Martyrs Innocence, Vengeance and Despair in the Middle East by Joyce M. Davis (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. 214 pages.)

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Jay Willoughby



Davis seeks to present a balanced view of terrorism vs. martyrdom, moderate
vs. radical, the Muslim world vs. the West, and why 9/11 happened.
The author is deputy foreign editor at Knight Ridder newspapers and is a
regular contributor to her company’s 32 newspapers.
In chapter 1, “A Minister’s Question,” Davis, an African-American
practicing Christian, wonders why African-Americans mainly have chosen
non-violence, while the self-professed Muslims held responsible for 9/11
chose violence. As both groups ground their struggle for justice in their
respective religions, this gives rise to a paradox: Can God provide “superior”
and “inferior” revelations? Muslims are told to “fight injustice” (e.g.,
8:39, 22:39), while Christians are called upon to “turn the other cheek”
(Matthew 5:39). Matthew 10:34-37, about Jesus “bringing a sword” is also
instructive. Moreover, if “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today,
and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and Jesus is God, what is one to make of the
Old Testament’s record of divinely sanctioned slaughter?
She defines martyr according to the religion’s general view
(Christianity: “generally a pacifist who suffers and dies but not kill” [p. 8];
Islam: “everyone who dies in the midst of battle defending his homeland
or fighting evil” [p. 9]), but does not define militant, extremist, terrorist,
or moderate – a curious omission, since there are no agreed-upon meanings
for them.
Chapter 2, “The Innocents,” discusses the deaths of Palestinian and
Israeli children, how both sides exploit their martyrs (“anyone who dies
in the midst of battle” [p. 27]), and mutual charges of deliberate child
endangerment. She interviews parents and surviving siblings, and states
that this has become a vicious circle of revenge, and relates the various
psychological impacts as charges of western indifference to Palestinian
deaths, and Israel’s continued defiance of UN resolutions.
Chapter 3, “The Child as Soldier-Martyr,” opens with her visit to Iran’s
Martyrs Museum. She wonders if Iran might turn this “ultimate” weapon
on itself as “stridently” conservative mullahs and the “freedom-hungry and
angry” youths move closer to violence. After explaining Shi’ism’s origins
and key events, she mentions the martyrdom of a 12-year-old boy who ...

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