Robert Pape and James Feldman conclude that religion (e.g. Islam) has nothing to do with suicide attacks!
October 11, 2010 - NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
Since 9/11, terrorists willing to give their own lives have proven to be both very effective and very difficult to stop. And beginning with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we've assigned at least part of their motive to religious extremism.
In a new book, Robert Pape and James Feldman conclude that there is a single root cause of suicide attacks, and that religion has nothing to do with it. They argue suicide attackers act to resist foreign military occupation, and they've examined the historical record as part of their proof.
Hardly anybody knows more about these subjects than Robert Pape. So if you'd like to pick his brain about terrorism and the cause of suicide attacks, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program: talking with the devil. Leslie Gelb joins us on the Opinion Page to discuss negotiations with the Taliban.
But first: suicide attacks. Robert Pape is a professor of political science and heads up the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. He's coauthor of the new book "Cutting the Fuse," and joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you on the program with us today. Welcome back.
Professor ROBERT PAPE (Political Science, University of Chicago; Author): Thanks, Neal. Great to be here.
CONAN: And this conclusion about military occupation, that's not new. Your evidence is new.
Prof. PAPE: That's exactly right. I put forward the hypothesis before that military occupation is the root cause of suicide terrorism, but never have we had such definitive data behind this hypothesis.
Neal, this kind of research is a little bit like smoking and lung cancer. In the 1940s, there were initial hypotheses that smoking was the root cause of lung cancer, but it wasn't really until the 1950s, when we had robust, voluminous information, to form a true consensus about that empirical relationship.
That's what's new today. You see, I've looked over the last 30 years at over 2,200 suicide terrorist attacks. Over 97 percent of those suicide terrorist attacks are in response to a foreign occupation.
CONAN: And how do you make that determination?
Prof. PAPE: Well, what we do is we actually look a lot like researchers studying smoking and lung cancer, who gets the cancer of suicide terrorism, and who does not.
You see, we can - look, I have a research team of 10 people. We identify suicide attacks when they occur, when an individual kills himself himself or herself herself on a mission to kill others. Then we corroborate that information with multiple sources of verified data, no anonymous Internet chat room information.
And then we seek out the actual identity of the suicide attackers, socioeconomic data about the suicide attackers - really, quite a wealth of information. But perhaps the most important thing we know is simply the geography, the global geography of suicide terrorist attacks.
You see, if suicide terrorism was really just a product of Islamic fundamentalism, as most people have thought, or any ideology independent of circumstance, then it would be pretty scattered around the 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. That's not what we see.
What we see with suicide terrorist attacks as a highly concentrated phenomenon. Again, it's like lung cancer: highly concentrated among smokers. This is highly concentrated among occupiers.
CONAN: You also draw another analogy to cancer. There are - in terrorism in general, as you say, there are lots of different kinds of cancer, some of them benign. There are lots of different kinds of terrorism.
Prof. PAPE: Exactly right. There's many forms of terrorism: ordinary terrorism, demonstrative terrorism, where people don't want to kill anybody, just get a lot of people watching.
What's special about suicide terrorist attacks like 9/11 is that those are the biggest killers, much like lung cancer, which has - there are many forms of cancer which are either less deadly or more benign, and lung cancer's the biggest killer. It's suicide terrorism that we really have to deal with. And if we could take away suicide terrorism, yeah, there'd still be some terrorism out there, but we wouldn't be turning our country, our foreign policy, upside-down.
CONAN: We're talking with Robert Pape. Along with James Feldman, he's the author of the new book "The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It." It's called "Cutting the Fuse." If you'd like to pick his brain about what we know about terrorism in general, suicide terrorism in specific, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. And we'll begin with Troy, Troy with us from Tacoma.
TROY (Caller): Hey, Dr. Pape, it's great to see that you're on the show here. Yeah, I read your book "Dying to Win," and reference it a couple times. I've been in the Army for almost 19 years. I have five tours in Iraq, spanning over my 19 years. And I can honestly tell you that one thing that scared the Iraqis was not IEDs or rocket attacks. It was a threat of suicide.
