The opening of Sam Harris’s End of Faith, like several essays he wrote at HuffPo, focus on suicide bombing. He argues that suicide bombing is absurd, and only exists because of religion. A footnote to EoF acknowledges that suicide bombing was first deployed on a large scale by the Tamil Tigers, who were not fighting a religious war, but rather were part of an ethnic and nationalistic conflict. He waves this objection away at HuffPo by writing: “it is misleading to describe the Tamil Tigers as ‘secular’ … While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death. The cult of martyr-worship that they have nurtured for decades has many of the features of religiosity that one would expect in people who give their lives so easily for a cause.” In other words, they aren’t motivated by religion, but their longstanding ethnic/nationalistic war has produced something just like religion even though it isn’t actually religion. Therefore religion is still the problem. To say this style of argument is exactly what Popper derided as unfalsifiable in communism and Freudianism does Marx and Freud a disservice.

In that same essay, he handwaves away research by University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, who has maintained a long-term research project on the origins of suicide bombing and the means of preventing it. Harris dismisses that research by arguing: “Pape seems unable to imagine what it would be like to actually believe what millions of Muslims profess to believe.” But Sam Harris apparently does know what it would be like, and he’s appalled enough to consider pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Islamist regimes. This untestable mental model of how Muslims really feel is sufficient evidence to dismiss the results of peer reviewed research.

Alas for Harris, Pape actually takes science seriously, and has continued his work, and here’s the headline (probably not written by Pape himself or by co-author James Feldman, professor emeritus of the Air Force Institute of Technology and the School of Advanced Airpower Studies) for his latest book on the subject: How to end suicide bombings: The problem is not Islam, but lengthy military occupations. The press release about the book explains:

Despite a popular belief that suicide terrorism is the result of religious fanaticism, such bombings are really a calculated response to occupations by outsiders, according to research in a new book, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. The book examines exhaustive data on suicide attacks since 1980 in the Middle East, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and around the world.

The data show that the best way to reduce suicide bombings in Afghanistan or Iraq is not to condemn Islamic extremism, but to end foreign occupations as quickly as possible, Pape claims. …

The central problem is that leaders in the United States have constructed a narrative that identified the threat as coming from Islamic extremists who hate the United States. That explanation led to the invasions, occupations and eventual efforts to establish democratic regimes, something that requires a heavy military presence, the authors explained.

“But we now have strong evidence that the narrative — that suicide terrorism is prompted by Islamic fundamentalism — is not true,” Pape said. Despite some military success, suicide terrorism has continued, Pape said.

An excerpt from the book rightly notes that, while suicide bombers come from multiple religions, from both fundamentalist and secularist wings of those religions, the common theme is blindingly obvious:

From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to the West Bank to Chechnya, the central goal of every suicide terrorist campaign has been to resist military occupation by a democracy.

Building on what they claim to be a complete database of suicide bombings since 1980, the researchers show:

The stationing of foreign combat forces (ground and tactical air force units) on territory that terrorists prize accounts for 87% of the over 1,800 suicide terrorist attacks around the world since 2004. The occupation of Pakistan’s western tribal regions by local combat forces allied to American military forces stationed across the border in Afghanistan accounts for another 12%. Further, the timing of the deployment of combat forces threatening territory the terrorists prize accounts for the onset of all eight major suicide terrorist campaigns between 1980 and 2009, which together comprise 96% of the 2,188 attacks during that period. Simply put, military occupation accounts for nearly all suicide terrorism around the world since 1980. For this finding to be wrong, our research team would have had to miss hundreds of suicide attacks during this period, which is unlikely as readers can judge for themselves by reviewing the database of suicide attacks available online at cpost.uchicago.edu.

As further evidence that it is occupation, not simply nationalism or religion, which drives suicide bombing, the authors observe:

as Israel withdrew combat forces from Gaza and large parts of the West Bank and relied on defensive measures such as the “wall” in 2004 and as the United States and its allies drew down the total number of combat forces from Iraq after January 2008, suicide terrorism in both conflicts substantially declined.

In other words, this is a view with substantial empirical support, and well-grounded in the extant theory of political science. Against this, all Harris can offer are a set of remarkably vagile goalposts. As Pape and Feldman write: “when moral posturing comes to replace reasoned assessment of data and dispassionate consideration of the causes of a phenomenon, we may end up with a visceral response rather than an effective plan of action to protect those we care about.”

Harris somehow seems to think that visceral reactions are the same as scientific evidence, and tries to build a science of morality on such gut feelings. This is a bit problematic.

Comments

  1. #1 Samuelo
    October 6, 2010

    Many westerners have difficulty appreciating how arbitrary and relative their own view points are and thus understanding the mindsets of people in other cultures. (It’s probably less apparent in other cultures as they see so much Western culture as it’s gone global.)

    Suicide bombing might seem absurd to some folk and Sam Harris, but it seems to me to be on a continuum with those fighters in other wars who are lauded for going on so-called “suicide missions” to attack targets deep in enemy-occupied territory. Why should it be considered brave and heroic and worthy of medals to risk probable death while insane to choose certain death? Especially when the suicide bomber can be far more confident that his mission will end successfully (that is, successfully according to his aims!).

