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Religion Isn't What Causes Suicide Attacks?
That's what this suicide attack expert, Associate Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, says in an interview with The American Conservative:

RP: The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

TAC: That would seem to run contrary to a view that one heard during the American election campaign, put forth by people who favor Bush’s policy. That is, we need to fight the terrorists over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.

RP: 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.

...TAC: If you were to break down causal factors, how much weight would you put on a cultural rejection of the West and how much weight on the presence of American troops on Muslim territory?

RP: The evidence shows that the presence of American troops is clearly the pivotal factor driving suicide terrorism.

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.

TAC: So your assessment is that there are more suicide terrorists or potential suicide terrorists today than there were in March 2003?

RP: 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.

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Posted by aalkon at July 13, 2005 9:53 AM

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Maybe this post was about religion & suicide attacks, but...

> 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.

QED. To date, it hasn't. See last comment in the London thread from the weekend.

> RP: The evidence shows that the presence of
> American troops is clearly the pivotal factor
> driving suicide terrorism.

Or is it the nascent Iraqi democracy?

> there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide
> terrorist from Sudan.

Sudan is poor, while the Al Qaeda attackers of 9/11 were middle class almost to a man... Religious faith was a central motivator for them. In any case, the Sudan remains mired in its own war between a Muslim north and a Christian south.

> Two thirds are from the countries where the
> United States has stationed heavy combat troops
> since 1990.

Cause or effect? Why did the States put troops there to begin with?

> ...suicide terrorists have been produced by
> the invasion.

Know what cops hate? Domestic disturbances. When they knock on the door, they can expect a drunken, eye-blackened woman in maelstrom of emotional manipulation, and a drunken man who's working up enough anger to take a swing at policemen. Does their knock on the door create this behavior?

Posted by: Cridland at July 13, 2005 6:51 AM

Crid, believe me, I'd rather blame religion, but this guy does seem to have some good arguments here.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 13, 2005 8:06 AM

At best, data points, not arguments.

It's supershit freaky how people want to pretend that the United States creates evil through imaginary, supernatural powers, but won't acknowledge our genuine misconduct. (suspect perspective, but still)

PS- How come it won't allow html tags when commenting from work? Does your blog know that I should be a more productive, focused employee?

Posted by: Crid at July 13, 2005 9:16 AM

I don't that it needs to be either/or. It's both: Islamic fundies use suicide bombing to get us pull out, because we're a political and a cultural interference for the creation of an Islamic theocracy. There are plenty of secular Arab nationalists who oppose our presence in the region, but they aren't strapping on bombs.

Since it's entirely done by Islamic fundies, there has to be a religious component. Also, what about Theo Van Gogh's killer? He's perfectly straight that religion alone was what motivated him.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at July 13, 2005 10:46 AM

Aren't they saying now that one of these London bombers was a teenager who wasn't interested in politics and converted to Islam 18 months ago? Maybe he's the exception.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at July 13, 2005 11:14 AM

This theory explains why so many German suicide bombers have attacked the US since 1945, doesn't it?

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 13, 2005 12:23 PM

Heard that guy on the radio and he's full of crap. Take Sudan for starters. Here's a link to a member of Al Qaeda from Sudan that was arrested for plotting attacks on airliners:

Kinda blows the good professor's claims out of the water, eh? He also overlooks that there's a genocide going on in Sudan where the Muslim majority are killing off the Christian minority "occupiers."

Spain is another example where his pet theory breaks down. Spaniards pulled out of Iraq yet they are still arresting and disrupting terrorist plots.

Finally, the big one: Israel. You know they won't be happy until every Jew is driven into the sea. Amy, is that OK with you?

Posted by: nash at July 13, 2005 12:33 PM

This dude, like Jared Diamond, offers a politically-correct explanation that ignores the role of culture in human behavior because the alternative (and correct) view raises too many eyeballs at liberals' cocktail parties.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 13, 2005 1:37 PM

Richard, Jared Diamond is an evolutionary biologist. That means his thinking is the ANTITHESIS of politically correct.

Moreover, where do you think culture comes from? Does it spring, fully formed out of some rabbit hole? No, it comes from our evolved psychology -- the way genes switch on and off and interact with the environment.

