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A New Logic for Suicide Terrorism

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The US president and his administration constantly justify the “War on Terrorism” as being a holy war and that the invasion of Iraq was upon God’s orders. Such belief in divine commandment to wage war leaves little doubt about the similarity between the US administration, headed by George W. Bush, and the extreme fundamentalists with their demeaning views of other races and religions.

In one of his recent speeches, the US president argued that terrorism is based on extremist ideology that does not tolerate opposition, and justifies killing innocent people as one of the best means to a goal. The US president accused others of utilizing ideologies to achieve their goals and forgot himself and his claim that God commanded him to invade Iraq.

He also forgot that the roots of his “War on Terrorism” are based on a neo-conservative ideology that he both believes in and implements. His many slips of the tongue speak volumes on this issue. And nowhere the ideological racism of this administration has been clearer than in its reaction to the plight of US citizens whose lives were shattered in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

Warmongers, in advocating war on terrorism, as well as the majority of Western political analysts and their Arab cohorts, base violence, in general, and suicide bombing, in particular, on religious ideology, without bothering themselves with a clear definition of what they mean by violence. The real reasons of violence, such as occupation, injustice, oppression, poverty and humiliation, are never considered, and the fact that violence is not restricted to a single religion or a single race would never be discussed, let alone admitted.

Recently, and four years after 9/11, a new logic for “terrorism” and “suicide terrorism” emerged in the US. The most notable work that represents this new logic is a book by Robert Pape, associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the director of the “Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism”. The book is entitled “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.”

The importance of this book stems from its academic professionalism, and its detachment from any alliance with ideologies and partisanship. It builds on facts and evidences and arrives at logical conclusions.

The book is centered around a thorough study of suicide bombings, and clearly shows that Bush’s war on terrorism is both futile and is based on wrong strategy, because it does not deal with the strategic goals of terrorism.

The author starts from where the wrong decisions of the US administration ended, namely, ruinous disasters. The misguided strategy used by the US administration to stop terrorism and block its spread in the future is built on a fallacy. The US administration squared their counter-terrorism efforts on the claim that Muslims all over the world are against the US because of Islaam’s innate hatred of Western values in general and US values in particular. The overwhelming evidence put forth in the book clearly shows that the foreign and military policies of the US administration are the real reason behind the alienation of Muslims, not their dislike of Western economic and political values.

The author counted suicide terrorism bombings from 1980 to 2003; he found 315 such attacks. The percentage of attacks perpetrated by Islaamic groups was lower than those perpetrated by non-Muslim groups. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka (Marxist-Leninist group drawn from Hindu families) claimed 76 attacks, while 36 were recorded in Lebanon by Hezbollah and other nationalist (non-Islaamic) groups targeting both US and Israeli presence in Lebanon. Next on the list of total attacks are unknown Iraqis who targeted US occupation forces and their allies, then comes Al’qaa‘idah. Chechen Muslims, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members and Sikh loyalists complete the list.

One of the most important conclusions the author arrives at is the refute of the claims that suicide bombing is a random act of meaningless terror without strategic goals. Every suicide terrorist campaign has had a clear goal, which is generally both secular and strategic: to compel an occupier (ironically enough the occupier being a modern democracy) to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. With data from more than 460 such attackers – including the names of 333 – we now know that these individuals are not mainly poor, desperate criminals or uneducated religious fanatics but are often well-educated, middle-class political activists.

In what follows, we will give a brief overview of this important book that attracted the attention of many experts both within the US and without, mainly due to the extensive database of figures and facts that the author compiled spanning more than 23 years.

The book is divided into three major parts: The first is devoted to strategic logic, the second to social logic and the third to individual logic. The book, with its three parts, attempts to answer the following questions:
1- Why is suicide terrorism used?
2- What are the conditions the beget suicide attacks?
3- What is the nature of the individuals who perpetrate suicide bombing?

