A New Way to Look at Suicide Terrorism - Robert Papes Dying to Win


The book that is the subject of this review is Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, by University of Chicago professor Robert A. Pape and originally published in 2005 but updated in 2006. The subject matter is an overview of the over 400 suicide terrorist missions that have been carried out between 1980 and 2005, as well as a discussion of what motivates campaigns of suicide terrorism around the world. The information contained in the work is truly a paradigm-shifter in terms of how suicide terrorism should be viewed and how the 'War on Terror" can be won.

The book was recently recommended by Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul in a reading list to Rudy Giuliani on the topic of American foreign policy and the motivations for suicide terrorism. During a presidential candidates' debate in South Carolina on May 15, Giuliani stated he had never heard of Paul's explanation of the 9/11 attacks against America, and Paul decided a reading assignment was in order. As a ten-term Congressman and author of numerous books on monetary and foreign policy, and the most ardent defender of personal liberty and less-intrusive government, Paul's recommendations should carry great weight in the political arena. He often refers to history and analysis to back up his arguments, and has recommended Pape's Dying to Win several times during his campaign thus far.

Pape divides the book into three main sections, each of which examines a different logic of suicide terrorism. The book also contains extensive appendices, which present the data and analysis that Pape used in his studies.

In the first major part of the book, "The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," the author examines broadly why campaigns on suicide bombing are waged, and dispels some of the more conventional wisdom ("They hate us for our freedom," and so on). According to Pape, al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Tamil Tigers, and all organizations turn to suicide terrorism against democratic countries for three main reasons: because they wish to gain control of a territory but are weak in conventional weaponry, they believe that the public will of democracies are more easily swayed, and they have learned that suicide terrorism yields results.

Pape examines various campaigns of suicide terrorism and shows that these reasons are the ones most often cited by the various groups for the actions. Hamas wishes Israel to leave the occupied territories of Palestine, and thus targets Israelis, while al-Qaeda wishes to end US foreign occupation of the Arabian peninsula and other Muslim regions, and thus targets America. Even though al-Qaeda has targeted other nations, as well, their strategic motivation is to place greater military and economic burdens on the US and remove the support of allies. However, Pape argues that suicide terrorism has been largely unsuccessful at its broader goals of ending perceived occupations, and has achieved only smaller, more inconsequential concessions from their targets.

The second part of the book examines "The Social Logic of Suicide Terrorism," which discusses the community support of campaigns of suicide terrorism. Papes argument is that nationalism is a stronger motivational factor than any other, although organizations have also inflamed religious differences. When countries are faced with a foreign occupation, they are more likely to rally around their own sovereignty and oppose the occupation. When the occupying country is also of another major religion (Hindu Tamil Tigers and Buddhist Sri Lanka, Muslim al-Qaeda and Christian United States), terrorist organizations use the difference to inflame the nationalistic tendencies even further, creating a perceived threat to the homeland's chosen religion if the occupying force altered the national religion.

To support his argument in this section, the author tests his theory on the major suicide terrorist campaigns that have been waged around the world since 1980. In each of the cases, there was a stronger tendency towards this type of terrorism when a foreign democracy was occupying a homeland and that foreign nation had a religious difference. In fact, when religious difference was not present, the campaign of suicide terrorism was less sustained or aggressive. Perhaps the most enlightening part of this section looks at non-Muslim suicide terrorism to show that there is not an inherent aspect of Islam that encourages suicide as a terrorism tactic. In the case of the Hindu Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Islam is not the major religion of either party, yet this group is responsible for more suicide terrorist attacks than any other.

The last section of the book discusses what would motivate a person to volunteer to give up his or her life in an attempt to kill as many others as possible. Pape argues in "The Individual Logic of Suicide Terrorism" that suicide terrorists are motivated by altruistic reasons more than any other, including a desire to improve the lives of the community and put an end to the foreign occupation. Pape differentiates between egoistic suicide, altruistic suicide, and fatalistic suicide, showing that most terrorists who willingly strap bombs to themselves or drive truck bombs into buildings fit most accurately into altruistic suicide. This is an important point, as it shows that terrorists desire to improve the lives of their families and community by ending the foreign occupation, rather than simply killing others of a different religion because of fundamental beliefs. Again, religious differences are used to make suicide acceptable as a tactic, but foreign occupation is the main motivational factor.