Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Mon, Jul 4th, 2016

Automadness Bombing

When Henry Ford created the first automobile assembly line over a century ago, the modern age of transportation was jump-started.

Aftermath of car bomb in Baghdad, July 2016 (source:

Aftermath of car bomb in Baghdad, July 2016 (source: Tasnim News)

In 2014 it was reported that there were 1.2 billion vehicles worldwide with an estimated 2 billion on the road by 2035. The Model T of Ford was introduced as an affordable car for the average person, starting out at $850 in 1908 and lowering in price with mass production to less than $300 in 1925. As a result, the horseless carriage condemned the trustworthy horse to the race track. Horses had been used in warfare for a few thousand years, but even the best chariots could never compete with the sophistication of tanks and armed cars in modern warfare. Today there are billions of dollars worth of military vehicles, but the scourge of suicide bombing with any kind of vehicle is able to do damage on the cheap.

This last week suicide bombing captured the news from Istanbul to Dhaka to Baghdad with major suicide attacks, but the latter was especially damaging as it resulted in some 200 deaths, many bodies charred beyond recognition. The explosives were hidden in a refrigerator truck, a cold hiding spot for a hellish outcome. This, like the vast majority of suicide bombs in the Middle East, was sectarian, Muslims killing fellow Muslims in cold blood. Under the guise of a Sunni/Shi’a hate divide, fueled by political insecurity and misplaced religious fervor, yet another day in Iraq was plagued with the killing spree that has enveloped the country since the overthrow of Saddam’s dictatorial rule, spilling over into neighboring Syria and reaching to Yemen under the aerial bombing campaign of a Saudi-led coalition and terrorist attacks by ISIS.

Every Baghdad car bomb in the last decade (ht @rezahakbari)

Every Baghdad car bomb in the last decade (source: @rezahakbari)

The dotted map above documents the leprosy of car bomb attacks in Baghdad, a seemingly never-ending video game played out in real time. The question is not when will it stop but who will be the next victims. The question of “why” haunts us all. There clearly is no simple answer. The Trump-eted homogenization of all Muslims as potential terrorists says more about his utter ignorance of the factors that lead to such terrorism than anything else. This is, as are all conflicts, politically motivated but with a religious veneer, not unlike the wars that plummeted Europe into Catholic vs. Protestant a few centuries ago. The vast majority of the world’s Muslims, which are a little more than the number of cars in the world, do not engage or endorse terrorism, no matter the hardships they suffer. But such terrorist acts break down tolerance and only encourage yet more violence, whether in revenge or in hideous support of the same hateful sentiments.

Attention in the United States was diverted slightly this past week from the presidential political circus by news of the death of a man in a self-driving Tesla car, which was unable to distinguish the side of a white semi-truck from a white sky. This was no suicide bomb, although the notion that a machine could be fool-proof when there are so many fools on the road is a dangerous concept. There are admittedly few of these self-propelled cars, but the number of deaths from all automobile accidents worldwide is estimated at 1.3 million, with 20-50 million more injured. This is far more than the number of people killed by car bombs, but of course auto accidents are rarely targeted and meant to take another’s life.  Still, the figures are staggering and point to the automobile as both blessing and curse, probably in a way that Henry Ford never imagined.

Our dependence on the automobile is here to stay, as is the massive amount of guns in the hands of people around the world. Both can be killers. In 2013 over 21,000 Americans committed suicide with a gun and over 11,000 people were killed in homicides. Both these numbers are also greater than all the victims of suicide vehicle bombs. We focus on the suicide bombs, rather than the individual suicides and homicides, because the victims are usually innocent bystanders. I, too, mourn such atrocities, but should we not also pause to look at the overall number of killings in which innocent victims lose their lives, not to mention the persistent killing in military conflicts? There is an auto-madness in the world, a lack of attention to the use of both sophisticated machines and everyday modes of transportation to perpetuate and at times facilitate an all-too human trait: the Cains who are not willing to be Abels keepers.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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