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When one thinks of another commiting suicide, there are multiple reactions that are created within that individual. Some may pity the deceased, some may blame themselves, and others may deem the act so wrong that they choose to forget about the person altogether. Yet for some reason when one thinks of a suicide bomber rather than just somebody that committed suicide, this sentiment changes. At this point the suicide bomber is not only taking their own life but also taking the lives of other innocent people, which some could argue is actually murder and we therefore view the suicide bomber as a murderer and not just someone who killed themselves.
This separation between solely killing yourself and killing others is what most find so disturbing and frightening about suicide bombers but it is important to focus on the individual in order to determine the goal of this particular body rhetoric style.
In the West our exposure to suicide bombing is fortunately and unfortunately fed to us by the mainstream media. When we see images or hear the story of a suicide bomber killing innocent people in a small cafe, we first feel anger that a person would do such a thing and often mistakedly relate the act to religious extremism. Rarely do we consider suicide bombing to be an active form of protest that is done to bring attention to a particular issue that is overlooked. As Kevin DeLuca mentions in his article, “Unruly Arguments: The Body Rhetoric of Earth First!, Act Up, and Queer Nation” the body is in fact a medium through which messages can be sent and new, unconventional ideas can be presented. The body, therefore, can be considered the platform of an argumentative strategy. In this case the argumentative strategy would be the suicide bombing and the body would be the platform through which to utilize this strategy. According to DeLuca new social movements are notable for three main reasons;
When analyzing suicide bombing, it can be said that the act follows all three of the precepts above and can therefore be considered a new social movement created to fundamentally change the way that traditional society thinks.
Unlike the social movements that society is traditionally used to, suicide bombing takes the known vulnerability of the human body and pushes it to the ultimate extreme; death. Other social movements such as those of Earth First and Act Up do of course put their representatives at risk during protests but definitely do not go to the extremes of suicide bombing. As DeLuca mentions the protestor “adopts” the mindset of the idea they are representing and actually becomes one with the matter at hand. For example, the Earth First member that decides to bury himself up to his neck in the logging road then adopts the worldview of the ground that he is representing. Likewise, the individual that decides to live in a tree to protect it from being cut down, is adopting that tree’s perspective, becoming one with it, and therefore standing in solidarity with the object that they are aiming to protect. Interestingly, the thing that the suicide bomber is becoming one with is death and rather than showing a clear stance of solidarity with an issue that they hold dear to their hearts they completely take themselves out of the picture. The human being is not translating their human body into an ecocentric one like the Earth First members, nor a homoerotic one like the Act Up members, rather the suicide bomber is seemingly withdrawing their body from the argumentative process. Although this may seem like a downfall of the body rhetoric of suicide bombers, it could actually be considered a very effective strength. The fact that one’s life is so horrible that they decide to publicly take their own lives where everyone can see argues that there is something in that area that needs to be addressed and can ultimately be seen as a cry of help.
This initial act of taking their own lives is an effective rhetorical tactic of suicide bombers but their act of taking the lives of others is the missing link that must be addressed. Although the taking of another life is not something that should never be deemphasized or supported, it is in fact another effective strategy of suicide bombers. As mentioned above, when one takes their own life it is a sad hardship but when multiple lives are lost because of the actions of one person it is definitely considered a tragedy. The idea of location (and therefore the number of people involved) is vital when it comes to creating an effective suicide bombing because it is directly related to the amount of attention that the suicide bomber will draw for their actions. For example, if a suicide bomber decided to complete their goal in the middle of the desert or on an island with no one around then it would be deemed a regular suicide and there would be no media coverage of the event and therefore the goal of bringing attention to the region would not be accomplished. One of the reasons that suicide bombers choose heavily populated centers is because the taking of multiple lives will always bring more attention than the taking of just one. Furthermore, the taking of innocent lives is guaranteed to attract even more eyes and therefore there is a greater likelihood that someone will be touched by the bombing and therefore demand some type of action to address the issues occuring in the area.
Another aspect of suicide bombing that is directly tied to its effectiveness is the idea of distraction. Any act of protest is a distraction from daily life but when a body is used as a tool of protest the greatest distraction is created. The body, and therefore each individual, is supposed to follow certain rules and live life in a certain way in order to follow a path that was created for them by society. We are supposed to wake up in the morning, eat, go to work/school, come home, eat, and sleep. When there is some type of distruption in this daily routine not only is the participating individual thrown off balance but the entire order of society is, as well. Suicide bombing is therefore one of these literal and figurative distractions in daily life that warrants significant attention from members who are stuck in the daily cycle that society has deemed appropriate. The literal act of going into a busy center and detonating a bomb is of course an obvious distraction from daily life that initially makes the world pause and then react in horror to what just happened. The figurative act of suicide bombing, even if it is in a remote part of the world, also causes one to stop what they are doing and pay attention to the bombing. In this sense, the suicide bomber has effectively garnered our attention and put our focus on their part of the world.
Although the tactics of suicide bombers can be deemed effective in their execution, the overall effectiveness can be greatly skewed based on the notion of external framing. As DeLuca outlines, media framing tells the viewer what they should think of suicide bombers and how they should feel about them. Unlike organizations such as Earth First, we are very rarely if ever able to see the actual suicide bomber. Although the media can splice and dice footage to portray the protester in any light they see fit, the protester is still able to use their body to show how they feel about the issue. The person buried up to their neck in dirt on the logging road will always be able to show us that he is in fact one with the road, regardless of what spin the media takes on it. Contrastingly, the suicide bomber is never able to effectively show themselves detonating the bomb on mainstream media networks. All that the outsider is able to see is the devastating aftermath and sadness associated with the act and their interpretation of the suicide bomber is then based off of this imagery, rather than the actual body rhetoric of the bomber, nearly defeating the whole purpose of the act.
Despite the fact that we are unable to always see direct footage of the actual bombing, we should still be curious about what is going on in the region. Much like Earth First and Act Up, all suicide bombers are asking for is a little bit of attention that could at some point yield life-changing action. Unfortunately we live in a society where somebody has to blow themselves up along with those around them in order to pull our attention away from the consuming and frivolous world we choose to live in and the least we could do is stop and look.
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