I've gotten in the habit of reading some of the many blogs about Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of the things I've been reading have got me to thinking.
We always hear the (primarily) Islamic extremists who kill themselves and others described - at least by those on their side - as martyrs. I checked a dictionary definition and they're at least close to matching the first definition; "a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion". I'm willing to stretch this definition the Merriam-Webster folks were so kind as to make available to "one who willingly dies for their religion" which would cover the various bombers, shooters, and etc.. I have to stretch it a bit because I haven't heard of anyone being killed (in the Western world, at least) simply for refusing to give up their religion. Well, there are some folks who are apparently killed for being Jewish, but we'll let that slide for now.
That's because I'm more interested in the second meaning the Merriam-Webster people show for 'martyr': "a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle". Now these people I've heard about. Heck; I think we've heard of thousands who've "sacrificed something of great value" and over 300 who've given "life itself" in just the past year "for the sake of principle".
So where are the martyrs in all this? Only one side is claiming to have them, and only one side really seems to have them, but I'm not so sure it's the same side in both cases.
While one side recruits young people with a promise of great rewards both in this world and the next - including promises of enough money to care for their family for years - the other side is asking people to freely walk away from happy, comfortable lives and risk themselves for low pay and little appreciation.
There are children learning to walk and talk while their mothers and fathers are sweating in a tent wondering if one of the few fanatics in the area is going to try to kill them today, or their friend in the next truck. On the other side are cynical old men sitting back and haranguing youngsters into giving up their lives for the "glory" of the old man's cause.
Sorry, but the only martyrs I'm seeing right now are dying for principle, not religion - or at least not for their religion.