Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Book Review - Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism


I wish I wrote about the books I am reading more often. I once saw a friend's website who would always post a picture of the books he was reading - he'd stack them and take a picture of the spines so you could see the titles. I liked it and have always wanted to do it, maybe I should start.

I always have a desire to share the golden nuggets from the books I am reading, or share about why the books I am reading are significant or how they relate to what's going on in the world. Books are a great source of knowledge, no, they are THE great source of knowledge. So in that spirit, I want to share with you the book I most recently finished. Robert Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism was my latest victim. Pape studies the phenomenom of suicide bombing and thoroughly studies every act of suicide terrorism from 1980-2005.

Pape's presents his thesis early on, and his thesis itself is incredibly groundbreaking (but frankly, it's common sense):
The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or anyone of the world's religions...Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attack have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.
Pape then says that three general patterns support this conclusion:
  1. First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of organized campaigns, not as isolated or random incidents. Of the 315 separate attacks in the period I studied, 301 could have had their roots traced to large, coherent political of military campaigns.
  2. Second, democractic states are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorism...and have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades.
  3. Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed towards a strategic objective..the sponsors of every campaign have been terrorist groups trying to establish or maintain political self-determination by compelling a democratic power to withdraw from the territories they claim.
And Pape isn't afraid to make some suggestions about U.S. foreign policy based on his study:
Since 9/11, the U.S. has responded to the growing threat of suicide terrorism by embarking on a policy to conquer Muslim countries - not simply rooting out existing havens for terrorists in Afghanistan but going further to remake Muslim societies in the Persian Gulf. To be sure, the U.S. must be ready to use force to protect Americans and their allies and must do so when necessary. However, the close association between foreign military occupations and the growth of suicide terrorist movements in the occupied regions should make us hesitate over any strategy centering on the transformation of Muslim societies by means of heavy military power. Althought there may still be good reasons for such a strategy, we should recognize that the sustained presence of American combat forces in Muslim countries to likely increase the odds of the next 9/11.
The data, presentation of the data, and analysis was fascinating all throughout. I learned quite a bit about the Sinhalese occupation of Tamil land in Sri Lanka, something which I knew nothing about. A number of the suicide attempts have been committed by Lebanese and Palestinian factions, so I was especially interested in that data because of my current work.

It was also an interesting read because Pape didn't show his cards until the conclusion. The data and the analysis in the bulk of the book led me to believe that Pape was a thinker who was operating a bit out of the establishment and was doing scholarship on the fringe. But the conclusion showed him to very much immersed in the national security establishment, and first and foremost a political scientist and foreign terror specialist committed to protecting American troops and citizens. His conclusion showed he wasn't writing on behalf of the Arab world or even as a 'world citizen' but almost as a national security advisor. And still, from THAT perspective, he suggests the U.S. not occupy countries in the Middle East, specifically Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf states.

Pape also voiced his support for completing the U.S.-Mexico border wall and for generally tighetening and limiting all avenues of immigration (thing I disagree with). So Pape's data and conclusions, that suicide terrorism results from foreign occupations and thus the U.S. should quit their occupations, are all the more compelling because he lies firmly within the establishment (much like Walt and Mearsheimer are - authors of The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy), and seeks to protect Americans and American interests.

I would also like to include some quotations that were especially poignant, for various reasons. I don't necessarily agree or disagree, but rather, I think they are things worth hearing. I will let the quotes speak for themselves:
Sayeed Siyam, a Hamas leader in Gaza, said, "We in Hamas consider suicide bombing attacks inside the 1948 borders" - inside Israel - "to be the card thatPalestinians can play to resist the occupation...We do not own Apache helicopters ourselves, so we use our own methods. Given the methods used by the Israelis, we consider the door to hell is open. their assassination policy and the bombardment - this this theater of war inside Palestinian villages and homes - we respond to that by seeking to make Israelis feel the same, insecure inside their homes."
65% of the Palestinians who supported suicide operations cited as a main reason Israeli military incursions (poll conducted in 2002).
There is no general campaign to attack Jews living outside Palestine. The pattern of the suicide attacks over the past decade suggests that the Palestinian terrorists are concentrating their fire against the state that is actually occupying the territory they view as their homeland.
Foreign occupation can have its own logic of violence. Even when an occupying power is restained in the use of roce, the common spiral of local resistance leading to retaliation leading to more local resistance can dramatically escalate the level of harm to the civilian community. As a result, there could be a threshold of violence above which the local community becomes so desperate that it resorts to suicide terrorism because many believe they will die anyway or because they are seeking revenge for those who have died.
Prior to American's invasion in March 2003, Iraq had never experienced a suicide terrorist attack in its history.
The root cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses to the local community's way of life. Hence, any policy that seeks to conquer Muslim socities in order, deliberately, to transform their culture is folly. Even if our intentions are good, anti-American terrorism would likely grow, and grow rapidly.

1 comment:

jason kroening said...

word. love the post. this subject interests me like few others. as you say, groundbreaking common sense...often the most difficult to accept.