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Studies Of Suicide Bombings
Finger Back At Us
By Georgie Geyer
- WASHINGTON -- We have entered a new phase of
the Iraq war since the optimism following the Jan. 30 elections there, and the manifestations of the changes are everywhere.
- Every American general who comes out of Baghdad now
speaks only in words that are hesitant, relative, depressed. Here at home, the figures emerging from even the Pentagon are
frightening: The Army and the Army National Guard are likely to meet only 75 percent of their recruiting targets in the next
- Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center reported this
week that disillusionment is setting in with the American people over Iraq. "We are seeing more and more saying, 'Get the
troops out,'" he said this week. "They are getting the continuing portrait of an insurgency that just doesn't quit. Six months
ago, 65 percent of Americans were saying the war could meet its goals; now only 46 percent are saying that." London's International
Institute of Strategic Studies says American troops will be needed for six more years.
- Yet, despite these surface indications of trouble ahead,
the administration sticks stubbornly to its underlying thesis: Suicide bombers are religious zealots who must be defeated
there, lest they attack us here. The logic has not budged an inch in two years: They are crazy and brutal Islamic fundamentalists,
motivated by religious beliefs that would radicalize the entire Middle East were it not for us.
- The problem now is that the rationalization for all
the mistakes that led us into Iraq and keep us there is quite awfully turned on its head. According to ground-shaking analyses
by two brilliant, nonideological scholars, it is OUR military presence in the Middle East that is every day CREATING the suicide
bombers -- and will continue to do so unless and until we change our policies.
- Robert A. Pape, associate professor of political science
at the University of Chicago, has also been heading the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. With a team of analysts, he
has studied suicide terrorist bombers from Sri Lanka, where they began, to Israel-Palestine, to Lebanon, to Iraq. He has created
a database -- the first ever conceived -- of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 to 2003, and his
findings are unequivocal.
- First, he did not find the bombers to be fanatical or
essentially unusual people -- "Suicide terrorists' political aims, if not their methods, are often more mainstream than observers
realize," he wrote in his recent book, "Dying to Win." "They generally reflect quite common, straightforward nationalist self-determination
claims of their community."
- Second, contrary to the beliefs of this administration,
religion plays a very small role in their motivations. "Rather," Pape pointed out to me when we met recently at the University
of Chicago, "what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks 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 rarely the root cause."
- Third, the president's beloved idea that "regime change"
and "democratization" will decrease suicide bombings and other related violence is fatally flawed. In fact, Pape says: "An
attempt to transform Muslim societies through regime change is likely to dramatically increase the threat we face. The root
cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses to the local community's
way of life.
- "The stationing of tens of thousands of American combat
troops on the Arabian Peninsula from 1990 to 2001 probably made al-Qaida suicide attacks against Americans ... from five to
20 times more likely. Hence, the longer American troops remain in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf in general, the greater the
risk of the next Sept. 11."
- Another scholar and analyst who has done outstanding
and original work on suicide bombers is Washington's Dr. Rona M. Fields, clinical psychologist and sociologist, and author
of "Martyrdom: The Psychology, Theology and Politics of Self-Sacrifice." After 35 years of research on terrorism in 11 different
countries, she came to exactly the same conclusions.
- "The main thing is that terrorism is a choice people
make," Fields told me. "It's not a sickness, and it's not religious as such. It's a choice they make when they feel that their
group is threatened. It's a level of retributive justice; it's vendetta, not psychosis. In fact, the word 'martyrdom' was
originally a Christian term, and the Muslims got the idea from intermingling with Christians."
- If these findings are true -- and they certainly ring true
to me and to many who have worked in and covered the Middle East -- then not only are we finding it treacherous going in Iraq,
but every minute we stay there, perceived as invaders in a foreign land, we are perversely creating the dangerous and effective
violence against us and the middle-ground Iraqis whom we depend upon. Odd, that our leaders cannot even begin to fathom this!