Letters

Do suicide bombers just need a decent job, a girlfriend and a hug from Mom? Should the ACLU defend Kevin Trudeau? Readers weigh in on Laura Miller's "Killer Instincts" and Christopher Dreher's review of Trudeau's "Natural Cures."


Salon Staff
August 3, 2005 6:32PM (UTC)

[Read "Killer instincts," by Laura Miller.]

Laura Miller gets it right -- suicide bombers are utopians. They have an image of just how much better the world would be if their cause won. No more war, no more poverty. It's all worth it to them.

I don't think it's that rare to believe that dying for a just cause is more worthwhile than working some job for 40 years and raising a few kids. How many Western movies espouse that same ideal?

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I'm willing to guess that most suicide bombers are alienated dorks who couldn't get dates. The meaning in life that comes with love, family, friends and worthwhile work is what keeps idealists from resorting to violence. It's tough to make a foreign policy out of that.

-- Rob Formica

Thank you for an insightful review on a subject that's rarely addressed. The whole "they hate our freedom" is the worst kind of justification for war; it isn't much more sophisticated than the World War I propaganda about the Hun bayoneting babies.

Laura Miller's thoughts on fundamentalism are well taken, but I think she misses one even more basic reason people are attracted to fundamentalism. As a reporter who's covered fundamentalists from antiabortion warriors to Fred Phelps' antigay minions, I've come to realize that fundamentalists not only cannot handle the speed of change in the world but simply cannot deal with ambiguity.

Economic and social change isn't just fast, it's incredibly uncertain. Every answer just raises more questions. But those who adhere to fundamentalism of any kind don't need to address those questions; they've found what they believe is an easy set, or system, of answers. It relieves them of the burden of thinking.

That's why the justification for so much of what they object to is that the Quran or Bible says it's wrong. They never have to ask why something might be wrong; they need only trust the source.

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Sometimes, it's because of stupidity; nobody will ever accuse Phelps' family of being filled with geniuses. But it also can be due to simple frustration and a desire to not have to think.

To a rational person, not thinking is akin to death. To some irrational people, not thinking is akin to heaven.

-- Tom Pantera

I think suicide bombing can be understood without resorting to big abstractions like religion and nationalism, which, as Laura Miller's article shows, don't work very well as explanations. I remember how intoxicating and overwhelming my feelings were when I was a young man. Fortunately I was raised in a community and family that consistently taught me love and respect, and gave me numerous opportunities to turn my energy toward creative ends. But if I had grown up in an abusive or incompetent family, as many apparently well-off people do, and fallen while young and impressionable into the company of charismatic men who filled my head with dreams of glory, self-sacrifice and bloodlust -- why, then, it's all too easy for me to see that I might have become a suicide bomber.

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-- Michael Chorost

I think Laura Miller is too quick to dismiss Robert Pape's arguments about the motivations of suicide bombers. It is her argument that the London bombings somehow invalidate Pape's essential point that should be dismissed. Miller asks why homegrown London Muslims would choose to blow themselves up (and others) to avenge deaths in Iraq, a country to which they have no connection.

Anyone who has any familiarity with Muslim ideology knows that Muslims consider themselves part of the Ummah, the global Muslim community, regardless of nationality. All non-Arab Muslims learn at least some Arabic. I have several friends in Brooklyn who are Indonesian Muslims, and yet each one feels a deep sense of moral outrage about the Iraq war, often crying while watching news segments on Al-Jazeera. As one of them recently wrote in his blog, "Every day more of my brothers and sisters die in this unjust war." The fundamentalism espoused by Osama bin Laden preaches the deep connection among the global Muslim community.

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Miller is wrong to dismiss the power of nationalism because the al-Qaida variety of terrorism is a form of religious nationalism. It is utterly facile to dismiss the profound outrage among all Muslims about the needless deaths in Iraq as a motivation of the London bombers simply because they weren't Iraqi.

