Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Logic of Suicide Terrorism

Belgravia Dispatch has a very interesting post this morning which quotes Robert Pape, author of Dying To Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Mr. Pape has assembled a complete database of all 462 suicide attacks around the world, from 1980 through 2004.

His conclusion is suicide terrorism emanates from one source; the desire "to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland."

Pape notes that the suicide belt was invented by a terror group called the Tamil Tigers, based in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Hindu group which is completely secular. From this he implies that suicide terrorism is not a fundamentalist phenomenon.

Here are some excerpts:

Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.

Since 1990, the United States has stationed tens of thousands of ground troops on the Arabian Peninsula, and that is the main mobilization appeal of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. People who make the argument that it is a good thing to have them attacking us over there are missing that suicide terrorism is not a supply-limited phenomenon where there are just a few hundred around the world willing to do it because they are religious fanatics. It is a demand-driven phenomenon. That is, it is driven by the presence of foreign forces on the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and has given suicide terrorism a new lease on life.

If Islamic fundamentalism were the pivotal factor, then we should see some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world, like Iran, which has 70 million people—three times the population of Iraq and three times the population of Saudi Arabia—with some of the most active groups in suicide terrorism against the United States. However, there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Iran, and we have no evidence that there are any suicide terrorists in Iraq from Iran.

Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Sudan.
I have the first complete set of data on every al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from 1995 to early 2004, and they are not from some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world. Two thirds are from the countries where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops since 1990.

Another point in this regard is Iraq itself. Before our invasion, Iraq never had a suicide-terrorist attack in its history. Never. Since our invasion, suicide terrorism has been escalating rapidly with 20 attacks in 2003, 48 in 2004, and over 50 in just the first five months of 2005. Every year that the United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled.

I have collected demographic data from around the world on the 462 suicide terrorists since 1980 who completed the mission, actually killed themselves. This information tells us that most are walk-in volunteers. Very few are criminals. Few are actually longtime members of a terrorist group. For most suicide terrorists, their first experience with violence is their very own suicide-terrorist attack.

There is no evidence there were any suicide-terrorist organizations lying in wait in Iraq before our invasion. What is happening is that the suicide terrorists have been produced by the invasion.

Well, ok. There were 140 suicide attacks against Israel during the last four years alone. This would mean that almost 1/3 of all suicide attacks are aimed at Israel. When one takes into account Israel's staggering ability to halt such suicide attackers (they halted 367 such attacks in 2004 alone), then one can see that the percentage of total attacks which are directed at Israel is much, much higher than 33%.

In other words, the preponderance of sucide terrorism is done in the name of Islamic fundamentalism, which inseminates potential suicide terrorists with two necessary ideas,

1) that it is their land by the will of Allah, and that no human being of another religion should be on their land, ever, for any reason, unless they are living in submission to Islam,


2) that they will attain paradise for their actions.

While it may be true that the secular Tamil Tigers invented the bomb vest, the numbers would seem to prove that the ideology of communism has been less successful in motivating humans to commit suicide in the name of their cause.

In other words, the Tamil Tigers may have invented the suicide vest, but the Islamists have provided an almost perfect germinating ideology.

I must say, I agree with Pape that there are an almost unlimited supply of suicide terrorists available in the Islamic world. I agree that in the short-term, terrorism will increase as a result of our "occupation" of foreign land.

However, one of the notable things about making war upon a people is that it usually angers them, and causes them to fight back.

So, no surprise there.

The notion that such anger and determination on the part of our enemy is a reason to quit is a wholly new idea in the annals of military strategy; and it's probably not an idea with legs.

It seems to me wars are won by breaking the will of the people fighting them. Unfortunately, this is done by cornering the enemy and pouring the force on, until he believes he has no other choice than to admit defeat.