    Equally baffling is the failure of many people to even ask the question “how would I feel and react if the situation was reversed?”. Would the Teapartistas who feel “oh noze mah kuntry is been taken over by soshalistz!!11!!” like it if (say) the Israeli army came over to sort things out by shooting their enemies? Would they welcome the invading forces or consider this a hostile act and themselves justified in oiling up the rifle?

    Even during the first Iraq war, it was clear that a load of stupid people expected Baghdad residents to be outside thanking Americans for dropping bombs on them! Duuuhhhh…!!

  2. #2 Gav
    October 6, 2010

    I agree with Samuelo – it’s hard to see suicide bombing as sui generis as compared, say, with the forlorn hope or “take one with you” [did Churchill actually say that?]

  3. #3 Galwayskeptic
    October 6, 2010

    From what you’ve posted up there, it seems as though he’s ‘discovered’ a strong correlation between foreign occupation and rates of suicide bombing. He’s also made the astute observation that when you remove the soldiers of a Jewish state from an area inhabited by a fanatical Muslim terrorist group, that they stop blowing themselves up. Is that the extent of his empirical evidence?

    Did he control for the religious belief of ‘successful’ suicide bombers when making his conclusion that suicide bombing is attributable to foreign occupation? Was America occupying Saudi Arabia when the citizens of its country flew planes into the twin towers? Or was that the result of a ‘holy war’ declared by a Muslim terrorist? It seems Pape would have us believe that the fact that all these suicide bombings are taking place in Muslim countries (Here are the ones mentioned in his book: Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Sri Lanka) by (largely) Islamic fundamentalists is a coincidence!

    Also, in what sense is ‘political science’ an empirical science? In what sense is Robert Pape a ‘scientist’? There’s no experimentation. What is there to ‘peer-review’? It seems to me that he’s hitching a ride to credibility for his opinions via some scientific-sounding words. Should Sam Harris run for cover every time someone tosses around ‘peer-review’ or ‘data’ or ‘empiricism’. Yeah, as a neuroscientist, I wouldn’t say he’s too familiar with the scientific method. He better get out of the way of real scientists like Robert Pape!

    Thankfully, we have the token moral relativist to point out to us that not blowing yourself up, not raping women and not stoning to death adulterers are just ‘arbitrary’ decisions by our society and that we should a little more considerate before condemning such actions. Thanks for contributing Samuelo.

    I am sorry Joshua. Maybe I’ve missed something MAJOR in this article, but this is one of the worst, most poorly justified pieces I’ve ever read on scienceblogs.

  4. #4 Paul Browne
    October 6, 2010

    Samuelo “Why should it be considered brave and heroic and worthy of medals to risk probable death while insane to choose certain death? Especially when the suicide bomber can be far more confident that his mission will end successfully (that is, successfully according to his aims!).”

    Interesting, it puts me in mind of WWII-themed comic books I read as a young lad.

    Many included a story line where a character or character sacrifices themselves in a desperate rear-guard action or suicide mission. These could be justified by the fact that there is a chance that the character might survive, or that they didn’t intend to die, just accepted the possibility while doing their duty.

    Other stories included the cliche of a mortally wounded character holding off the enemy while his comrades escape, again the fact that the reader knows that the character will die in any case makes the suidice tactic seem more reasonable.

    But I can remember at least two stories in which lead characters deliberately performed suicide attacks, knowing that they would certainly die, when they could have escaped to fight another day. In both cases there was no immediate threat to their comrades that only their suicide attack could have prevented, and the target could have been attacked another time. Ironically both involved pilots flying their planes into targets to ensure their destruction.

    Of course in both cases the character was presented as atoning for an earlier mistake or loss of nerve, but the fact that suicide attacks were presented to kids as not just acceptable but honourable in some circumstances suggests that the relationship of western society to suicide attacks is a bit more complex than many would have us believe.

  5. #5 Gina Roberts
    October 6, 2010

    Occupation alone does not motivate suicide bombings. Just ask the Tibetans.

    It is extremely thin logic to discount the expressed religious motives of Islamic suicide bombers by appealing to the fact that there have been a handful of non-religious suicide attacks in Sri Lanka. This is like saying that religion doesn’t motivate Muslims to read the Quran, since non-Muslims are known to read books as well.

    In fact, every one of the Tamil suicide bombings (of which there have been fewer in the last 30 years than produced by Islam every six months) is committed by a Tamil. Compare this to Iraq, where most of the suicide bombings are by non-Iraqi Muslims and Shai civilians are the largest targets.

    Neither is there any indication that the desperation of the individual plays a major role in the Islamic suicide bomber’s decision. It is not something that the have to do. In fact, it is typical for other apologists to claim that these bombers have been “brainwashed” by “hijackers of Islam.”

  6. #6 Ian
    October 6, 2010

    @Galwayskeptic

    Was America occupying Saudi Arabia when the citizens of its country flew planes into the twin towers?

    Err…have you forgotten that Bin Laden’s motivation for war against the US was its military presence in Saudi Arabia? Does the name “Khobar Towers” not ring a bell for you?

    It seems Pape would have us believe that the fact that all these suicide bombings are taking place in Muslim countries (Here are the ones mentioned in his book: Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Sri Lanka) by (largely) Islamic fundamentalists is a coincidence!

