Robert Anthony Pape is an expert on suicide terrorism and is the founder of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. On 7 February 2008 Pape joined Ron Paul’s presidential campaign as a foreign policy advisor.
Noam Chomsky mentioned his work in a talk titled “War on Terror“
There is broad agreement among specialists that al-Qaeda-style terror “is today less a product of Islamic fundamentalism than of a simple strategic goal: to compel the United States and its Western allies to withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries” (Robert Pape, who has done the major research on suicide bombers).
Watch the full interview with Robert Pape.
What we still don’t understand about HizbollahThis week, world terrorism expert Robert Pape will share with the FBI the findings of his remarkable study of 462 suicide bombings. He concludes that such acts have little to do with religious extremism and that the West must engage politically to halt the relentless slaughter
Sunday August 6, 2006
In terms of structure and hierarchy, it is less comparable with, say, a religious cult such as the Taliban than to the multi-dimensional American civil rights movement of the 1960s. What made its rise so rapid, and will make it impossible to defeat militarily, was not its international support but the fact that it evolved from a reorientation of pre-existing Lebanese social groups.
Evidence of the broad nature of Hizbollah’s resistance to Israeli occupation can be seen in the identity of its suicide attackers. Hizbollah conducted a broad campaign of suicide bombings against American, French and Israeli targets from 1982 to 1986. Altogether, these attacks, which included the infamous bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, involved 41 suicide terrorists.
Researching my book, which covered all 462 suicide bombings around the globe, I had colleagues scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and biographies of the Hizbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. We were shocked to find that only eight were Islamic fundamentalists; 27 were from leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a female secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.
What these suicide attackers – and their heirs today – shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not root out Hizbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force.
Previous analyses of suicide terrorism have not had the benefit of a complete survey of all suicide terrorist attacks worldwide. The lack of complete data, together with the fact that many such attacks, including all those against Americans, have been committed by Muslims, has led many in the US to assume that Islamic fundamentalism must be the underlying main cause. This, in turn, has fuelled a belief that anti-American terrorism can be stopped only by wholesale transformation of Muslim societies, which helped create public support of the invasion of Iraq. But study of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism shows that the presumed connection to Islamic fundamentalism is misleading.
There is not the close connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism that many people think. Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.
Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organisations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective. Most often, it is a response to foreign occupation.
Understanding that suicide terrorism is not a product of Islamic fundamentalism has important implications for how the US and its allies should conduct the war on terrorism. Spreading democracy across the Persian Gulf is not likely to be a panacea as long as foreign troops remain on the Arabian peninsula. The obvious solution might well be simply to abandon the region altogether. Isolationism, however, is not possible; America needs a new strategy that pursues its vital interest in oil but does not stimulate the rise of a new generation of suicide terrorists. The same is true of Israel now.
The new Israeli land offensive may take ground and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying Hizbollah. In fact, in the wake of the bombings of civilians, the incursion will probably aid Hizbollah’s recruiting.
Equally important, Israel’s incursion is also squandering the goodwill it had initially earned from so-called moderate Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The countries are the court of opinion that matters because, while Israel cannot crush Hizbollah, it could achieve a more limited goal: ending Hizbollah’s acquisition of more missiles through Syria.
Given Syria’s total control of its border with Lebanon, stemming the flow of weapons is a job for diplomacy, not force. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, Sunni-led nations that want stability in the region, are motivated to stop the rise of Hizbollah. Under the right conditions, the US might be able to help assemble an ad hoc coalition of Syria’s neighbours to entice and bully it to prevent Iranian, Chinese or other foreign missiles from entering Lebanon. It could also offer to begin talks over the future of the Golan Heights.
But Israel must take the initiative. Unless it calls off the offensive and accepts a genuine ceasefire, there are likely to be many, many dead Israelis in the coming weeks – and a much stronger Hizbollah.
· Robert Pape is professor of political studies at the University of Chicago. His book, Dying to Win: Why Suicide Terrorists Do It, will be published in the UK by Gibson Square this month, £18.99