So I agree and disagree with you on a couple things, but I wanted to ask you a question. Number one: As suicide terrorism, is it a tactic or a strategy? I know that's a loaded question. But as a tactic, is it defeatable? The same thing as a strategy, is it defeatable?
And the other thing is I would disagree with you on your thesis about foreign occupation. Again, just as a strategy - excuse me, as a tactic, it's used, you know, to scare, you know. But as a strategy, I don't think it's sustainable, and I don't think it's effective.
Now, I know you're going to refer back to - you've got a laundry list, you've got 2,200 incidences that you can refer back to, and some of them that made me believe in your hypothesis, which brought forth in "Dying to Win" was the Beirut attacks. And yes, foreign occupation probably, some would argue, some could argue the other way.
CONAN: And when you talk about the - Troy, when you talk about the Beirut attacks, you're talking about the attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks.
TROY: Yes. Yeah. That's right.
Prof. PAPE: Those are great questions, Troy, and I really appreciate them. And actually, they're kind of together, because you say: Is suicide terrorism defeatable? And that's actually kind of linked to this argument I'm making about foreign occupation.
You see, if it's really religion that's driving suicide terrorism, then as foreign - and not foreign occupation, then as foreign occupation goes away and religion stays, we should still have robust suicide terrorism.
In fact, we see the opposite. We see not only is case after case of a suicide terrorist campaign triggered - almost immediately, usually - by the onset of foreign forces - you just referenced Lebanon in the early 1980s. That's true of Iraq. That's true of Afghanistan. The - not only does that trigger suicide - does suicide occupation trigger suicide terrorist campaigns, but when the occupation goes down, the suicide terrorism goes down.
Lebanon, since May 2000, there's not been an Israeli presence in Lebanon. You know, since May 2000, Hezbollah - or no other Lebanese -there have been no suicide attacks, zero, not in even in the summer of 2006 when we had a three-week war between Israel and Lebanon.
Iraq, over the last two years, we have been dramatically pulling back our occupation of Iraq, and what has happened? Suicide terrorism is down 85 percent and is...
TROY: I would be very careful. I would be very careful to link the two in Iraq. You know, I'd just be very careful.
Prof. PAPE: Well, Troy, tell me why? I'm definitely...
CONAN: Well, let me ask a question. At least some of the attacks in Iraq were directed against Shia pilgrims.
Prof. PAPE: Yes.
CONAN: That doesn't seem to be an attack against military occupation. These are sectarian.
Prof. PAPE: Exactly right. There is no doubt that every - I'm not trying to claim that the pattern of foreign occupation accounts for 100 percent of the attacks. And there's no doubt that there are some attacks, even in Iraq, that are not tightly linked. But over 85 percent of the suicide attacks have come down in the last two years, and that's true across the board.
And just think about that for a moment. That's a tremendously more secure environment than we had two years ago. And they're coming down. Many people were worried: Oh, what if we started to pull out forces? Wouldn't there be an explosion? Make things worse? Remember those arguments two years ago?
Well, we now have demonstrable evidence - not hypotheses, but demonstrable evidence - that as we withdraw, so do the - let me take Israel, the Second Intifada. Remember, from 2000 to 2005, we had virtually a pizza parlor blowing up almost every month in Israel.
What happened in 2005 was Ariel Sharon set in motion a process - and this was not a guy who was very soft - a process of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and big parts of the West Bank, building a security fence, not actually withdrawing from offense, and building defenses and unilateral concessions. What did that do? It brought down suicide attack 93 percent.
CONAN: And Robert Pape would argue: Increase the number of U.S. and foreign forces in Afghanistan, we see an increase in suicide attacks...
