I’ve never been one to take pleasure in the misfortune or pain of others. Although I do like the movie “Goodfellas”…a LOT. It’s a movie based on a true story, so I find myself enjoying the entertainment but feeling bad when someone gets whacked. As you may have gathered, I’m also annoyed by general stupidity and callous neglect for society and humanity.
That’s why I was torn about my reaction to a story which came out of Iraq back in February of 2014. At first I had a bit of a laugh…then I felt bad about laughing. I thought I might address it as a column so I gathered up several reports on the incident. I tried to write a few things in the spring but found myself deleting each attempt. I’ve been sitting on it because I just didn’t know how to get my brain around this one.
As we approach the season of Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards Men in a climate of war, Ebola and general international unrest, I happened to pull out my notes on this incident. I’m going to take a run at it again. There’s something wrapped up in all of this I find gruesomely funny, coldly comforting and very unsettling.
Here’s what happened (and you might remember this): at an insurgent camp about 60 miles northwest of Baghdad, a man identified as a “terrorism instructor” was conducting a class on how to properly detonate a car-bomb to a group of would-be suicide bombers. One story called it a “class” while another report referred to the session as a “demonstration.” I couldn’t find a syllabus for a car bombing class. I don’t see this being a semester long course. I’m guessing it was more like a half day seminar. Coffee and falafel break at 2:30, short quiz at the end of the day. No auditing the seminar, but it is pass-fail.
The instructor was identified by intelligence sources as an experienced operative specializing in training and recruitment. I don’t know if this was his usual method for instruction, but on this particular day he was working with a live car bomb. I’m guessing he’s the brash, arrogant sort who subscribes, er…subscribed, to the “gotta get used to the real thing” school of thought on the subject. Like Mad-Eye Moody teaching those “Defense Against the Dark Arts” classes at Hogwarts. As the class was gathered around the car, supposedly receiving detailed instructions regarding how to kill themselves and a maximum number of civilians, something went very wrong. By “very wrong” I mean in the context of the demonstration. Outside of the demonstration what happened would be considered hunky-dory by this group of whack-a-dos.
The car exploded. Big Boom. The last thing going through the instructor’s mind, besides the steering column, had to have been “oops.”
The instructor and twenty-one of his gathered “students” were killed instantly. Somewhere between fifteen and twenty others were severely injured. I almost called those people “bystanders” but if you’re that close to someone teaching a car-bombing class, I don’t think you can really be called a “bystander.” I’m guessing you were also up to no good and probably got what you deserved.
And this is where my conscience starts to have a wrestling match with my brain. Despite the laughably incompetent “Three Stooges” feel to this incident, the concept of “getting what they deserved” gnaws at me. Does ANYONE really “deserve” to be blown up? The twenty-one “students” killed in this mishap were fully prepared to drive a car load of explosives into a market or walk into a building with an explosive vest strapped to their back. Their ultimate goal was the death or maiming of as many innocent civilians as possible.
Okay, so maybe they DID “deserve” to get blown up in their bombing class. If you think about it, that’s a rough thing to say but it is defensible. Once news spread in Baghdad about the incident, one man said his friend called to tell him about it. The guy sounded as happy as if he was getting married. Deserve it or not, you can’t deny the “eye for an eye” justice at work here. By blowing up aspiring suicide bombers, the instructor inadvertently saved dozens or even hundreds of civilian lives.
More than 9,000 civilian Iraqi men, women and children were killed by suicide bombers in 2013. At least some of these bombers were undoubtedly prior graduates of this insane training facility. They possibly studied under the same instructor. Imagine if Mohammad Atta or any of his crew had been blown up in a class like this in the summer of 2001. Three thousand World Trade Center employees and New York City rescue workers might still be alive. Or, and this is where things become troubling, we would know a name other than Mohammad Atta as the leader of the group who took down the Twin Towers. The river of angry young men ready to blow themselves up does not stop flowing.
This instructor was working for ISIS. Back in February of 2014, we didn’t know the name the way we do now. In the news stories from February, the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” is identified as a part of Al-Qaeda. One of the stories mentions Al-Qaeda had just disavowed the group and was looking to distance themselves from ISIS. Al-Qaeda, the guys who blew up the World Trade Center, thought ISIS was too extreme.
As ISIS continues to sweep through Iraq, viciously murdering and beheading anyone in their way, I want to share a quote from Raad Hashim. Mr. Hashim works at a liquor store in Baghdad that’s close to a Falafel shop bombed by an ISIS militant. When Mr. Hashim heard about the explosion at the training facility he was very happy. He said, “This is God showing justice, this is God sending a message to the bad people and the criminals in the world, to tell them to stop the injustice and to bring peace. Evil will not win in the end. It’s always life that wins over death, good wins over evil.”
I sincerely hope he’s right.
[Questions? Comments? Column ideas? I would LOVE to hear from you! Write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org]