    1. Sri Lanka isn’t a Muslim country. 2. No, it’s not a coincidence that a “fault line” runs from roughly Turkey to China, or more accurately from Croatia to China. You might want to read up a little on the “Great Game”, “World War I” (especially the Sykes–Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration) and something called the “Cold War”. 3. The PLO, at least in its heyday, was a primarily secular organisation. The PFLP was hardline Marxist.

    Also, in what sense is ‘political science’ an empirical science? In what sense is Robert Pape a ‘scientist’? There’s no experimentation.

    Yep, just like there’s “no experimentation” is palaeontology.

    Maybe I’ve missed something MAJOR in this article

    Yeah, I think you have. Reading this blog tends to require some sense of history, some awareness of current events. Without that, you’d probably miss quite a bit. But if you Google some of those things I mentioned, you’d probably understand a lot more of the post.

  7. #7 Left_Wing_Fox
    October 6, 2010

    I’m a bit curious as to how the Kamikaze pilots of WW2 fit into this. They seem to be a bit of an outlier

  8. #8 Galwayskeptic
    October 6, 2010

    So you would consider the presence of an American military base in Saudi Arabia an ‘occupation’ of the country? Khobar Towers… That would be the military housing complex that Hezbollah (Islamic terrorist group) bombed? I guess the rest of Saudi didn’t feel as passionately about the ‘occupation’ as they did, seeing as they’re banned in the country and all.

    Also, I included Sri Lanka, so as not to be accused of listing just the Muslim countries dealt with in Pape’s book. I’m quite aware it’s not an Islamic state. Your knowledge of history is very impressive, however, it doesn’t qualify the viewpoint put forth here. Suicide bombing does not occur in countries occupied by a foreign power, save locations that feature an extremist social psychological framework; the best and most widely observed example of such a society -in the context of suicide bombing at least- are fundamentalist Islamic societies. You don’t see citizens of every state that’s occupied by a foreign power blowing themselves up, do you? Don’t you think that’s a point worth considering regarding the generalisability of Pape’s ‘scientific’ results.

    Thanks for the advice and the measured, selective engagement with my points, by the way. I’ll be sure to try out this ‘google’ you speak of. I’ve heard before that it’s reliable, just like Robert Pape’s ‘science’.

  9. #9 Yoav
    October 6, 2010

    How do you account to the fact that the biggest spike in suicide attacks by Hamas happened as Israel and the Palestinians were in a process of negotiations and Israel was withdrawing troops from the population centers in the west bank and Gaza. In fact the suicide bombing campaign had a major role in eroding support for the Oslo peace process in the Israeli public and helped the right to gain power in the following elections and in a way extend the occupation of Palestinian lands.
    @7
    The Kamikaze were religious fanatics who were fighting for their god emperor.

  10. #10 False Prophet
    October 6, 2010

    How many political assassinations were attempted in late 19th/early 20th century by anarchists and nationalists without religious motivations? While they weren’t necessarily suicide attacks per se, very few of these assassins seemed to have an exit strategy. Their plan seemed to be “shoot my target, then get caught or shot”. (Note, this was the exact same M.O. as the medieval Assassins.) On the other hand, some of these assassins were clearly intending to give their lives in the cause.

    Look up the assassination of U.S. President McKinley and ask if Czolgosz actually intended to get away with it. At least one of the assassins of Tsar Alexander II took out both himself and the tsar with his bomb. And Gavrilo Princip, assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, made two attempts to commit suicide after the assassination, but was apprehended before he could succeed.

  11. #11 Dan L.
    October 6, 2010

    I agree that it’s naive to suppose that the suicide bombings are not connected to politics. But I think it’s way more naive to assume that those very politics have nothing to do with religion.

  12. #12 Rodney Pompeus
    October 6, 2010

    In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers used suicide bombs to terrorise their own people. It was not about Military occupation.

    The Tigers exploited impoverished women and young children to kill themselves up to create a state for only Tamils in a multi ethnic island.

    The following explains the mind of a suicide bomber. This lad was captured by the Sri Lankan military.

    http://bailaman.blogspot.com/2009/07/why-do-sri-lankan-tamils-support-tamil.html

  13. #13 No Dhimmi
    October 6, 2010

    The whole argument falls apart, however, when one realizes that ISLAM itself is a foreign cult occupying vast swathes of the world against its will.

    I guess all those Hindus and Buddhists who were slaughtered and displaced by invading Muslims should have struck back with homicide bombings.

    270 Million Murdered in the Name of Islam
    http://www.politicalislam.com/tears/pages/tears-of-jihad/

    Basically, Muslims started this battle 1,400 years ago.

    Islam is a vile cult, and there really is no justification for its existence or the depraved behavior of its demented adherents.

  14. #14 James Sweet
    October 6, 2010

    Dan L. said what I was going to say, far more concisely.