Can't you please try to be informed before you spew? It makes so much unnecessary work for me this way to explain the fundamentals.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 13, 2005 2:32 PM

Nash, believe me, I prefer to blame the looney tunes religious primitivism.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 13, 2005 2:33 PM

Amy, Jared Diamond is a bird biologist who ventured way outside his field in "Guns, Germs, and Steel", a work that over-simplifies everything it touches. He admits his goal was to present a "non-racist" theory of human history. Have you read the book?

All I have to do to make you agree with any nonsensical crap is put the adjective "evolutionary" on it, apparently; Bush is an "Evolutionary Conservative" and therefore correct.

Sorry about the Frenchies letting you down.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 13, 2005 2:45 PM

As a "giggle test", posit the idea that nobody in Iraq would be a suicide bomber if they were Christian and occupied by a force untouchable by conventional means of confrontation. No American would sit back and allow an occupying force here to enjoy their stay.

Posted by: Radwaste at July 13, 2005 3:29 PM

Richard, Amy is the LAST WOMAN IN THE BLOGOSPHERE to whom we should sing the praises of specialized academic authority. She trusts that shit far too much already. Personally I think she's using the source of this blog post to channel her Inner Democrat. But still... Diamond's brilliant book is difficult to fault, and if you rely on departmental divisions with the College to win the point, we're fucked.

Richard should be encouraged to hang around this blog. As long as he persists in his Saddam act, I'll come off merely as the Boy Assad.

Posted by: Crid at July 13, 2005 4:32 PM

Diamond is anything but brilliant, and readers with backgrounds in history, anthropology, botany, or animal husbandry have ripped it to shreds without breaking a sweat.

The PBS series on it started this week, and it's truly hilarious, moving at a slower pace and with more repetition than Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Diamond himself is the main character, of course, and he's clearly a freak.

The dude's main problems are his ignorance of human migration, culture, and climate, and his unwillingness to admit the knowledge early farmers had of plant and animal breeding and how easily it extends into mate selection.

Diamond is simply doing his politically-correct best to account for human cultural variation without taking human genetics or the impact of first choices into the equation.

Even Marxist anthropology is better than his amateurish pile of drivel.

(PS - can somebody translate Radwaste's last comment into English?)

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 13, 2005 5:07 PM

I think Radwaste is saying insurgency to a foreign occupying force is a natural reaction. Given their lack of fighting us on a level playing field, they resort to what they are able to accomplish, which is terrorism. In this case, religion is the ignition switch, but it could just as easily be racism, nationalism, or economically motivated.

Or like red ants introduced to a black ant colony.... a biologic imperative.

At least that is how I read his statement.

Posted by: eric at July 13, 2005 6:20 PM

OK, thanks for the clarification. He mumbled something about Americans not tolerating occupying powers but I don't see that we're all that different from the Germans, who've been tolerating one for 60 years, but he's a Mac freak so you never know how those neurons are wired-up.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 13, 2005 6:33 PM

I think the major difference is that Eisenhower and Marshall were able to march the Germans around the atrocities their people had committed, and really witnessed for years, but today we haven't shown the Iraqis any WMD's yet. Word gets around...

Posted by: eric at July 13, 2005 7:07 PM

Saddam's atrocities don't count because it's all about CIA accounting errors? That's a unique way of looking at the world.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 14, 2005 2:48 AM

Hi Eric!

Did word get out about the mass graves? About the psychotic, murderous, raping sons? About Saddam's penchant for torture? About the crippling of Iraq's economy through war debt and other malfeasance? About the gassing of the Kurds (ie, WMDs)? About the million-and-a-half-casualty war with a neighbor, leaving their border unchanged? About the war of annihilation with another neighbor, a UN member state? About the oil pipelines opened into the Persian gulf during the war, and the 600 well fires set following the war? About his subsequent massacre of Kurds and Shia with helicopter gunships? About the draining of Iraq's marshlands? And about the 500,00 people thereby displaced? About his nuclear weapons program? About Saddam's continuing links to Al Qaeda? About his hospitality to other murderous thugs?

Let me guess... You were just kidding, right?

