Suicide Bombing and Personhood

Dead Man in Pakistan

The news today seems run through with death, and a promise of more of it, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban have conducted a series of daring operations– strikes, really– against the ISAF and U.S interests: car bombs, hostage taking in police and military bases.  It’s a stunning set of moves.  The most recent operation was conducted while Secy. Clinton was visiting Islamabad. 80 people or more are dead; most of those victims are women.  The casualties run scores higher.  This is destruction on a scale and in terms familiar to those who know anything at all about politics in Iraq over the last 7 years.

I’d like to put on my political theorist’s hat and look at the scene at large.  I’d argue that these acts of terrorism are being conducted in order to raise the transaction costs of establishing order and government hegemony over Pakistan and Afghanistan.  In the case of Pakistan, this seems a necessary move; whereas in Afghanistan the government insists on hegemony as a proposition, but has yet to demonstrate that power.   If suicide bombing is a move is to create higher costs of maintaining order, this seems a baldly political and calculated move that makes bold use of the false beliefs of true believers. Young foot soldiers are being brain washed into rejecting their personhood to become mere cogs in a machine that, I will argue below, only acts to dole out retributive ‘justice’.  In a very specific way–which I will discuss in a later post– the Taliban have motives and causes to act in the manner they do.  However they do not have reasons that any liberal might accept to engage in this type of political behavior.

I argue that to the extent an individual is a person, her personhood is sacrosanct and cannot be delimited within her own chosen sphere of influence.   Personhood is established; it is not given nor pre-ordained.  It is a subjective proposition that can be objectively and consensually sanctioned.  This objective function is the question at large: commanders of terrorist cells use the consent that is implied in this objective function to use persons as means to a particular end: a suicide bombing that raises costs of establishing order to the extent that the central authority gives up on the pursuit of order.  My argument is that no person can willingly surrender her personhood at the behest of a third party.  Even if it is the case that a commander might choose to do so, no person reject her own personhood and remain a person. Even if a terrorist commander requires that Mr. Haider become a mean to the suicide bombing-end, he cannot become that mean in so far as he is a person.  For that would require that he reject himself as an end, as a person, tout court.

Liberalism requires that an individual possess personhood: that she possess a non-delimited sphere of influence over a set of choices.  Only persons are able to satisfy such prescriptions on choice.  They are ends, to whom choices function as means.  States of the world become means to through which their self-designed ends are obtained.  Notice, this implies that a person can cut herself, do physical harm on herself; they just cannot be motivated to do so at the desire or command of a third party and remain persons. They cannot be used as means in the objective functions of other individuals, more strongly, other persons.

Any means based relation that assumes a person to be an argument within a utility function must include a person’s acquiescence that she considers herself a non-person.  This means that a suicide bombing, which we must think is a means based political function that an individual chooses to carry out requires that she think of herself in a means based mode, a suicide bomber who carries out, obtains an act of suicide bombing.  Again, I think this is impossible.  Once personhood is established, no one individual can reject the hypothesis of her own personhood, which can only be the sense of individual being an end.   Note, as above, that this argument does not presume that individuals cannot think of other individual-persons as non-persons.  I only mean that no one person can think of herself as some other person might: a non-person.

But of course, this is exactly what is happening in each instance of suicide bombing.  The wonderful film “Paradise Now” shows the viewer the nearly parasitical lengths in which a commander of a terrorist cell will subvert a man’s personhood.  Such a move gives the commander authority above and beyond his station.  He is the hero colonel, the messiah major.

But what is the commander doing here?  He is not asserting that the man is below his own station as a person; rather he is elevating the nature of his personhood beyond his own sense of his own ends.  The personhood-ends relationship requires that there be an end, and that that end is subject to an individuals own good.  The commander denies this.  He claims: “The world at large is not contained within your senses, brother.  There is an infinity of goals and goods that lie just beyond the veil.”   Moreover one has to obtain this infinity of being: it is not enough to die; one must die in a particularly exalted manner.  But if this infinity of being has to be obtained, then it is not an end to be determined by a person, as such.  It requires that others be involved in obtaining this lurid, hypnotic, state.  If there is no end, then no man can require that he accordingly.  Hence, only means remain.  And a man who wants to obtain that infinite state of being–whatever that means–can only be a means to that infinite goal (non-end??)  But this requires that a person subject himself to a means-based analysis.  He must consider himself not an end.  He must reject his personhood.  I do not think this possible under any acceptable state (or even definition) of rationality.

This leaves, only, the argument that persons are self-deceived when they engage in acts of suicide bombing.

Either suicide bombers are non-persons or they are self-deceived persons.  I reject that it is possible to be a non-person.  Is it possible to be a self-deceived person?

~ by Faheem Haider on October 28, 2009.

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