    It’s difficult to see how the Arab-Israeli conflict — which admittedly is largely a territorial dispute — would have even gotten off the ground without the help of religion. First of all, Israel wouldn’t even exist. Secondly, if Israel somehow was formed anyway even with religion, it is difficult to fully explain the mass Palestinian exodus without mentioning religion — and if the Palestinians hadn’t left, they wouldn’t be displaced (inherently). Thirdly, it’s conceivable the Arab-Israeli war may have been averted if it weren’t for religious tensions. And fast-forwarding to the modern day, the motivation for a lot of the Jewish settlers in Gaza is purely religious — and if there were no settlers who wanted to settle in Gaza (and really, what sane secular-minded Jew would fucking want to live in Gaza?!?) then there wouldn’t be settlements in Gaza (again, inherently).

    I’ll go this far with you though, Josh: Sam Harris overstates the case. Suicide bombing could exist independent of religion. Of course, it should be pointed out, suicide bombing cannot exist independent of some religion-like ideology such as extreme nationalism, totalitarian communism, etc. — all of which require a certain amount of apocalyptic and/or magical thinking.

    You need crazy fanatical devotion to an essentially phony cause in order to become a suicide bomber — and although we can point to historical examples of this that did not involve religion, the majority do.

  15. #15 James Sweet
    October 6, 2010

    I noticed somebody mentioned Kamikaze pilots, suggesting they were an outlier. Seriously?

    The very word “kamikaze” refers to the religious motivation of the pilots: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamikaze#Definition_and_etymology

    Kamikaze was absolutely a type of religiously-motivated suicide attack.

    Now, the motivation for those ordering the attacks was probably not particularly religious. But they would have had a hard time convincing the pilots to go through with it without religion.

    Note I am agreeing partially with Josh that religion is not strictly a necessary condition for suicide attacks (see my comment #14) — but certainly, the majority of examples used religion as a motivator. Kamikaze is not an exception.

  16. #16 A Bear
    October 6, 2010

    In the last year or two most suicide bombings have been taking place inside Pakistan by sunni-salafi groups attacking muslims from other sects (shia and barelvi) or government factions. The attacks against the Pak government are for the stated purpose of establishing a theocracy.If you do the numbers, by far the largest number of suicide attacks are motivated by religion.As James in #15 points out,so were the kamikaze (kamikaze=divine wind).

  17. #17 abb3w
    October 6, 2010

    Of course, there may be other ways to alter occupations that reduce suicide bombings besides shortening; which method you choose is an OUGHT decision….

  18. #18 Josh Rosenau
    October 6, 2010

    The question of kamikazes is interesting. Pape restricts his analysis to the era post-1980, so I doubt the book gets into that, and there are certainly plenty of reasons to distinguish the official policies of the WWII Japanese government from the actions of terrorists in the modern era. No doubt that the Emperor’s religious status in Japan played a role in the rise of such tactics, but I don’t know how you disentangle nationalism and religiosity in that case. Note, though, that nationalism made people do some pretty crazy things in Europe around the same time. I’ll freely grant that religion is a very good way to gin up self-abnegating fanaticism, but it’s hardly the only way, and does not always cause such fanaticism. And if self-abnegating fanaticism is the problem, then religion is a distraction from efforts to identify and combat the underlying issue.

    James Sweet: “Israel wouldn’t even exist [if not for religion]” O RLY? It strikes me that Israel was created largely as a result of the Holocaust, which was based on Judaism as an ethnicity, more than as a religion (Jewishness was traced by bloodline; religious conversion did not save people from death camps). This is not to say that religion doesn’t play a role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it is serves as one of several ways that each group identifies itself as Self and its opponents as Other. Nationality (e.g. Israeli), ethnicity (e.g. Arab), and other historical factors play comparable roles, and plenty of religious people on both sides of the aisle have worked hard to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

  19. #19 Left_Wing_Fox
    October 6, 2010

    @15: I’m not denying the Shinto-based emperor-worship of the period, but they were also tied into secular cultural conditioning by the military of the period. The revival of feudal era Bushido codes which placed a higher value on honor and duty than life could be just as responsible for the high rate of volunteerism amongst the military.

    Remember that “Divine Wind” was originally used to refer to the typhoons which dispersed the mongol invasion fleet during the feudal era, it has as much historical significance as religious significance.

  20. #20 Barry
    October 6, 2010

    Joshua, your anti-Harris cursade removes your objectivity. Armed occupation of a country is a sure fire way of stoking up resentment, but for Pape’s thesis to have any value he ought to be able to account for the lack of suicide bombings in those occupied countries where it isn’t prevalent. There was an “armed” occupation of Northern Ireland, for example, but no recorded suicide bombings. Why? I couldn’t find any reference to suicide bombings during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan either…pre-Taliban.

    The interesting question raised by Harris isn’t whether an extremist religious view causes suicide bombings, but whether such views provide a beneficial theological inducement and explanation for it. The promise of 72 virgins, adullation from allah and hero-worship in perpetuity seemed to convince highly educated 9/11 attackers.

    Absent religion, if a person is going to kill themselves for a cause we’d at least know they were serious.

  21. #21 Deepak Shetty
    October 6, 2010

    @Dan L
    Exactly.
    Its hard for me to tell which parts are religious and which parts are political/national in say an India/Pakistan conflict. But it looks like Josh and co. feel confident enough to say that It’s not religion!

