Middle East studies in the News
Scholar: Cause for Rise in Suicide Bombings? Foreign Occupation [on Robert Pape]
by Trevor Williams
As some policy makers call for U.S. boots on the ground in the crucial battle against the Islamic State in Tikrit, Iraq, a University of Chicago scholar warned of exacerbating one of the main causes of suicide bombings in the Middle East and around the world.
Robert Pape, a political science professor, argues that despite the focus on Islamic religious fervor, the real reason terrorists have been blowing themselves up in unprecedented numbers is that they're fighting against foreign military occupation. His thesis was published "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism", and shared in a speech this week at the Halle Institute of Global Learning at Emory University.
He likened suicide attacks to a cancer infecting the world, and said a proper diagnosis of the risk factors is the only way to find a cure.
"(Military occupation) is the smoking of the cause of suicide attack. It's the most important thing to know, because if you don't know military occupation, physical occupation, is the principle cause, you can easily take policies that make the matter worse," he said.
Don't agree? Dr. Pape says he's just the messenger. He and a team have collected 15,000 documents in a variety of languages analyzing 4,283 attacks, allsearchable online. Last year alone, the databased says that 492 attacks killed more than 4,300 people, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That pales in comparison to the global stock of attacks before 2003, which stood at just 343, with the vast majority perpetrated by non-Muslims. The Tamil Tiger separatists of Sri Lanka were the reigning kings of suicide attacks at the time.
What changed? The first was the arrival of proof that they work, Dr. Pape says. Hezbollah operatives traded one life for those of 241 U.S. Marines in the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut, and the U.S. pulled troops out of the country the next year.
"David not only knocked Goliath in the eye; he knocked Goliath out of the game," he said.
The ratios of "success" for the suicide attackers of 9/11 in New York andWashington, where the actions of 19 hijackers killed more than 3,000 Americans, were staggeringly higher.
For anecdotal proof of their motives, Dr. Pape at the luncheon played videos in which some 9/11 hijackers and al Qaeda operatives stressed that they would fight until Western forces (and the Arab rulers that cowtow to them) exit Muslim lands. His data confirm that places where American forces have been active over the last decade have also been the epicenters of suicide attacks. The top two categories of attacks have been those carried out by Iraqi and Afghani rebels against U.S. forces.
ISIS, he said, is likely at least in part a reprisal of the Anbar Awakening, a group of Sunni insurgents that the U.S. government "paid not to kill us" during the "surge" of American troops during 2005-06. In other words, the decline in suicide violence during those years can be linked to finances and the ability of the Iraqis to feel a sense of self-determination with that money, Dr. Pape said.
He also added that imposing views on democracy or the role of women in society at the "barrel of a gun" is bound to see resistance, especially when it's a guise for protecting global oil interests — the real reason (and legitimate, economically) that the U.S. is wrapped up in conflicts in the Middle East, in his view.
To emphasize what Iraqi rebels face, he challenged Atlantans to think of how they would react to a garrison of 50,000 Chinese troops being stationed at Emory, even with the agreement of President Barack Obama.
"I don't think that would go down well, and I wouldn't be surprised to see quite aggressive behavior that the government could not stop against those Chinese," he said.
So what to do about ISIS? Dr. Pape urged a policy he calls "offshore balancing," a mix of U.S.-led airstrikes and followed by campaigns by locally led special forces, though he believes the prospect of U.S. cooperation with Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq should be offset by policies that get Sunnis to participate in the restructuring of the country.
"Having the Shi'a come and march and retake the Sunni areas would very likely lead to a giant bloodbath that will make this whole problem worse, so I don't think that's a reasonable policy," he said.
He supported efforts to achieve energy independence in the U.S., which he believes would help the U.S. to weigh interests of intervention beyond access to oil.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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