Posted by: Dan | January 10, 2006

Whose selfishness? Whose fear?

There are two statements I have heard over and over that I often question. One is in relation to suicide, the other in relation to terrorism.

I have often heard it said that suicide is the supreme act of selfishness. The person who kills himself or herself escapes suffering — but at the cost of imposing suffering on his or her loved ones. How horribly self-indulgent!

Of course, the more I think about this the less I am convinced. It seems to me that this argument does more to reveal our own perpetual selfishness. A person who is driven to suicide has often been isolated and abandoned. He or she has been left alone in the midst of his or her suffering and we have been too self-absorbed to share in that. And so when a suicide occurs we would rather turn the argument around and place our own selfishness on the shoulders of the dead person. The fact that we object so strongly to the suffering that the death causes us only further reveals how committed we are to self-gratification. To suggest that the person who has killed himself or herself was acting selfishly only highlights our inability to empathise.

The second statement that strikes me as odd is the assertion that suicide bombings are acts of cowardice. I simply cannot see how this can be true given state definitions of heroism and courage. I suspect that this is just another example of how terrorism causes us to feel afraid and so we simply try to reverse the tables by calling our “enemies” cowards. The bombers who, practically unarmed, infiltrated a hostile country and flew planes into buildings were cowards but somehow our boys, decked out in body armour gunning down civilians, are heroes. It makes no sense to me.

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