Prof. PAPE: Another perfect example, Neal. You see, before 2001, when we toppled the Taliban, there were no suicide attacks in Iraq - I'm sorry, in Afghanistan. And then what happened? For the first four years, we had teeny, tiny numbers of forces in Afghanistan, and there were teeny, tiny numbers of suicide attacks.
CONAN: Let's let Troy get in here.
TROY: I was going to say, if you say no attacks, but the fact of the matter is you're not there collecting data. And the fact of the matter is there possibly could have been many attacks, it's just that you weren't able to measure them.
So I totally agree with you - I appreciate your work because what it does is, as far as force protection measures, it causes us in the military to consider that foremost. And so we protect our soldiers and protect our, you know, our bases and whatnot because we know that's a tactic. And I appreciate that you bring that to the forefront. But I would be very careful about saying there are no attacks. No measurable attacks...
Prof. PAPE: Well, Troy, you're right to be somewhat skeptical, but let me just simply say: Remember that these suicide attacks are extremely salient in the local communities. And maybe you're right. Maybe we missed a handful. But do you really think that there were hundreds and hundreds of suicide attacks that somehow could occur, killing all these people, which just simply oblivious to the world? I think that's just simply highly unlikely.
CONAN: Troy, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
TROY: All right. Y'all take care.
CONAN: Bye-bye. But what about that initial attack that spurred all of our interests, 9/11? Nineteen mostly Saudi men crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center. What's that about foreign occupation?
Prof. PAPE: It's about the foreign - our military presence on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1990s, Neal. See, what most Americans either haven't known or haven't remembered is that 1990 was a watershed year in our military deployment to the Arabian peninsula.
Yes, before 1990, we had a few advisors with side arms - mostly Marines with a pistol standing in front of an embassy - but no tanks, no fighter aircraft, no armor units, going all the way back to World War II.
We put them in August 1990 in order to kick Saddam out of Kuwait. We did that six months later, by March '91, and then we never made a decision to stay. We just never left.
CONAN: Well, a lot of those armored forces, like the airplanes, were still there to enforce the U.N. no-fly zones but - and do some other things, too. But indeed, those air forces were still there.
Coming up, more with Robert Pape, who studied every suicide attack from 1987, all the way to 2009. You can pick his brain. Call us: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking with Robert Pape this hour, the head of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. Not a foreign concept to the United States before September the 11th, 2001, but for Americans, he says there was something terrifyingly new about 9/11 that set it apart, the willingness of 19 people to kill themselves, to kill innocent civilians, massive numbers of them.
Pape argues that the new reality of suicide terrorism called into question all of America's methods for responding to violent threats. You can read how in an excerpt on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
If you have questions for Robert Pape, our number, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And here's an email question. This is from Carol(ph): It's hard to believe religion does not play a significant role in enabling suicide bombers. Does your guest think recruits would be as forthcoming if there was no belief in heavenly rewards for martyrdom?
Prof. PAPE: Actually, we have a large number of secular suicide terrorists. For many decades, the world leader in suicide terrorism around the world was not at a group that was coming at us or coming at our allies, and they're also not an Islamic group. They were the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group. The secular Tamil Tigers, who had no belief in the afterlife, did more suicide attacks than Hamas.
Further, we have plenty of secular Muslim suicide terrorist groups, such as the PKK in Turkey, which is another Marxist, read anti-religious, suicide terrorist group. And the reason for that is because if, as I'm suggesting, it's foreign occupation which is really the driving trigger that's triggering both religious and secular suicide terrorists, secular suicide terrorists can readily believe they're going to become heroes.
They're going to benefit their community in this world by giving their life. And in fact, many of them make martyr videos precisely to become heroes - that is martyrs - after they die because they believe that they have benefitted their community, again, in this life so well.
In Lebanon, for instance, three-quarters of the suicide attackers were actually Marxists or socialists, making martyr videos to become heroes.
CONAN: Henry's(ph) on the line calling from Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania.
