Sunday, March 30, 2008

Suicide attacks are not based on Religion

The reason why so many terrorist are attacking Americans, even committing suicide attacks to do so, is radical religion, right?

Nope. Not according to Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic logic of suicide terrorism. The most prolific users of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. They are secular Marxist-Leninists who are demanding their own homeland. Religion is not a cause for them, though it may sometimes be a recruiting tool.

The New York Times provided this summary of his conclusions:
…Since Muslim terrorists professing religious motives have perpetrated many of the attacks, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause, and thus the wholesale transformation of Muslim societies into secular democracies, even at the barrel of a gun, is the obvious solution…

Over the past two years, I have compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003—315 in all…The data show that there is far less of a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think.

The leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more than Hamas (54) or Islamic Jihad (27). Even among Muslims, secular groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al Aksa Martyr Brigades (Fatah affiliated, DL) account for more than a third of suicide attacks.

What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks actually 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. Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in seeking aid from abroad, but is rarely the root cause.

Three general patterns in the data support these conclusions. First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks -- 301 of the 315 in the period I studied -- took place as part of organized political or military campaigns. Second, democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists; America, France, India, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades. Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective: from Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign -- 18 organizations in all -- are seeking to establish or maintain political self-determination.

…Before the Sri Lankan military began moving into the Tamil homelands of the island in 1987, the Tamil Tigers did not use suicide attacks. Before the huge increase in Jewish settlers on the West Bank in the 1980's, Palestinian groups did not use suicide terrorism.

And, true to form, there had never been a documented suicide attack in Iraq until after the American invasion in 2003.

Understanding that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism has important implications for how the United States and its allies should conduct the war on terrorism.
As Daniel Levy (from whom I directly took the NY Times quote) wrote:
Bottom line then – it’s the occupation stupid.
Why are Iraqi's committing suicide to attack Americans? Because we invaded Iraq.

Why did bin Laden attack on 9/11? Because American had troops permanently based in Saudi Arabia, his land.

So America's global war on terrorism should be focused on dealing with blowback from our own policies*, not trying to repress religion in other lands. Of course, that might be a hard-sell to a religious evangelist who was raised on stories of martyrdom for the faith, but it appears that the dying for your own land takes priority over dying for your faith.

*Economic, diplomatic and military.

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