so disciplined, simply goes underground. Even in Bradbury’s novel, the desire for literature goes underground, and people commit books to memory to preserve them from the fire’s flames.

Moral and ethical behavior must start from within, from the subjective and personal sanctum of each person’s heart, and flows outward to embrace society as a whole. Each individual must come of their own free will to “hunger and thirst” after righteousness, and become a connoisseur of justice and mercy. Decency is not a spike to be driven into the heart of humanity as it were a vampire.

If the non-Islamic world were to decide tomorrow that there was no possibility EVER of living in peace and coexistence with Islam, and that only ethnocide could preserve world freedom, then could Islam really complain about their fate? If it is true that the mujaheddin who dies in defense of Islam gains instant admission to a paradise flowing with rivers of wine and milk and honey and populated by seductive houri virgins, why then the greatest service which the world could render to Islam is to kill each and every Muslim man, woman and child. They would all enter into Muhammad’s paradise in one great rush. Imagine such an orgy of blessedness, in one fell swoop! Would such a genocide be sinful, or would it be a supreme religious gift?

War is never moral. At it’s best war can only hope to be necessary, unavoidable, expedient.

Can we be certain that there would never be a scenario in which genocide is the lesser of two evils? If we say that genocide could never be sanctioned as a tactic for survival, then why do we endeavor to develop and test weapons of mass destruction? In fact, it seems to me that the United States has been a pioneer in developing the technology of mass destruction. I am told that one nuclear submarine has MORE destructive fire power than ALL the weapons of ALL five years of World War II (both sides) combined. If this is true, than a small crew of men on such a submarine can unleash the destruction of World War II. And there a number of such submarines deployed around the world. So many little World War II’s quietly circulating the world in the ocean’s cool quiet depths, awaiting the command to surface.

Were we truly horrified by war and killing then we would prefer invasion, slavery, and death to the defilement of bloodshed. Genuine, sincere pacifism, in its purest form would choose enslavement or death over violence.

If faced with the sin of genocide for a year, and the reign of peace and harmony for 1000 years, versus a thousand years of terrorism and guerrilla warfare with a clean conscience, then which choice do we make?

Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in 1945 for his part in an assassination attempt on Hitler. Peace-loving Jimmy Carter praises Bonhoeffer highly.

What would happen if the Kaaba in Mecca were destroyed tomorrow with a surgically precise missile strike? Roman forces destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E, led by Titus under Emperor Vespasian. Judaism survived the destruction of their one and only temple by evolving a different mode of worship. Islam would survive the destruction of the Kaaba, I am certain, but the Islam which survived would be a different Islam from the Islam we have known for
centuries. In the “Sayings of Muhammad,” which are preserved by the oral tradition of the Hadith, there is a prediction that the Kaaba will one day be destroyed. You may read of this in a paperback entitled “The Sayings of Muhammad” (ISBN 0-88001-641-8), translated by Neil Robinson, (Ecco Press), on page 27, a saying of “prophet” Muhammed concerning the Kaaba: “The person who destroys the Kaaba will be “Old Thin Legs”, an Abyssinian.”


Masada today is one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols. Israeli soldiers take an oath there: “Masada shall not fall again.”

Masada was the scene of a mass suicide of Jews circa 72 C.E. They took their own lives rather than fall into the hands of the Romans. Was it really such a bad choice? How many alternative choices were open to them? Today, Israeli solders swear their oath of allegiance at the site of the Masada suicide. Is the suicide of Masada really genocide turned inside out?

Sometimes we make the enemy go away by making ourselves go away. Sometimes we make the enemy go away by killing every man, woman and child, so that the enemy becomes a bad and distant memory. Suicide? Genocide? Genocide as suicide turned inside out? Think about it. Imagine two mirrors face to face, reflecting each other in perfect symmetry. The Romans facing the Jews, the Romans bent on genocide and the Jews resigned to suicide. Suicide and genocide are the same thing seen from different angles.

Elazar ben Yair’s final speech, as recorded by the historian Josephus, was a masterful oration:

Elazar ben Yair wrote:

“Since we long ago resolved,” Elazar began, “never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice…. We were the very first that revolted [against Rome], and we are the last that fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom. Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted of slavery, and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually.” Elazar ordered that all the Jews’ possessions except food be destroyed, for “[the food] will be a testimonial when we are dead that we were not subdued for want of necessities; but that, according to our original resolution, we have preferred death before slavery.”

And you, dear reader, what is your choice? Do you choose death as a free man over life as a slave? Or, do you turn the problem inside-out and choose the evil of genocide, bartering your immortal soul for the hope of a world free of terrorism for future generations yet unborn?

Addendum Mon Sep 19, 2005 6:35 pm excerpt from Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses

Between Al-Lah and the Three there can be no peace. I don’t want it. I want the fight. To the death; that is the kind of idea I am. What kind of idea are you?

(Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses, p.124)

WHAT KIND OF IDEA ARE YOU? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? —

The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.

– also from Satanic Verses


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