Avoiding Armageddon
Companion Book

Book Excerpts
From Part One:
Reversing the Nuclear Race
From Part Two:
Zeroing In On Silent Killers
From Part Three:
From Part Four:
Future Solutions Toward
Feeling Safe Again

Book Reviews

Martin Schram

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From Part Three: Terror

Suicide Bombers — What Makes Them Tick

Everyone hopes to become a martyr and I wish for it, too, because there's nothing better than jihad for the sake of God. . . . It is the most beautiful thing in the whole world, in the world that we're living in. . . .
I hope one day I'll be a martyr.

- Ehab Yusef, age 17, in Gaza

We train on that jacket over and over again. . . . The jacket has a metal base that is separating the metal pieces and the explosive from the body. . . . We would set off the detonator several times until we lose the fear of doing it.
- Kittu, age 23, in Sri Lanka

Ehab and Kittu have never met and most probably never will. After all, they live a world apart. But they have both thought about getting into the same line of work - being a suicide bomber.

For Ehab Yusef, it is sometimes just a thought, other times a spoken fantasy. Ehab is a slim 17-year-old Palestinian youth who has lived his whole life in the Lubnah refugee camp, in the city of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. He is less than a year away from graduating high school and likes to draw and paint in his spare time. He is thinking about becoming a computer scientist sometime in the future. If he has a future. For he is also thinking-fantasizing, really - about becoming what he calls a martyr, following the path of three of his friends, who are dead now. If Ehab becomes a "martyr" - and as you talk to him you will discover it is far from certain that he will - it will be because he, too, has died in what he sees as a religious act of trying to kill people he does not know, other than that they are Israelis.

For Kittu, the act of killing himself to murder another was a fate that almost became a reality. Kittu, who is 24 now, was a member of a terror group since he became a teenager in Sri Lanka, the island in the Indian Ocean that was once known as Ceylon. Kittu is not his real first name; it is a fake name that will be used here for the purposes of telling his story, which is very real. Kittu is a failed suicide bomber. He was 13 years old when he joined the Tamil Tigers, a rebel army that fought for years to achieve independence for the northeast corner of Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers are best known for having pioneered suicide bombing as a way to achieve their paramilitary ends. It was a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber who assassinated India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The Tigers have carried out more than 200 suicide bombings -more than any other group - killing officials of the government and military, and ordinary people as well. Kittu had been a member of the most elite group of Tamil Tigers - those designated to perform suicide bombings. He was trained in the most explicit of regimens. His mission was to kill a Sri Lankan military officer. But his mission was compromised. It failed. Which means he is alive to tell the story of what led him to want to kill himself so he could kill another.

As you meet them both, you realize that they are two people from very different places, with very different causes. Yet they use the same phrases to explain why committing murder by martyrdom is the highest calling. They were clearly not born feeling this way - no one is. It is an acquired conviction they have come to embrace based on brief lifetimes of experience and, make no mistake, certain forms of indoctrination.

Only by considering what each has to say is it possible to get beyond the sort of flash point hatred that has become so much a part of the world's nonstop television news these days - Arabs hating Israelis; Israelis hating Arabs-to get the fullest possible sense of what motivates people to want to take their lives in order to take the lives of others. And why they see this form of killing of others and self as their highest calling.

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