Suicide Bomber: A Product of Capital

It is no wonder that training and marketing suicide bombers has become a major capitalistic venture in FATA. It has been reported that when a young child is ready, his trainers send out a message that they have a suicide bomber to trade. The local warlords, mullahs included, then bid on this prized weapon: the highest bidder wins the suicide bomber and then deploys it.

The suicide bomber is a peculiar subject that emerges within the very heart of neoliberal capital. We should therefore, in the true Foucauldian sense, trace the genealogy of this emergence. For human subjects, according to Foucault, emerge in certain specific dispositifs, certain specific systems[1].

The figure of the suicide bomber emerges in the neoliberal capital within the reactionary space created by the privatization of political power and this menacing postmodern subject is further stabilized—at least its scaffoldings—through didactics. There are two reductive reasons for this emergence that are usually offered from two different quarters:

  • Islam causes the rise of the suicide bombers.
  • The war on terror creates the figure of the suicide bombers.

I find both these claims applicable, but not wholly conclusive. For if the ultimate horizon of the logic of an Islamic identity is the creation of a suicide bomber, then all Muslims, within the logic of this inescapable telos, should become suicide bombers. Almost all neoconservatives in the US employ this argument about the inherent violent nature of Islam: we should be wary of parroting their racialized, xenophobic vocabularies uncritically. On the other hand, the mullahs and certain politicians in Pakistan attribute the rise of suicide bombers to war on terror and the American military presence in the region. In fact, in one of my early undertakings, I attribute the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to the same kind of material conditions. This argument is also flawed as it suggests that the edifice of self in Islam is so fragile that a mere incursion by the west in our region can launch us on the path of self-destruction and madness.

Obviously, the suicide bomber is not a product of nature, for not many children naturally aspire to become one in their childhood. The suicide bomber, I suggest, is a commodity specific to neoliberal capital. And as it is a commodity, it presupposes a sort of productive labor and a mode of production. This should be foregrounded by my fellow Marxists, for while they do gesture toward dialectical materialism, their explanations of the suicide bombers often tend to be idealistic rather than materialistic. I believe that the privatization of violent power in our region has created institutions [factories] where the commodity called the suicide bomber is produced through didactics. This emphasis on didactics is especially pertinent here as most of the suicide bombers on record are either minors or teenagers and are “taught” to be a suicide bomber.

In other words, a suicide bomber is a form of technology, a drone, remotely controlled and guided to a specific target. It is so ironic that just as the US and its allies have developed technologies that involve non-human target acquisition machines, their counterparts in the same theater of war rely on a human delivery system to gain the same effects. This is where the war on terror does become an enabling cause for the creation of this most devastating and sophisticated human delivery system, for the suicide bomber, ultimately, is the most precise delivery system any military can field.

So, how does this subject emerge? Not by accident, for all weapons are human creations: nature does not create weapons delivery systems. This is where didactics plays a role. If we have access to young orphans and have time to train them, only then can we create a suicide bomber. Sadly, the raw materials are already available in our region: just the soviet-Afghan war left half a million orphans. The maddressas and the tribal regions provide the space, the factories, where young children can be taught the ultimate value of sacrificing their lives. In order for them to believe in the truth-value of their mission, they must be, and are, taught, the absolute worst imaginings of the Pakistani public sphere. In this training, relying heavily on a purist idea of Muslim identity, not just the non-Muslims, but all those who belong to a different sect, or dress differently, or speak a different language become possible targets. To walk into a Shia mosque and detonate yourself along with those praying does not happen naturally: it must be taught. So, the suicide bomber must be taught that his way is the pure way of Islamic life and all else is Ku’fr and thus worthy of destruction. This is where the logic of current war enables the mobilization of the most atavistic and purist ideas of a Muslim identity and as there is a region where these children can be trained and enough private power holders to accomplish it, a system of production comes into being.

It is no wonder that training and marketing suicide bombers has become a major capitalistic venture in FATA. It has been reported that when a young child is ready, his trainers send out a message that they have a suicide bomber to trade. The local warlords, mullahs included, then bid on this prized weapon: the highest bidder wins the suicide bomber and then deploys it. There is, therefore, nothing random or accidental about this process. The creation, distribution, and deployment of suicide bombers is an Industry and follows the logic of commodity production in neoliberal capital: supply and demand decide the creation of this specific commodity.

According to latest speculations, the Pakistani military budget—in the great tradition of a security state—will soon exceed seventy percent of our national GDP. Granted, most of this money does create defense related jobs, but no nation can spend so much on such a non-productive sector and come out ahead. While so much is set aside for defense, millions of our children have no access to a viable educational system. It is this disparity, the inability to create systems of upward mobility, that lies at the heart of this venomous global economic system, adopted whole-heartedly by our generals and politicians, that creates the underside of capitalism: the parallel economy that uses religion to capitalize on the death of children.

So, simply stated, neither the war on terror nor the Qur-an produce the suicide bomber, but both can be used to create one as a marketable commodity. The solution, therefore, is not just more secularism or less US troops in the region. The ultimate solution to this would involve dismantling the “factories”, producing a viable secular and inclucivist educational system, and by producing a state that can perform at least the basic redemptive functions. And this is where neoliberal capital becomes the ultimate enabling condition for the production of suicide bombers and privatization of violent power.

Under the current GATT and IMF constraints, Pakistan, and other developing nations, no longer have the capacity to develop national institutions. And unless a viable public sphere is created, funded and maintained, the material conditions cannot be altered. And unless the material conditions are altered to foster life and mobility for all Pakistani citizens—not just the children of the elite—the suicide bomber would remain on our political horizon as a terrifying reminder of what lies at the heart of neoliberal capital: violence and death.


[1] My views on this topic have evolved quite drastically since I first published an article on the figure of the suicide bomber. This is, therefore, a public statement about my current thoughts on the subject and should help a revised reading of my earlier work on the subject.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online. Image: Courtesy Viewpoint Online).

  2 comments for “Suicide Bomber: A Product of Capital

    April 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Man vs machine; while the west is developed and powerful, all we have to is our children to the war. And in fact it not we its the terrorist who are using the children, teen agers. Ironically, why there is no adult wishing for the paradise and hoors?
    What is our stance as a nation, as an ummah? We are caught in the fire between two adversaries, none of them our friend, while both are hitting us on daily basis. Some with man some with machine. What to do? Where to go?
    We need a change:

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