Posted by: Crid at July 14, 2005 6:28 AM

Cute Richard- the old prestidigitation...

Of course Saddam did terrible things, and glad we all are that he is in prison, and hope we all do that he will be put in front of a firing squad.

But the analogy to Germany is ridiculous. The Germans who survived were mostly happy we were keeping the Russians at bay. We were the lesser of two evils.

Posted by: eric at July 14, 2005 7:45 AM

And no, I am not suggestting America is evil..... I think the implementation of the Marshall plan was possibly any countries finest hour throughout history.

Posted by: eric at July 14, 2005 7:51 AM

The vast majority of Iraqis a over-joyed that we took Saddam out and that we're helping them build a new democracy. Virtually all of the terrorists are foreigners or Baathists who've lost privilege.

We're winning in Iraq, like it or not, and that's because Saddam's Iraq was so very much like Hitler's Germany.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 14, 2005 11:53 AM

Yeah, but if we're in Iraq for humanitarian reasons, why aren't we in Sudan?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 14, 2005 12:50 PM

Amy -

I get your last point, but you'll start to go down a very slippery slope with that vein. Why did we intervene in Bosnia? What about Haiti? The Somali fiasco? The Asian Tsunami? How about our patrolling the world's sea lanes for billions a year, yet not one cent in return. And let's not even talk about the billions handed out to the UN each year or the semi - annual forgiveness of 3rd world debt.

It seems that unless the United States acts purely out of humanitarian reasons 100% of the time, we're going to be blamed when things go wrong. No, we're not perfect - and we've done some nasty things in our short history, no question. But in those cases where we do act in our own self - interest (as all nations do, even one as relatively benign as ours), woah, look out, here come the recriminations from our supposed - betters.

Where our where is the UN in Sudan? Would you agree that that's supposed to be in their supposed purview? How about Darfur? No, when the chips are down and the shit starts flying, they all come screaming to us.

Posted by: Dmac at July 14, 2005 1:35 PM

Amy asks why we aren't in the Sudan stopping the killing. There are two responses to this fashionably biting question:

1) For the same reason France isn't there, we're waiting for UN action.


2) Your question seems to imply you would support unilateral US action in Sudan. Given that, why do you oppose our liberation of Iraq?

The fact is that every problem demands a different solution, so "one-size-fits-all" isn't nuanced foreign policy. Oops, I forgot, Amy don't do "nuance".


Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 14, 2005 2:07 PM

Amy, who said we were doing it for "humanitarian reasons"?

Posted by: Crid at July 14, 2005 5:22 PM

There are certainly enough of them to justify an intervention, Crid: about 20 million counting all the Kurds and the Shia.

But you're right, we're in Iraq because we didn't want to wake up to a nuclear explosion in LA five years from now. Some of us wouldn't have awakened, of course, but that's another story. And yes, Saddam's nuke program wasn't far enough to along for that to have happened this year, but the way things were going 2010 is not unreasonable.

Plus (and I throw this in for Amy) Saddam's palaces were really tacky.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 14, 2005 5:52 PM


Sorry- wine through the nose.

Richard... what nuclear program are you speaking of?

Posted by: eric at July 14, 2005 6:44 PM

I'm just appealing to Amy's sense of the rational thought she displays here. All countries operate out of self - interest many times, but I think for a country that's often accused of world hegemony, the US has been a force of good on the balance. If anything, we're benign in the majority of our actions.

Posted by: Dmac at July 14, 2005 7:08 PM

Whose self interest? The citizens or the governments?

That is the rub....

And yes, the US is a benevolent force, except when we are not.

Posted by: eric at July 14, 2005 7:45 PM

> Richard... what nuclear program are you
> speaking of?

Eric, since you declined to follow the earlier links, here's another. It's from (yet another) Clinton functionary. Get the picture?

Many who hate Bush the most share this 'Lalala, I can't hear you!' kind of tic. Liberals of this caliber think a reflexive, junior-high-school ATTITUDE of contrarianism gives them decency. To such people, the actual components of reasoned argument, facts, are merely details for clerks and little people to deal with... They'd rather believe in the magic of thoughtless oppositional posturing. It's much like a religious faith.

