Thursday, June 30, 2005

Suicide Bombing: A Better Analysis

Robert Pape, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, asserts that suicide bombing is primarily "part of an organized campaign to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider home". He is half right, that is unless one considers the whole of the Middle East and North Africa to be the territory of a new caliphate, portions of Sri Lanka to be the rightful homeland of a Marxist separatist group (LTTE), and that native Iraqi forces are more foreign to Iraq than the foreign terrorists fighting against them. He is wholly correct that suicide bombing is a weapon of choice against modern democracies. What he leaves out is that those employing the technique have no inherent respect for life themselves nor are their aspirations of dominion necessarily popularly supported by those whose land they would possess. This defect in Pape's analysis leads to a conclusion that is wrongheaded at best, i.e. that we should "begin a systematic withdrawal of ground troops from the region." In fact, the present administration policy of spreading democracy appears to be best suited to the problem of terror attacks by a precise analysis of Pape's own data.

Pape errs by confusing correlation with causality in attempting to answer the question, "Why do terrorists attack using suicide bombs?" We are in agreement on the first part of the answer, "Because the method is effective against democracies." Suicide bombers unnerve democracies by simultaneously challenging the safety of its citizenry and its values--its inherent respect for life. We disagree on the inference that this method is an expression of a just cause to regain a lost homeland occupied by a foreign invader. It is more exact to say that the terrorists seek undemocratic control of territory carved out from weak or nascent democratic states and that these states are most likely to request assistance from other democracies.

Whether in Iraq, Israel, Chechnya, or Sri Lanka, the situation is the same. The extent of the territory claimed by the terrorists generally conforms to its recruiting area. Thus democratic Iraq draws terrorists from Sunni areas of Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, while Chechen, Sri Lankan, and Palestinian separatists are homegrown. The terrorists in Iraq envision that country as part of a wider Islamofascist state along the Medditeraean crescent.

The appeal of the terrorist movement is an inverse function of the perceived legitimacy of the government it seeks to replace. The Tamils apparently see themselves as disenfranchised by the economic reforms of the 1970's. Meanwhile, the foreign fighters in Iraq are disenfranchised in their own countries and seek to control territory in what is to them a foreign land while the native Sunnis seek to reclaim the disproportionate share of power they possessed under the Hussein regime. The Chechen separatists are likewise a minority faction in the Russian Federation without the autonomy of other former Soviet republics. The extremeness of the terrorists' methods are more precisely a measure of the lack of popular support in the governing democracy for their claims, not an indication of the legitimacy of their cause. For this reason the terrorists attack the people themselves.

On the other hand, there are many counterexamples to Pape's thesis. Indians did not resort to suicidal terroristic tactics under British occupation. Christian separatists in East Timor and Eritrea (or other areas of Africa) are not known for suicidal terroristic attacks. Likewise, occupations by democracies of formerly fascist countries after WWII did not result in campaigns of suicide bombing. Even the famous Buddhist suicides in Vietnam were in protest of a lack of enfranchisement, not a demonstration against a foreign occupier. One common distinction between conventional struggles and suicide bombing campaigns is the presence of a cult of nihilism in the terror movement. (Hitler's cult died with him).

Pape offers no evidence to lead us to believe his complicated conclusion over this simpler assessment nor does he offer proof of a causal dependency between terrorist methods and the presence of foreign military forces in the territory claimed by the terrorists. Finally, please note that this simpler analysis is better supported by Pape's publicly released data than Pape's own conclusion. Of course, if doubt remains, we should always go directly to the source and read what the terrorists provide as a rationale to their supporters.