HENRY (Caller): Hello, Doctor. I respect your statistical, empirical approach entirely, and your argument is compelling. My question is simply: Is there a does collectivism play a role? Do you feel that the economics of the societies that generate suicide terrorism today have a lack of individualism, of individualist capitalism, and is that a role in the philosophy that people have, which leaves them to make selfless acts of killing themselves?
Prof. PAPE: I really don't think that that plays much of a role. It may well do in ways we cannot track empirically with the data. One thing, one example that directly cuts against that is the very first suicide attackers in history were in the first century A.D. They were the Jewish zealots in Zakari.
They were a group of essentially Jewish, let's call them terrorists so to speak, who were trying to rebel against Roman occupation. And what is happening under the circumstances of an occupation is that the occupation itself, that external circumstance, is collectivizing the society so that the societies are not the same before and after an occupation.
Just imagine if there was a Chinese army of 50,000 in Vermont, for example. Would that not have a pretty broad effect on the body politic of the United States? Would let's even assume the administration, the Obama administration, had a peace deal with them and said yes, it's fine for you to be in Vermont. But then that army started suppressing people in New Hampshire. Wouldn't the body politic as a whole begin to feel that, kind of as a collective body? That's what's happening with foreign occupation.
CONAN: Isn't it also, though, a tactic, suicide bombing, of the greatly weaker party? If you had other alternatives, might not you resort to them instead?
Prof. PAPE: You absolutely would. What we see in nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns is that the suicide element comes as a later or last stage, last resort, after ordinary means of resisting an occupation have failed.
So it's not that we see it coming early. You see, if it's just about an excuse for the quick trip to heaven, then we should be seeing suicide terrorism coming very early and exploding for the least provocation. You wouldn't have to have occupation triggering it.
But that's not what we see. What we see is you have occupations, you have resistance to occupation, and then you have really a desperate resistance to the occupation. And that's where the word desperation comes from. It's not being just poor. It's desperate resistance to the occupation.
CONAN: Henry, thanks very much.
HENRY: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Derrick(ph), Derrick with us from Moments in Illinois.
GARRETT(ph) (Caller): Hi, it's actually Garrett. But I was calling, and I don't disagree with Robert that occupation certainly could be a contributing factor. But as the root cause, wouldn't we have to see suicide bombing in occupations we are we have in countries that aren't (technical difficulty) Muslim?
So say, like, we've been in Korea since 1952. Why don't we see, you know, a high rate of suicide attacks from Korea?
CONAN: Or Northern Ireland, where a relatively powerless group did not resort to suicide attacks over the course of a very long war.
Prof. PAPE: Well, and of course, remember, Garrett, that in World War II, we did see suicide attack from the kamikazes. The kamikazes did suicide attacks starting in October '44 to try to resist our occupation of their home islands.
CONAN: It was off the coast of the Philippines. We weren't there yet.
Prof. PAPE: Well, we were that's - but they were trying to prevent it. But you're quite right, actually, Garrett. I'm not trying to say that all occupations escalate to suicide terrorism. There are additional factors why some occupations and not others.
And one additional factor is when there's a large social distance between the society of the foreign occupier and the society of the occupied community. A measure of that large social distance is in fact the different religions. So we often see different religions, where Christians occupy Muslims. Or in the case of Sri Lanka, it's Buddhists occupying Hindus.
And so when you have that religious difference, there is a role for religion in the recruiting of suicide attackers, but it's not in the promise of the afterlife. It's in scaring the local community about the religion of the occupier.
So the terrorist leader, when there's a religious difference, can go to the local community and give speeches and say that occupier is driven by religion. They're going to come and take over our way of life, and they're going to enforce their religion on us.
This is exactly what Osama bin Laden does when he refers to the crusaders who are coming to the Arabian Peninsula to damage Muslims, convert Muslims into Christians and basically destroy the way of life of people on the Arabian Peninsula and scaring the bejesus out of both secular and religious Muslims alike.
CONAN: Garrett, thanks very much.
