A Brief Reminder: Suicide Bombing is Not a Hopeful Sign

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Good riddance to Syria's defense minister, his deputy (who was also Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law) and to the other war criminals who were killed today when a suicide bomber detonated himself during a meeting a national security headquarters building in Damascus. If this act speeds the demise of the regime, then so be it, but some people are treating this attack as a wholly positive event. For instance, Keith Urbahn, a former spokesman for Donald Rumsfeld, stated on his Twitter account earlier today, that, "For once we should call a suicide bomber - the one that took out a major fraction of Assad's cabinet - a martyr."

Well, no, we shouldn't. It's tempting -- I felt such temptation earlier today -- but we should remember that suicide bombing is a leading indicator of societal collapse. And, as Max Boot points out in a perceptive post, this attack is perhaps a sign of direct involvement by al Qaeda, or an al Qaeda-affiliated group. I don't think we should start labeling Sunni extremists of the al Qaeda type "martyrs." We extolled similar men in the 1980s in Afghanistan, and we wound-up regretting that bout of glorification as well. Today's suicide bombers, just like yesterday's Afghan mujahideen, are all thrust, no vector; I don't think it is unfair to speculate that the men who organized today's suicide bombing will not one day organize a similar bombing against a Western target.  Boot:

 Quite possibly the bomber, who was rumored to be a bodyguard, was connected to the very organization that Syria once did so much to help-al-Qaeda in Iraq. It is hard not to see some element of cosmic justice here: what goes around comes around, ye reap what ye sow, if you play with fire, and all that. It is certainly a sign the Assad regime is getting ever more embattled, and the civil war many had warned would come if the U.S. provided arms to the rebel fighters has arrived anyway.

    But while the victims-the men who directed the military forces that have killed upwards of 17,000 Syrians since the start of the fighting-undoubtedly deserved their fate, it is hard to take much satisfaction in the manner of their demise. For suicide bombing is never the weapon of the moderate.

Iraq is enough of an example, no?

UPDATE: There are reports filtering out now that the device that killed these war criminals may have been a remote-detonated bomb. Stay tuned.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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