I try to stay as cynical and well-informed as possible, so when I learn that something I thought was relatively obvious is not true at all, I am surprised. I was thus quite surprised to see a bit of reporting/analysis so out of line with the junta's media cartel's worldview that it was banished to the NYT op-eds
Robert A. Pape did an actual study of suicide bombings and found that they are a tactic not of religious fundamentalists, but of nationalist liberation movements.
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.
More detailed results follow:
Many, myself included, have commented on the Vietnam-like policy catastrophe in Iraq arising from the mistaken/deceptive claim that resistance to occupation is actually a jihadist crusade. Analogies to the myopic view of Vietnam as a mere domino in the Cold War, rather than a post-colonial nation aspiring to independence fit a little better today.
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 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.
Suicide bombings are thus primarily a military tactic of a desperate nationalist liberation movement.
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.
It is interesting that "Democracies" seem to be the favored targets for suicide attacks. This may be due to the antiquated perception that citizens in a democracy can effect the war plans of their rulers.
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.
This conclusion is interesting in that it suggests that the U.S. occupation is the problem, and that the chorus of 'moderates' claiming that we must stay until Iraq is "fixed" are essentially advocating a nonsense non-solution which will, in fact, make things worse. Of course anyone with a reality-based approach may have already noticed that things are indeed getting worse continually, but not so gradually. Now we have empirical underpinnings to make the reality-based case for immediate and complete withdrawal. Obviously this suggestion will remain taboo, but it will eventually be adopted, one way or another.
Pape draws a more interesting conclusion from the observed correlation between democracies and suicide tactics with implications for the neocon agenda, were it by chance to be sincere, rather than a smokescreen for standard imperialist conquest.
Spreading democracy across the Persian Gulf is not likely to be a panacea so long as foreign combat troops remain on the Arabian Peninsula. If not for the world's interest in Persian Gulf oil, the obvious solution might well be simply to abandon the region altogether. Isolationism, however, is not possible; America needs a new strategy that pursues our vital interest in oil but does not stimulate the rise of a new generation of suicide terrorists.
So spreading democracy by force will be expected to simultaneously spread suicide bombings. This may already be visible in Iraq, and in the secret civil war in Saudi Arabia:
At the moment, our best information indicates that the attackers in Iraq are Sunni Iraqis and foreign fighters, principally from Saudi Arabia. If so, this would mean that the two main sources of suicide terrorists in Iraq are from the Arab countries deemed most vulnerable to transformation by the presence of American combat troops. This is fully consistent with what we now know about the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.
Pape tiptoes around the connection between the US troops formerly stationed in Saudi Arabia, the attacks of 9/11, and Bin Laden's goal of driving western forces and their puppet thugs out of Arab lands. He dodges this touchy subject by simply projecting the the fact that occupation spreads suicide attacks, and we are spreading occupation:
The presence of tens of thousands of American combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula after 1990 enabled Al Qaeda to recruit suicide terrorists, who in turn attacked Americans in the region (the African embassy bombings in 1998 and the attack on the destroyer Cole in 2000). The presence of nearly 150,000 American combat troops in Iraq since 2003 can only give suicide terrorism a boost, and the longer this suicide terrorist campaign continues the greater the risk of new attacks in the United States.
Update [2005-5-18 10:20:33 by Cache]: zappini
, in a comment below, finds a truly fascinating bit of independent support:
In the May 20, 2004 issue, The Economist ran a book review (entitled Shireen and others like her
) of Christoph Reuter's My Life Is A Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide
Isreali secret-service analysts, writes
Christoph Reuter, a reporter for Germany's Stern magazine, have spent
years working on the profile of the "typical suicide assassin", only to
conclude that there is no such person. His well-researched history of
suicide attacks, which touches on the 12th-century Assassins but
concentrates on today, shows this to be generally true. Suicide
attackers can be educated and uneducated; religious and secular;
comfortably off and destitute: their link is the decision they make to
transform their powerlessness into extraordinary power. No credible
threat can be made against those who have no desire to survive.