Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, June 19, 2005
by Susan Ives
It was just a paragraph in U.S. News and World Report a few weeks ago.
“The White House’s new counterterrorism strategy, now being revamped at the National Security Council, will focus more sharply on Islamic extremism, not terrorism. One important sign of the change: Policymakers are ready to abandon their shorthand for the conflict–GWOT, or the global war on terrorism. The likely new name is simply WOE–the war on extremism. The reason, explains a senior national security official: “Terrorism is the method rather than the enemy.”
On the face of it this makes sense. Instead of focusing on act of terrorism, let’s get down to the root causes of violence. Treat the disease, not the symptoms.
But it makes sense only if the policy doctors in Washington are good diagnosticians. A new book by University of Chicago political scientist Robert A. Pape, “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” suggests that they are not.
Pape compiled the first comprehensive database of suicide bombings, 315 of them between 1980 and 2003. He concludes that Islamic fundamentalism is not the primary cause of suicide bombings.
“Every suicide terrorist campaign,” he writes, “has a clear goal that is secular and political: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”
The administration’s emerging policy of a war on extremism dismisses the logic of terrorism, and treats it as if caused by irrational hatred of Western-style democracy. There is a vast gulf between “they bomb us because they hate us” and “they bomb us because we are occupying their turf.”
Pape does not completely dismiss the role of religion in suicide attacks. He writes, “It is true that suicide terrorist organizations often have additional goals, such as Hamas’s aim to build a religious state in Palestine or al-Qaeda’s aim to do the same on the Arabian Peninsula. . . .Neither side’s views about the desirability of additional terrorist goals would matter unless the terrorists first succeeded in forcing the occupying power to leave.”
Religion, Pape claims, is more of a recruiting tool for terrorists that the root cause of terrorism. Occupation, he says “hardens communal boundaries along a religious difference . . and encourage mass support for extreme self-sacrifice required for suicide terrorism.”
Religion can be manipulated to demonize the enemy, Pape claims. “Although any cultural difference between rivals can be manipulated by resistance leaders,” he writes, “religious difference is ready-made for the purpose because it goes to the heart of the moral code attributed to the opponent.”
The more a foreign culture is viewed with scorn and resentment, Pape says, “the more malignant sentiments can justify cruel treatment of even innocent members of the foreign society.”
Pape also argues that religion can be used to “lend credibility to the language of martyrdom to legitimate their violence.” Most religions forbid suicide, he notes, but doctrine can be re-interpreted to justify self-inflicted death in certain circumstances, thus circumventing the taboo.”
Pape’s scholarly analysis leads him to conclude that “the use of heavy offensive force to defeat the existing generation of terrorists is the most likely stimulus to the rise of the next.” Our invasion of Iraq, he maintains, has “generated support for anti-American terrorism and given al-Qaeda a new lease on life.”
Pape’s conclusions are not new. Every single person I spoke to in the Middle East, when asked to explain the reasons for suicide bombings replied, “It’s the occupation.” Every one.
Even Osama bin Laden, in a 1998 Frontline interview explained his attacks with, “The call to wage war against America was made because America has spearheaded the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of troops into the land of the two holy mosques.”
What is new is the data: instead of speculation, we now have statistics. I hope that the policy makers in Washington who are contemplating this new war on extremism bought copies of this book the minute it hit the shelves, read it carefully and heed its diagnoses.