In the first part of the book, the author stresses that suicide terrorism is the most lethal of all, because it causes the largest number of fatalities. Suicide terrorism is direct, according to the author, almost exclusively towards democratic states because they are uniquely vulnerable to terrorist attacks; the most lethal attack is, therefore, used where it is most effective to forcibly yield what the terrorists want. The author claims that suicide terrorism is a strategically logical phenomenon rather than it being irrational, religiously fanatic, or hateful. He bases his arguments on three reasons:
1- Timing. The majority of all attacks are coordinated and coherent. They are neither isolated nor random, as is commonly reported.
2- Nationalistic goals. Suicide attacks aim to regain control over their homeland by driving the foreign occupier out of the targeted areas.
3- Target selection. All suicide attacks, during the past two decades, targeted democracies; easy targets from the terrorists’ perspective. Resistance movements facing non-democratic foes never resort to suicide attacks to apply pressure.

As for the first reason given above, the author emphasizes that 95% of all suicide attacks since 1980 were orchestrated and organized attacks. He also expounded on the second reason by giving examples of ’Hamaas and Al’qaa‘idah attacks that were related to the occupying presence of Israelis settlers for the former and due to increased military presence of US during the Gulf war for the latter. The author also claims that suicide terrorism succeeded in obtaining concessions from targeted states, which triggered further attacks since the perpetrators saw that this method works.

The second part of the book gives a detailed discussion of the social conditions that instigate suicide attacks. The author claims that foreign occupation by democratic states (whose religion is different than that of the occupied nation) fueled suicide attacks, especially after all peaceful uprisings and civil resistances failed to secure any concessions or gains. The differing religions between the occupied and the occupier plays a crucial role in fermenting national identity and facilitates targeting the forces of occupation, which has become an easy target for hatred and, henceforth, suicide attacks. 

According to the analysis in the second part of the book, suicide terrorism follows a strategic logic that is not ultimately resorted to unless all other means have been exhausted. The second chapter of the part two deals specifically with Al’qaa‘idah. The author compares, therein, between the influence of the US occupation and that of Islaamic fundamentalism, as the root cause behind Al’qaa‘idah’s terrorism. Fundamentally, fundamentalism, to the author, is not a one and single thing.

He distinguishes between fundamentalism, Islaamic fundamentalism, and Salafist fundamentalism [considered to be the most extreme form of fundamentalism in Western media jargon]. The author assesses the influence of Salafism on Middle Eastern countries and compares it with the influence of the US military presence. He finds no meaningful statistical correlation between US presence and terrorism, and further notices that a mere alliance with the US military ignites suicide terrorism. The last chapter of the second part – the longest in the book – deals with a multitude of terrorist organizations whose attacks are weighed on the scale of the author’s theories. Most notable of the findings is that those organizations have a wide base of support in their respective societies.

The last part of the book addresses the reasons that make the individuals perpetrate suicide terrorism; the crux of the matter, in my opinion. Suicide bombers are normal people; they are neither isolated nor outcast. Building on this, the first chapter of the third part discusses the altruistic nature of suicide bombers.

With the exception of Sri Lanka perhaps, the authors finds that individual suicides are very rare in societies that produced suicide bombers. And this point is further expounded by the author in proving that those who perpetrate suicide bombing are not suicidal by nature; they work in cohesive groups that rarely experience individual suicides. Suicide bombers always justify their actions on the premise that they are defending their societies, hence the societal support.

In the second chapter of the last part, the author builds on the database he collected by analyzing the demographic information of the individual suicide bombers. In Lebanon, for example, the majority of individuals who perpetrated the attacks were members in social, communist and/or secular movements, and some of them were even Christians. These demographic details were surprising, to put it mildly.

The average age of suicide bombers ranged between 22.9 and 30 years, depending on the locality, and the majority of them were secular rather than religious. And to top this up, the author noticed that suicide bombers, in general were educated (high school at least), came from middle class families and most of them had stable careers.

The author concludes by proposing a solution to this dilemma. He considers polls of Arabs who hate the US administration because of its imperialist foreign policies, and not as the neo-conservatives claim, especially the likes of David Frum and Richard Perle in their propagandist claim of “Terror Against Americans.” The author adds that the democratization of the Middle East is not the answer to terrorism and that the further the military presence would increase the further the suicide attacks would increase. Therefore, the author recommends withdrawing the US occupying forces from the Arabian Peninsula and from Iraq, while he insists on improving US national security in certain areas, including taking precautionary measures such as building a wall along the US-Mexican border.

Saadeh Khalil -

Dr. Saadeh A. Khalil [Sa‘aadah ’Kaleel] has a Ph.D. in education for Oregon University, USA.Read More >>

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