21 March 2011

Suicide bombers—why do they do it?

Why do suicide bombers do what they do? Not for religious reasons apparently. According to political scientist Robert Pape and defense policy analyst James Feldman in their book Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It,  it is the result of foreign military occupation, not religious extremism. According to Pape, who has studied suicide attacks for 30 years, “What over 95 per cent of all suicide attacks since 1980 have had in common is not religion but a specific strategic objective: to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists consider their homeland or prize greatly.”

Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, works from a database of over 2,000 incidents to analyze recordings that bombers left behind, information about their religious affiliations and socioeconomic status, and other personal details. He notes that prior to 2003, the year the Americans invaded Iraq, fewer than 15 per cent of such attacks around the world were directed against American interests. Since 2003, 92 per cent have been aimed at U.S. targets.

In Afghanistan, there were fewer than 15 suicide attacks from 2003 to 2005, but the number rose to 87 in 2006 and 128 in 2007. According to Pape, the rise was the result of the arrival of  international forces in increasing numbers.

In Lebanon, there were 30 suicide attacks between 1982 and 1986, including a truck bomb that killed 241 U.S. Marines. The number of attacks declined as foreign troops left the country—first the United States, then France, then Israel. Since Israel’s military withdrawal in 2000, there has not been a single Lebanese suicide attack.

“Foreign occupation," says Pape, "is the trigger for suicide terrorism much like smoking is the trigger for lung cancer.” It appears that if the U.S. wants to put an end to suicide attacks against its interests, it should simply stop occupying other people's countries. And our government's argument we are in Afghanistan to protect Canadians against terrorism would seem to be a bit threadbare. But then we knew all that, didn't we?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking a look at Prof. Pape's book. Just so you know, we at CPOST continue to update the information in the book regularly. You can check our actual data at our website and you can get our most up to date analysis on our weblog.