GARRETT: Yeah, thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Benedict(ph), one of our new listeners in Houston: Have there been studies done on suicide attacks motivated by economic benefit? In other words, in return for doing this, the families of the suicide bombers are taken care of? And that pertains to the situation in some of the Palestinian territories.
Prof. PAPE: Yes, that was a very common hypothesis in the newspapers in the 1990s. And the Israeli government really did something about that. Starting in 1998, the Israeli government started a policy that when there was a suicide attacker, a Palestinian suicide attacker, they would respond and destroy not just the home of the suicide attacker but five homes of the nearest friends or family member of the suicide attacker, basically from 1998 to 2003 destroying over 500 homes to absolutely make sure there was no economic benefit. Well, when they destroyed those homes, it did nothing but fuel more attacks, I'm afraid. So actually, they stopped it.
CONAN: So deterrence effectively doesn't work.
Prof. PAPE: Deterrence, we need to we can't deter the terrorists once they're starting down the road, once the fuse has been lit, but we can cut the fuse. We can stop the suicide attackers before they start by taking away the occupation driving it.
It's a lot like lung cancer. Once someone has lung cancer, they've really only got a few months to live. The way to stop lung cancer is before it stops, by stopping smoking.
CONAN: Nevertheless, there are situations where occupation is, well, seen as an overriding interest. And you think of obviously, if that is an overriding interest, you're going to have to calculate the losses to suicide bombings as part of the equation.
Prof. PAPE: Neal, you're quite right. I'm not trying to take the position we should never occupy a foreign country. What I'm trying to say is if we do think it's important to occupy a foreign country, we need to understand that comes with the risk of 3,000 American lives.
We're not actually saving 3,000 Americans by doing it. And yes, there may be some instances in the future where we'll look at the world and say yes, it's really worth the risk of 3,000 dead Americans to occupy this country.
CONAN: Let's go next to Ken, and Ken's with us from Southport in North Carolina.
KEN (Caller): Good afternoon, doctor. Interesting comment about scaring the bejesus out of Muslims. But my question is how much you've looked into - you've indirectly answered a little bit - but how much you've looked into the psychology of the individual who says - walks in and says I want to kill myself for this cause. I'm a soldier, who knows he may get killed but hopes he doesn't. These people are directly knowing they're going to go to die for it.
Prof. PAPE: That's exactly right. And so a lot of people think when they look into the psychology of a suicide attacker, they're looking for the kind of psychology they'd seen in ordinary suicide. They're looking for evidence of depression, trauma. That's often what's behind the poverty.
CONAN: Mental illness.
Prof. PAPE: Mental illness. That's often what's behind the poverty idea. And the reason that people look for that is because ordinary suicide, the kind we see in our everyday lives, really does relate to mental illness, personal trauma, extreme poverty, sometimes producing...
CONAN: Or drastic change in economic status.
Prof. PAPE: Exactly right. But what is happening with suicide terrorism is there's actually a different form of psychology of suicide. The form of ordinary suicide that we see is often called egoistic suicide, a personal trauma.
Well, there's another form of suicide called altruistic suicide. That's the kind of suicide we tend to see in militaries, when we see military suicides. Military soldiers often commit suicide for very slight infractions of the military code of honor. Why? They believe they'd embarrassed their whole unit or their friends, their whole group they care about.
CONAN: You think of Mike Boorda, the former chief of Naval operations, who - it turned out may not have been qualified for one of the honors that he wore on his chest and killed himself.
Prof. PAPE: That's exactly right. That's an example, by the way, I just used in a large talk a few days ago, Neal. So I'm glad you mentioned it because, see, in the late '90s, Admiral Boorda was being confronted - I think it was Michael Ware, the Time correspondent, the famous correspondent - with a story where he was going to run a story over a weekend - on a Monday that Boorda had inappropriately, decades before, worn a medal that he got in Vietnam. And what happened exactly...
