Rethinking suicide terrorism

Professor Robert Pape argued Monday that suicide terrorists are motivated by invading forces occupying holy lands, a theory supported by troop withdrawals correlating with reductions in suicide attacks.

By Giovanni Wrobel

With the backing of one of the largest databases on suicide terrorism, political science Professor Robert Pape argued Monday against the belief that suicide terrorists are created and motivated by Islamic teachings. Instead, suicide terrorism is a product of invading forces occupying their holy lands and killing their kinsmen, he said.

Pape presented his new book, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism & How to Stop It, in the International House’s Assembly Hall.

“This is not a global jihad swirling around the world; this is regional opposition to Western military presence. That’s what this data reflects,”

Pape argued.

Pape presented the findings of his research team of more than 45 people, which has compiled one of the largest and most detailed databases on suicide terrorism. The data demonstrated that the majority of suicide attacks could be directly linked to issues related to foreign occupation, he said.

“This is probably the most reliable database—I suspect not just on suicide terrorism, but I dare say, perhaps terrorism—because you can really be confident of the information that you’re seeing,” Pape said.

Pape proposed that the U.S. Navy and Air Force should adopt a policy of “off-shore balancing,” which would significantly reduce the number of ground forces. They would be replaced with off-shore forces that could conduct air, naval, and rapid ground operations more safely, without being vulnerable to suicide terrorism.

Pape suggested that Washington should examine not just the correlation of suicide terrorism and foreign occupation, but the timing of those events.

Pape presented video footage of six of the most notorious suicide attackers: four were 9/11 hijackers, and two were the London suicide bombers. Each of the terrorists explained that the primary motivating factor for their cause was to remove foreign occupying forces from their homeland, and to stop the killing of their people.

“Islamic fundamentalism is a poor predictor of who becomes an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist,” Pape remarked at the end of the videos. “A much better predictor: Sunni countries where we’ve stationed combat forces.”

“The conventional wisdom is that suicide terrorism is a product of Islamic fundamentalism, but over half of all the suicide attacks are not associated with Islamic fundamentalism,” he said. “The world leader was not an Islamic group. They were the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka—a Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group.”

Pape also commented on how troop withdrawals have correlated with reductions in suicide attacks, dispelling the 2008 surge rhetoric as counterproductive. “We’re putting the terrorists out of business; that’s cutting the fuse of a terrorist threat that really matters,” said Pape.

“This is why the Bush administration’s so called ‘information war,’ the Madison Ave. war against terrorism, went nowhere. This isn’t about getting Saudi clerics to kind of declare terrorism immoral by Muslim Islamic standards,” Pape said. “This is really rooted in the policy itself. If we’re really going to again cut the fuse—stop suicide terrorism, that threat—we have to stop what motivates suicide terrorists to join in the first place.”