  22. #22 Josh Rosenau
    October 6, 2010

    Barry: I look forward to looking at Pape’s analysis in detail. So far, all I have is his previous book and papers, and a press release and sample chapter from the new book. I don’t know if he addresses the lack of suicide bombing in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan or in Tibet. I’ll note, though, that the Dalai Lama has basically accepted that Tibet is part of China (since at least the ’70s, IIRC), and it may be that the Tibetans don’t feel occupied in the way peoples have. I dunno.

    I’m not sure why you say that Harris’s “interesting question” is whether religion provides a “beneficial theological inducement and explanation” for suicide bombing. Interesting to you, to me, or to Harris? To Harris, the interesting point seems consistently to be showing that religion is the cause of various bad things in the world.

    Deepak: I’m not saying religion plays no role, only that it is not the dominant or decisive factor. Hence my statement: “I’ll freely grant that religion is a very good way to gin up self-abnegating fanaticism, but it’s hardly the only way, and does not always cause such fanaticism. And if self-abnegating fanaticism is the problem, then religion is a distraction from efforts to identify and combat the underlying issue.”

  23. #23 Deepak Shetty
    October 6, 2010

    @Josh
    two things
    a. For the conflict I am familiar with(India-Pakistan) I cant make the statement you make
    “I’m not saying religion plays no role, only that it is not the dominant or decisive factor”
    But Im also not going to make the statement that it is.

    b. Look at your title “Suicide bombing is not about religion, it’s about foreign occupation”
    It doesnt go well with “I’m not saying religion plays no role”

  24. #24 annonymoose
    October 7, 2010

    Dunno how reliable this website is, but this may be relevant:

    University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, whose research finds religious extremism has a limited role in suicide bombings, is working secretly with a suspected Hamas front to pump up sales of his new book, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has learned.

    http://www.investigativeproject.org/2226/cair-academic-scheme-to-inflate-book-sales

  25. #25 Mariano
    October 7, 2010

    This is all part of Sam Harris’ mythunderstandings.

    Suicide bombing was invented by Communists namely, the “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” aka “Tamil Tigers.”

  26. #26 Josh Rosenau
    October 7, 2010

    Deepak: I think of a being about b as implying that b is a dominant or decisive factor in a. Saying “a is not about b” should not require that b be entirely causally unrelated to a.

  27. #27 Deepak Shetty
    October 7, 2010

    @Josh
    If you made a statement like The India-Pakistan suicide bombings/conflict is not about religion it’s about foreign occupation , it is an extremely misleading statement (even given your last clarification). tThe above conflict is about both.

  28. #28 Saikat Biswas
    October 7, 2010

    What a garbled mess of an argument. Tell me Josh, do you really think that if foreign powers were to end their occupation in the respective countries then these terrorists (in your book they really are freedom fighters, but never mind!) would put down their arms and say, “Our job is done. Let’s go back to being farmers now.”

  29. #29 Josh Rosenau
    October 7, 2010

    Saikat: I never called anyone freedom fighters, and I don’t see the point of your putting words in my mouth. As Pape shows, withdrawing US troops in Iraq did indeed lead to a reduction in violence, and to a greater drive toward building a civil society.

  30. #30 Saikat Biswas
    October 7, 2010

    Josh: I never said you called them ‘freedom fighters’. But when you harp on the fact that reduction of foreign troops leads to a corresponding reduction in terrorist violence, you certainly imply that the presence of foreign troops were the dominant motivation behind their violence and that religion is simply circumstantial. That does imply that you are willing to view the terrorists as otherwise sane individuals for whom the goal is to see their countries free from invaders, but who just happen to have the wrong means of achieving that goal. So yes, you are certainly implying that they are ‘freedom fighters’.
    Furthermore, I do find Pape’s arguments rather strange. In saying that removal of troops led to a reduction in violence, he’s committing the classic ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ fallacy. He ignores the fact that in many parts of Iraq, violence had been on the wane even when US troops had maintained their presence and were involved in equipping the Iraqi army with the necessary means to combat the terrorists. Remember the uprising against militants in the Anbar province? How does Pape explain the blowing up of mosques by Shia and Sunni militants, one in retaliation for the other? Which foreign occupation were they fighting against?
    Also, a glaring omission in Pape’s analysis seems to be the extensive undercover work undertaken by the allied forces in Iraq (and the Israeli intelligence in Gaza) aimed at preemptively destroying terrorist cells and preventing more frequent attacks.
    Terrorism is indeed a complex and hydra-headed monster that cannot be attributed to just a simple set of causes. But I resent this strange and compulsive urge to just let religion off the hook. Yes, suicide bombings are often about foreign occupations. They are also very much about religion.

  31. #31 Deepak Shetty
    October 7, 2010

    @Josh
    But I resent this strange and compulsive urge to just let religion off the hook.
    And I echo the above sentiment from Saikat. I have lived through two riots in Bombay. And numerous news reports of suicide bombers/terrorist attacks/ random acts of violence/riots that its now become routine and doesn’t surprise anyone. And I’m to believe that all this is because in 1947 India annexed Kashmir?

  32. #32 Anton Mates
    October 8, 2010

    There was an “armed” occupation of Northern Ireland, for example, but no recorded suicide bombings. Why?

