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"A response to foreign occupation"
Who becomes a suicide bomber?

September 2, 2005 | Page 6

ELIZABETH SCHULTE reviews a new book that studies the source of suicide bombings.

A "CRUSADE" against "evil." Those were the words that George W. Bush used to define his administration's "war on terrorism" after September 11, and all his actions since show that he and his fellow hawks believe that the "evil" stems from Islamic fundamentalism.

Considering the recent call by Bush ally Pat Robertson to "take out" Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Bush is skating on thin ice when he invokes fears about violent religious extremists.

Since September 11, the threat of a terrorist attack has been used to justify the U.S. government's assault on Arabs and Muslims, in the Middle East and in the U.S. Following this summer's suicide bombings in London, Bush's main ally, the British government, followed suit with a crackdown on immigrants. The threat of "extremism" was also Bush's excuse for ordering the invasion of Iraq.

A new book by University of Chicago professor and military historian Robert Pape argues a simple point--the root cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation, not Islam. Pape compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack--315 of them--around the globe between 1980 and 2003.

"The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions," argues Pape in Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005, 335 pages, $25.95).

He says that Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers--a secular nationalist group--carried out 76 of the instances of suicide terrorism, more than are credited to Hamas. "Even among Muslims, secular groups account for over a third of suicide attacks," adds Pape, citing the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey, which has used suicide-bombing tactics in its fight for independence, but maintains a secular ideology.

Pape also debunks the image of the suicide bomber as a crazed social outcast, explaining that the opposite is often the case. He provides examples of various expressions of popular support, and sometimes assistance, for suicide bombers.

A recent study by the Israel-based Global Research in International Affairs Center backs up Pape's idea that occupation is at the heart of terrorism. The researchers looked at 154 fighters who had come to Iraq from other countries and died during the previous six months, including 33 who died in suicide bombings. The study found that "the vast majority of Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activities prior to their arrival in Iraq."

As Pape concludes in Dying to Win, "The bottom line, then, is that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation. Isolated instances in other circumstances do occur. Religion plays a role. However, modern suicide terrorism is best understood as an extreme strategy for national liberation against democracies with troops that pose an imminent threat to control the territory the terrorists view as their homeland."

Pape knows what he's doing when he uses the term "democracies" to refer to the occupying countries that are the typical target of terrorism--"democracies" like Israel, where Palestinians don't have the right to travel freely. Reinforcing the Bush administration's "they hate our democracy" rhetoric, Pape claims that suicide terrorists target "democracies" and never authoritarian regimes.

Make no mistake about it--Pape may disagree about the Bush administration's current methods, but he is clear about his approval of the goals of the U.S. operation in Iraq. "I don't for a moment believe that we should withdraw hastily or precipitously," Pape told right-wing pundit Tucker Carlson in a recent interview. "And, in fact, I wouldn't define our policy principally against the terrorists.

"However, the fact is, the United States' main interest in the Persian Gulf is not micromanaging the domestic politics of states. It's in securing access to oil...And so, if we fight another war, it should be over access to oil. And I'm very much in favor of guaranteeing that, even at the price of a war."

The narrowness of Pape's focus on only attacks that involve suicide only skews his conclusions, since it leaves out acts of terrorism that are regular aspects of warfare. For instance, he discusses Japanese Kamikaze pilots' suicide missions during the Second World War, but not, for instance, attacks carried out by the anti-Nazi resistance.

However, in the current climate of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism, this book reveals the fact that there isn't something "evil" and "violent" about Islam itself. Furthermore, it shows the hypocrisy of the Bush administration's worldwide war on terrorism by exposing one of its main props in Iraq.

It's worth remembering that today's terrorist Public Enemy Number One, Osama bin Laden, was once Washington's terrorist ally--when he was a part of the U.S.-backed resistance to the former USSR's invasion of Afghanistan a quarter century ago.

The threat of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies will flourish as long as foreign troops are stationed in Iraq--and it was boiling long before they got there. But focusing on American targets of terrorism ignores the far more deadly and terrifying violence committed by the U.S. government.

Violence many times more deadly than a truck bomber was exacted on the people of Falluja by the U.S. military--and before that, by more than a decade of crippling economic sanctions on Iraq. The same is true for Palestinians, suffering under the occupation of Washington's best ally in the Middle East, Israel.

Acts of terrorism against innocent civilians are counterproductive to any genuine struggle for liberation that seeks to attract enough forces to win. It gives the oppressors a justification for escalating their crackdown.

But at the same time, suicide attacks by Palestinians or Iraqis aren't the acts of "monsters"--but the predictable outcome of the daily violence and humiliation of occupation. They are the response of an oppressed and outgunned people combating the most deadly weapons the world has ever known.

The real monsters aren't the suicide bombers, but the men and women in the White House, who coldly plan and carry out their crusade for oil and empire around the world.

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