September 26, 2003
Pape and the Logic of Suicide Attacks
There has been some scribbles on Robert Pape's research on suicide terrorism. He's written a paper (download pdf here) in the American Political Science Review and an op-ed for the NY Times. An important insight from Pape's work is that suicide (homicide) attacks are purposeful and effective. For people in Washington the latter is not good to read when they're waging a global war on terrorism.
A problem with Pape's findings is he claims religious extremism has little to do with suicide bombings. In his research he notes that "leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion (they have have committed 75 of the 188 incidents)." The Tigers may be opposed to religion as commonly thought, but Marxist-Leninism is itself a faith an a worldview. Such an ideology is as full of unprovable assumptions and logical conclusions as Christianity, Judism, or Islam.
Instead of religion as the root cause Pape finds that suicide attacks are in response to military presence in homelands. Nationalism, not religion, is the foundation for suicide attacks.
Pape's policy prescriptions are beefing up homeland security and getting troops out of the Middle East. The former is appropriate, but by abandoning Iraq by leaving it in the hands of the U.N. destroys U.S. credibility with the freed Iraqis. Removing troops from the Middle East will satisfy some Cato types and a whole lot of paleoconservatives/libertarians, but the U.S. will end up looking weak and soft. Such action would prove bin Laden's view of America. It also emboldens other enemies that the U.S. will cut and run if a few suicide attacks occur. Adam Wolfson recommends that we deny terrorists the ends they seek. In other words, don't negotiate and don't give in to their demands. The best solution is to destroy the terrorist organizations before they can attack us. It's hard for them to kill if they're already dead.