Almost on a daily basis (through Al-Jazeera and the Internet) Muslims in Britain and the U.S. receive new coverage about Muslims dying in Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Events in Iraq are followed very closely by these communities regardless of their nationalities. There is deep anger and resentment about the daily death toll in these places, particularly Iraq. What is particularly galling to these communities is how little value people in the West put on the lives of Iraqis or Palestinians or Chechens dying every day. To fundamentalists this is interpreted as the West's war against Islam, pure and simple.

If Pape is wrong, then why have there been no more terrorist attacks on Spain? Why did the Web site claiming responsibility for the London bombings say that Denmark and Italy are the next targets? They are, after all, the other European members of Bush's coalition in Iraq. Why isn't France a target, with its ban on wearing the hijab in public? As bin Laden himself said, "If we hate freedom, why aren't we attacking Sweden?"

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-- Sandra Necchi

[Read "What Kevin Trudeau Doesn't Want You to Know About," by Christopher Dreher.]

Thank you for your piece on Kevin Trudeau's "Natural Cures" book, which, as you state, is a complete farce. While in the bookstore recently, for fun, I decided to see what all the hype from the infomercial was about and thumbed through the book.

As you stated, many of the "natural cures" are absolutely ludicrous -- like the sunscreen/cancer/Africans don't burn claim -- but there are several others worth repeating for their outrageous nature: "Don't wear deodorant," "Baby food is toxic," "Wear white," "Don't use fluoride toothpaste," "Diet sodas make you fat," "Don't use an alarm clock," and "Statistics show going to therapy (psychology or psychiatry) makes you worse -- the drugs they give you make you violent. Statistics show that most violent crimes are committed by people in therapy."

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My favorite after this therapy claim, though, on the list of to-dos -- "Practice Scientology," which I thought you may have pointed out in your article but didn't. I had the feeling Scientology was coming into it at some point. What a scammer. It's a pity -- for the world. World beware of a man wearing white with no deodorant.

-- Laurie Chadwick

Between following Plamegate, the war, the Roberts nomination and beyond, there's this guy I wondered about on the back channels of my TV set: Kevin Trudeau and his amazing (and repetitive) claims about the vast conspiracy I should know about. I was intrigued with his delivery and almost interested enough to check the book out after seeing the infomercial for the ninth time. I knew nothing of the fraud he seems to be.

I salute Salon in getting the goods on this guy. It seems such an absurd thing to be reporting on given the stories out there, but people like Trudeau have a knack for embedding themselves into our consciousness as we drift into sleep late at night. I appreciate the attention that was given to inform your readers of any shakedown artists lurking around in our subconscious.

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-- Edward Sweeney

I am mystified why Salon, which is generally given to supporting First Amendment rights, would choose to run a piece arguing against the First Amendment rights of some rich snake-oil salesman (as if there weren't dozens of them out there, and dozens of psychotic jerks making tons of money off American idiocy). The article seems to say he should not enjoy the same rights as anyone else who publishes a book, or anyone else full of hot air.

Please. Let the buyers beware -- if they're dumb enough or curious enough to buy the book, well, more power to Mr. Trudeau (and his bank account). It's absolutely true Trudeau has a right to say whatever he wants, even if it's false and misleading. On a daily basis, all kinds of people say and print false and misleading and stupid things, often much worse than "The sun doesn't cause cancer"!

The ACLU will fight to defend their right to do so. So will I.

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-- Kristen Katz

I purchased Kevin Trudeau's book, "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About," at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan. Back at home, I read in the book about a technique to quit smoking. I don't smoke, but my wife does. She's been trying to quit unsuccessfully; in the book, Trudeau says very promising things about his technique to quit smoking. (Ironically for a health guru, apparently he himself has been a longtime smoker.) He also says that because of the Federal Trade Commission, he can't discuss the technique in the book, and instead refers the reader to his Web site. I was pessimistic, but at my wife's urging I went to the Web site and became a member, looking to find a way to help her quit smoking. When I finally logged on to the Natural Cures site, there was no mention of anything having to do with how to quit smoking. All we found were links to other external sites that also promised a way to quit smoking for a fee. I asked Natural Cures for a refund, which I'm still waiting to receive after a month.

I think the paranoid title should serve as a warning to other readers. The book taps into our wishes to find miracle cures that are kept hidden from us by "Them."

-- Neil Fazel

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