Yousef al-Qaradhawi and the “Children Bomb” (Updated)

(Updated below with response from Declan Walsh / the New York Times.)

In Declan Walsh’s 16 July New York Times article on Qatar’s tendency to host politically iffy guests, he illustrates the controversy surrounding Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradhawi with a particularly inflammatory quote:

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I don’t love this quote, which I think is over-truncated and probably unfair. It’s from an April 2002 episode of Qaradhawi’s religious question-and-answer show on Al Jazeera, “Shari’ah and Life.” The original quote, in Arabic:

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And the English translation below. For clarity: Qaradhawi is being asked about Palestinian minors carrying out suicide attacks, despite Hamas’s call for them to refrain.

“I say that even though this shows, of course, a lack of discipline, it also shows that these youth have had enough, and that they want to die as martyrs on the path of God. This desire for martyrdom is a tremendous spiritual strength, one the Israelis don’t possess. The Israelis have the nuclear (al-dhariyyah) bomb, but we have the bomb of these offspring (al-dhuriyyah) – these offspring who desire martyrdom and this death, that’s what we possess. So these human bombs need to continue until… until liberation. That is, from men, from women. We salute these heroes, male and female: Wafaa Idris and Ayat al-Akhras, and Andalib and Nidhal and Fulanah. I don’t remember all their names. I salute them and congratulate them and call for more of these heroic acts of martyrdom from our brothers and sisters, from our sons and daughters. And I ask these youth to obey the orders of the commanders so their lives don’t go to waste. Maybe if they entered into an organization that can organize things, so things are put in their place.”

The quote has also featured and been clipped elsewhere. But it’s typically at least included the “nuclear bomb” reference that completes Qaradhawi’s rhetorical contrast, even if the Arabic pun is lost in translation – see here, for example.

I honestly can’t decide how much I object to the New York Times version of the quote. At a minimum, it excises the quote’s middle section without the use of ellipsis, so it’s not technically accurate.

But my gut sense is that this quote implies – without context – that Qaradhawi is specifically advocating the use of child suicide bombers as a tactic, as opposed to hailing suicide attacks more broadly and making a rhetorical point about how Palestinian youths’ spirit of resistance and sacrifice is evidence of the Palestinian people’s moral strength.

Obviously, this is hair-splitting. And it’s not like Qaradhawi’s not saying some out-there stuff. As the full quote shows, Qaradhawi’s still super-in on suicide bombings. And he’s sympathetic to the motivation behind minors’ suicide attacks, even if he advocates that they should yield to the directives of Hamas commanders.

Anyway, I just wanted to register a minor objection to what I thought was a minor (I assume inadvertent) distortion by Walsh and the Times.

Update: Below is Declan Walsh / the Times‘s response:

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