Ever'buddy see the Molly Ivins climbdown the other day? It's insane. She apologizes, but offers no source for her outrageous error. She never implies that her mistaken beliefs about Iraq came out of anywhere except her own IMAGINATION. Therefore her regret, however sincere, lacks redemptive muscle. What faith can we have in her next assertions?

And, while not to pick on redheads, consider Amy's reduction of this to the word "humanitarian." What? Who said that's why we're doing it? Having been complicit in the rape of this nation for many decades, our nourishment of democracy there today is certainly the proper thing to do. But we needn't pretend there are no practical benefits to swinging the history of the region in this new direction. Insisting on an ethereal and angelic purity of motivation in international affairs is senseless. Or it's isolationism. After 9/11, I'm not putting up with either.

Posted by: Crid at July 14, 2005 10:31 PM

Apparently our liberal friends believe Saddam had nuclear engineers on his payroll to make cookies, and that he bought a nuclear reactor from the good people of France for the electricity.

That's so quaint.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 15, 2005 2:06 AM

Amy, despite your best efforts, your blog is now officially a meetinghouse for blowhard conservatives. If Patrick were still around, we'd send him out for coffee. (Eric would not be trusted to get the order right.)

Posted by: Crid at July 15, 2005 6:15 AM

Crid -

I'm a registered Democrat, if you're interested. Also voted for Kerry.

Posted by: Dmac at July 15, 2005 7:17 AM

Me too. The registered Democrat part, that is....

Posted by: Crid at July 15, 2005 8:37 AM

Crid -

Held my nose when I voted for him, believe me... as I held my nose when I voted for Bush the first time. I really think Midwestern - type moderates like myself don't seem to have a political party to call home anymore. The primaries are so polarized now, even though a moderate would win the general election easily, I think.

Lieberman was my ideal candidate, followed up by McCain. But those guys always get blown away in the primaries by not adhering to their respective party's orthodoxy.

In any event, I don't think the Dems do themselves any favors by using the moral equivalency arguments re: the WOT. There were real issues to be raised against the Iraq intervention (not Afghanistan), but they somehow got hijacked by the loonier aspects. The catcalls of Bush/Hitler/Halliburton/Oil, etc. - none of those things are going to convince anyone of the opposing argument. Rather, they infantilize the person doing the name - calling.

Posted by: Dmac at July 15, 2005 8:57 AM

If you are interested in the nuclear programs of any country, you may wish to look at the Nuclear Weapons Archive. The material on Iraq is interesting, but what really opens people's eyes is the amount of testing done by the US and USSR before moratoriums.

Posted by: Radwaste at July 15, 2005 9:37 PM

Nukes are cool, everybody should have one (in a tasteful color.)

Posted by: Richard Bennett at July 16, 2005 2:05 AM

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is another good source - although the doomsday clock they publish with every issue can be intimidating sometimes.

Posted by: Dmac at July 16, 2005 7:53 AM

"Having been complicit in the rape of this nation for many decades, our nourishment of democracy there today is certainly the proper thing to do."

I am so fed up with the argument that we somehow "created" Saddam Hussein. His Iraq was a Soviet client and opposed the US for decades. The one bit of support that we gave him, during the Iran/Iraq war, was satellite data that allowed him to counter Iranian troop movements, which maintained the stalemate and kept the two most vicious regimes in the region at each others' throats instead of ours.

Civilian control of the military is a critical part of our constitutional order, but it would be nice if you'd take the trouble to know what you're talking about before you start second-guessing us.

Posted by: odysseus at July 17, 2005 11:15 PM

The Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism found that there has been Christian suicide bombers. In fact, during the Lebanese civil war there were numerous Christian suicide bombers, including a female Christian high school teacher named Norma Hassan and a Christian factory worker named Elias Hard. A suicide bomber from a group called "Vanguard of Christian Arabs" killed himself as well. This is not just a Muslim action. Until the Iraqi war the majority of suicide bumbers were Hindu Tamils fighting the Buddhist government of Sri Lanka.

Facts from "Dying to Win:The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism" by Robert Pape.

Posted by: Abu Sinan at July 21, 2005 4:56 AM

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