    Pape gave a couple of reasons for that in “Dying to Win.” For one thing, Irish terrorism was largely what he calls “demonstrative terrorism;” it was intended to recruit more activists and to gain sympathy among UK softliners and people in the rest of the world. Suicide terrorism, on the other hand, is focused on forcible coercion of your opponents, and often sacrifices popular support in your own community to accomplish that. (The IRA forced a few people to commit suicide attacks in the ’90s, and suffered a huge PR backlash as a result.)

    Also, Pape says, the Irish nationalists didn’t need to resort to suicide terrorism, because they were already receiving major concessions from the UK. He points out six other cases, including the Moros separatists vs. the Philippines government and the Malay-Muslims vs. the Thai government, where terrorist groups got concessions early on and hence did not progress to suicide terrorism.

    “Further, the predictive value of the nationalist theory of suicide terrorism is even higher once we consider the role of concessions in limiting the rise of suicide terrorism. In seven of the fourteen cases involving a rebellion and a religious difference, the rebels were able to gain concessions without resorting to suicide terrorism. In the other seven cases, prior concessions were either not made or were quickly withdrawn, and the rebels went on to use suicide terrorism in an attempt to gain concessions they otherwise could not get.”

    Pape classifies the Israel/Palestine conflict as one of the latter cases, btw.

  33. #33 Anton Mates
    October 8, 2010

    How do you account to the fact that the biggest spike in suicide attacks by Hamas happened as Israel and the Palestinians were in a process of negotiations and Israel was withdrawing troops from the population centers in the west bank and Gaza. In fact the suicide bombing campaign had a major role in eroding support for the Oslo peace process in the Israeli public and helped the right to gain power in the following elections and in a way extend the occupation of Palestinian lands.

    That seems pretty consistent with Pape’s thesis, actually. Hamas never supported the Oslo negotiations. As far as it was concerned, the entirety of Israel was occupied territory that needed to be liberated, and obviously none of Israel’s concessions at Oslo were going to assist that goal. Quite the contrary–any Palestinian support for the Oslo Accords, by definition, represented a loss of support for Hamas’ mission.

    So Hamas had less reason to try to maintain the goodwill of other Palestinian groups like Fatah (because if they were pro-Oslo, they were clearly useless cowardly Zionist sympathizers who wouldn’t support the mission anyway), less reason to try to gain international support (because most of the world approved of Oslo too) and more reason to make their terrorist campaign as intensely coercive as possible (because nothing else was working.) By Pape’s argument, that’s the perfect time to switch over from demonstrative terrorism to suicide attacks.

    That said, I agree (not having read this book, mind!) that he may have some difficulty fitting Iraq into his scheme. Really, I don’t think a lot of the suicide attacks in Iraq fit under “terrorism” at all; they’re more like the kamikaze wing of military ethnic cleansing campaigns. Slightly different thing.

  34. #34 Barry
    October 8, 2010

    “Irish nationalists didn’t need to resort to suicide terrorism, because they were already receiving major concessions from the UK.”

    The broad point just doesn’t stand up. In a dispute of almost 40 years, at least the first 25 of those saw the very opposite of “concessions”, but no manifestation of suicide bombings. So if you are arguing that “concessions” somehow make occupation palatable, for how long does a dispute have to drag out without concessions before people turn to suicide bombings? And why is this time lag so different in different disputes. And I guess the $billions spent by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t really “concessions” because they weren’t negotiated with the terrorists?

  35. #35 Barry
    October 8, 2010

    Joshua:
    “I’m not sure why you say that Harris’s “interesting question” is whether religion provides a “beneficial theological inducement and explanation” for suicide bombing. Interesting to you, to me, or to Harris? To Harris, the interesting point seems consistently to be showing that religion is the cause of various bad things in the world.”

    It is interesting to people who are interested in establishing accurate causation.

  36. #36 Josh Rosenau
    October 8, 2010

    Saikat: “you are willing to view the terrorists as otherwise sane individuals for whom the goal is to see their countries free from invaders, but who just happen to have the wrong means of achieving that goal.”

    People have done studies of suicide bombers and find no consistent evidence of mental illness as a driving factor. They are otherwise sane. And the largest, most comprehensive studies of suicide bombing shows that they are motivated by foreign occupation (a phrase I’ll use simply because it’s shorter than the equivalent: “unwelcome presence of foreign soldiers on what the bombers consider their native soil”). I’m willing to view them that way not because of personal bias (which I take to be your implication) but because THAT’S WHAT THE EVIDENCE SAYS! If the evidence were otherwise, I’d be saying different things.

    It is not implausible a priori that suicide terrorism should be principally explained by political factors, rather than principally by religion or by psychological problems. Those were reasonable hypotheses that were rejected in the course of scientific research. I haven’t read Pape’s book, so I don’t know how he handles the issues you raise about his research, but I do plan to read the book and I encourage you to do the same.

  37. #37 Saikat Biswas
    October 8, 2010

    Josh :“People have done studies of suicide bombers and `found’ no consistent evidence of mental illness as a driving factor”

    Let me get this. Someone decides to blow themselves up to make a political point and we have to conduct studies to find consistent evidence of mental illness? I’m confused. Exactly whose mental state are we trying to understand here?

  38. #38 Anton Mates
    October 8, 2010

    The broad point just doesn’t stand up. In a dispute of almost 40 years, at least the first 25 of those saw the very opposite of “concessions”, but no manifestation of suicide bombings.