CONAN: It's not the Congressional Medal of Honor, either. I mean...
Prof. PAPE: Well, a minor medal - it was a minor medal for - it was actually an oak leaf. See, he was in a three - his unit was involved in a three-week engagement in Vietnam. And then in the middle of that engagement, he was hurt - so pulled out - so he deserved a medal for the engagement and a Purple Heart, but not the oak leaf cluster for the ultimate success of the - well, he, himself, didn't figure that out until the late '70s. Then he took it off. And what Ware did he was going to make a big fuss about this.
And what Boorda did is he got the story on a Friday morning, went home, two hours later, wrote a note, killed himself with his service revolver - because this is in the middle of a big fight with the Clinton administration. And he said this is the only way to stop the damage this will do to my service. And it did stop the story.
CONAN: Ken, thanks very much for the phone call.
KEN: Thank you.
CONAN: Talking with Robert Pape, along with James Feldman, author of the new book "Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
So ending an occupation is a way to stop it. That may not be congruent with other policy interests. So are there ways to reduce the threat of terror - of a suicide bombing?
Prof. PAPE: Absolutely. One of the big things that is in "Cutting the Fuse" that I haven't published before is that there is an intervening way to reduce the occupation before withdrawing forces. We call it in-country balancing, or empowering local groups. So think about it for a moment. What I'm saying is that the local occupation is putting at risk the local community's way of life. Well, if the local community could still secure themselves, become stronger, then they'd have more confidence in their future way of life.
Well, that idea of empowering local groups, that's what helped in Iraq in 2007. You see, the success of helping end the violence we attribute to the thing called a surge in Iraq is really attributable directly in Anbar province to the empowerment of Iraqis to protect themselves.
Essentially, we paid 100,000 Sunni terrorists $300 a month in Anbar province to do one thing: don't kill us. You can go buy guns with that. You can have political power with that. But don't kill us, and you get $300 a month paycheck. Well, that worked wonderfully to bring down, actually, about 40 percent of the suicide terrorism - not quite - not anywhere all of it, but about 40 percent. And that in combination with what we're doing now - the withdrawal of the ground forces - is why Iraq is so stable today.
CONAN: A little more complicated. And inform on those scary guys over there who are still trying to kill us, and you, for working with us now - and so it became a self-enforcing mechanism. And there's some questions now.
But if this were true, if this hypothesis is correct, why, then, the lack of suicide attacks against colonial occupiers around the world in the 19th century, in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, in other places? Why is this suddenly a phenomenon of the last 30 years?
Prof. PAPE: Because technology does matter. The spread of the small arms revolution in the 20th century - explosives - all around the colonial empire in the late 20th century, in the mid-20th century really enables the phenomenon of suicide bombing that we're familiar with today.
In the 19th century, you just simply didn't have grenades, mines, small arms littered all around India, or you didn't have it littered around those colonial empires. What exactly happened, Neal, is that after World War I - in World War I, there was this mass production of small arms. Those small arms were then defused to the Third World, or what we now what we've often called the Third World. And then what happened there is local groups became much more capable of resisting that colonial occupation. And what we're really seeing with suicide terrorism is actually just the latest move, the latest wave in a growing wave of being able to resist foreign military forces.
CONAN: Some of those Enfield rifles mass produced in the First World War still in use in Afghanistan today. Robert Pape, thank you so much for your time.
Prof. PAPE: Thank you.
CONAN: That'll be an interesting conference here tomorrow at the New America Foundation as Robert Pape and others...
Prof. PAPE: At Capitol Hill.
CONAN: At Capitol Hill.
Prof. PAPE: On Capitol Hill.
CONAN: So, anyway, Robert Pape, his new book, "Cutting the Fuse," along with James Feldman. He's a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and was kind enough to join us here today in Studio 3A.
Coming up, the Taliban on the Opinion Page. Les Gelb examines the pros and cons of secret talks. Plus, we'll remember one of the 20th century's great sopranos.
Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.