    But that has nothing to do with Ireland in particular. Suicide bombing was almost unheard of anywhere before 1980, including in the Middle East. (The one exception being a Japanese guy in the Lod Airport Massacre in 1972, weirdly enough.) It’s not like angry Muslims and holy wars and terrorism and the horrible screwedupedness of Afghanistan hadn’t been invented yet–suicide terrorism in particular simply wasn’t considered a viable tactic until the 80′s.

    So if you are arguing that “concessions” somehow make occupation palatable, for how long does a dispute have to drag out without concessions before people turn to suicide bombings? And why is this time lag so different in different disputes.

    Got me. I’m sure that depends on the internal politics of the terrorists, and on the prior examples of terrorism they have to draw on, and on their understanding of the enemy government, among other things. And, of course, on the particular ideology of their movement. All that must have an effect that no simple theory can fully account for; I would hope that Pape doesn’t think he’s invented psychohistory! (But again, I haven’t read all his stuff, so maybe he does, I dunno.)

    And I guess the $billions spent by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t really “concessions” because they weren’t negotiated with the terrorists?

    No, I don’t imagine they would be. “Concessions” aren’t just any just any sacrifices made by the enemy government, they’re policy changes the terrorists actually want.

  39. #39 Josh Rosenau
    October 9, 2010

    Barry: I find it problematic to treat “religion” as a monolithic entity, or even to treat “Islam” as a monolith. For some people, their religious beliefs may grease the skids toward suicide bombing, for others, it may be a disincentive. So religion is not, in and of itself, the problem. Religion may be part of the problem, but more likely it is some variants of religion (i.e., fundamentalisms) that can lead to such destructive behavior. So let’s fight fundamentalism, and not get bogged down on moderates.

  40. #40 Josh Rosenau
    October 9, 2010

    Saikat: Why the scare quotes around “found”? If willingness to perform a suicide bombing is taken as inherently mentally ill, then invoking mental illness as an explanation would be circular. If mental illness is a scientifically legitimate concept (not just a post hoc pseudoscientific explanation), it’s objectively measurable. Suicide bombers are not more likely to be mentally ill, if you apply a consistent, objective standard for measuring mental illness.

  41. #41 Barry
    October 9, 2010

    “So let’s fight fundamentalism, and not get bogged down on moderates.”

    Josh, do you believe that religious moderates are in the front line of the fight against religious extremists? Personally I don’t see this.

  42. #42 Josh Rosenau
    October 9, 2010

    Barry: You need to look harder.

    I mean, FFS, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State – the bulldog in church/state litigation – is a reverend. Almost every major lawsuit in defense of first amendment religious liberty and church/state separation was filed by a religious plaintiff, usually a religious moderate. Ken Miller (religious moderate does yeoman work in fighting extremists. The lawsuit in Dover was brought by religious folks, and won in part by Miller, and by the expert testimony of Jack Haught, a religious moderate who testified about theology. Judge Jones is known to be active in his church, and wrote a stirring attack on the religious extremism in Dover. Tons of people who call in to NCSE looking for help are religious, and are offended that others in the community are trying to push an extremist agenda. Look at the Clergy Letter Project, which criticizes extremist theology in no uncertain terms, and has over 12,000 signatures from US Christian clergy. Groups like UCC, Methodists, and Presbyterians have issued pro-evolution statements, launched anti-torture campaigns, and undertaken a range of other efforts to block the agenda of the radical religious right. Projects like Sojourners, Biologos, and StreetProphets.org (among others) are improving the infrastructure religious moderates use to fight extremism.

  43. #43 Barry
    October 10, 2010

    Josh. So what are the moderates fighting against? You reference examples in law. So what is the motive of these moderates – that the theology of their opponents is wrong or that the law needs to be upheld? Which religious organization funded those plaintiffs Josh? Any Templeton money? Southern Baptist money? Does the Vatican have its check book open? In a society where over 80% strongly identify with religious belief it’s not surprising that so many plaintiffs are religious (although the basis of their belief makes establishing them as somehow comparative a little tenuous). The fact of their religiosity might obscure their secular reasons for fighting through the courts.

    So, some religious organizations have issued pro-evolution statements? Wow. Ask Ken Millar to explain why the Catholic church is theologically wrong on stem cell funding, fertility rights and sex education and point me to his published critique. Your support of organizations like Biologos is duly noted. Are you really so blinkered that you can’t see how this organization is trying to change and ultimately damage science? This isn’t an organization that helps religious moderates fight extremism, it’s an organization that is fighting science. It is also a full frontal assault on atheism as though that was somehow a more significant threat than the religious extremism that you claim they are fighting.

    It seems you are fighting battles Josh while the real war completely passes you by. You’ll be fighting forever. I’ll still support you in the battles. I wish you would show some acknowledgment of the war.

    (I hate military analogies…sorry)

  44. #44 Saikat Biswas
    October 10, 2010

    Josh, I do agree with you that we should both read Pape’s book and scrutinize his claims more closely. But that begs the question, what makes you select the press release and a few excerpts from the book and somehow present them as hard evidence?

    “The data show that the best way to reduce suicide bombings in Afghanistan or Iraq is not to condemn Islamic extremism, but to end foreign occupations as quickly as possible, … ”

    That statement alone betrays the disconcerting tendency to give religion a free pass. The data has been interpreted to show that ending foreign occupations often leads to a reduction in suicide bombings. That may well be the case. It does not show conclusively that condemning religious extremism has no effect whatsoever (call me biased, but I cannot help thinking that the author would rather that we refrain from condemning Islamic extremism regardless of whether we want to end suicide bombings or not). And how exactly do you quantify or measure condemnation? What is the exact model being used here? As I have noted before, intelligence operations are also presumably effective in ending prospective attacks. On what basis was that not taken into account? How are we supposed to prevent suicide bombings that target mosques or buses carrying girls to school? How do you stop someone intent on throwing acid to a girl’s face? By putting a veil on her face, or by forcing her to stay indoors? After all, these are demonstrably effective ways of saving the girl’s skin.
    Thoughtless moral posturing is indeed a hindrance to reasoned and dispassionate assessment of data. But it is utterly despicable to completely abandon even a semblance of a moral position.

  45. #45 Josh Rosenau
    October 11, 2010

    Saikat: I present excerpts from and a press release about Pape’s latest work because the excerpt is the abstract to the rest of the book, and tells us what the research found. To know how he addresses the details, we need the book.

  46. #46 Josh Rosenau
    October 11, 2010

    Barry: Many of the examples I gave are from legal contexts, but that’s just because legal cases often serve to crystallize who is on what side, and a willingness to file a suit or serve as a witness speaks to a substantial interest in a project. Jack Haught and others in my list have worked hard in many other contexts to fight religious extremism. Sojourners, streetprophets.org, etc. are not part of legal fights, but part of a broader cultural effort to retake the popular conception of religion from the fundamentalists on behalf of the moderate majority.

    I don’t know about, and frankly am not seeing the relevance of, the funding people have.

    I know that a lot of people are in some sort of war of atheism against religion. It’s not my war. I don’t care whether atheism or theism wins (though I would care whether pluralistic moderates win over fundamentalist exclusivists). I disagree that that is “the real war.”

    I don’t care what’s in people’s hearts, I care how they act. There are religious people who act badly, and others who act well, so I choose not to criticize beliefs that can lead to either behavior, and instead focus on the behavior and factors associated specifically with that behavior. On a host of issues, including stem cells, Ken Miller has been a vigorous advocate for science, including within his church. Biologos is new, but they are not “fighting science.” They probably have a different philosophy of religion and perhaps philosophy of science than you, but they are trying to build support for evolution, stem cell research, and other sciences among evangelicals, which is a noble and worthwhile goal. That’s not an endorsement of the particulars of any given essay on their site, or any given tactic or campaign, and I have not and did not issue any blanket statement of support for them. I also don’t give them money, so what exactly do you mean by talking about “my support of organizations like Biologos”? Do you just mean that I am in favor of efforts to increase understanding of and appreciation of science, and am supportive of efforts to weaken fundamentalist influence on government, media, and the broader society?

  47. #47 Barry
    October 12, 2010

    Josh. I raised the question about the funding for legal action because that tells you who really cares about the issue. Can you name a single religious group that has funded legal action to challenge religious extremists? I don’t want to get off topic here, but I don’t see religious “moderates” acting as anything other than individuals in these instances.

    I am, frankly, stunned by this comment – “I don’t care whether atheism or theism wins…” Maybe it is your choice of terms that is causing you problems. How about whether you believe reason and evidence should win over the supernatural? Or have you got yourself into such dogmatic opposition to your caricature of “new atheism” that almost anything is better than that?

    “I choose not to criticize beliefs that can lead to either behavior, and instead focus on the behavior and factors associated specifically with that behavior.” – Behavior is the consequence of belief, so what does “focus on the behavior” actually mean unless you are prepared to deal with the underlying belief? The most basic psychology tells you behavioral change doesn’t happen unless you deal with root causes. You’ll always be fighting Josh, and you won’t know why.

    Biologos isn’t trying to build support for the things that you claim. And the double standard here is galling. You have your own reasons for stridently and shrilly criticizing atheists for being critical of your accomodation of religious believers, but you are silent on Biologos when they attack atheism in pretty much every post and blog – if they are trying to reach out and build bridges with science then it is clearly only scientists who are religious that they have any interest in. It’s a bridge to nowhere. They only serve to provide “evidence” that science and religion are equivalent, dealing with different issues and in no conflict. You do a disservice to science by not pointing this out. “Do you just mean that I am in favor of efforts to increase understanding of and appreciation of science” – Josh, here are the last 3 posts on Biologos’ blog. 1. Genesis, Creation, and Ancient Interpreters: Let There Be Light. 2. Augustine, Genesis, and “Removing the Mystical Veil”: Part I. 3. Sense, Reason and Intellect. (The last one sounds promising, but it turns out to be a webcast about worship and spirituality). How does this help science Josh? What’s remotely scientific about these topics?

    Which brings me back to your OP. Despite not having read Pape’s latest research, and with clear confusion in what I have read of Pape between correlation and causation, you lose no opportunity to cherry pick a few quotes and attempt to bash Harris. I’m no defender of Harris but what you are doing Josh is transparently wrong. It’s called projection bias and it always clouds objectivity.