Skip

Suicide Bombers: Religious fanatics, or simply resisting foregin military occupation?
April 1, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Suicide bombers from Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Chechnya have two things in common: they are Muslim and they live under occupation. University of Chicago Professor Dr. Robert A. Pape, who has assembled a comprehensive database of every (or nearly every) suicide bombing since 1980, has been the most prominent proponent of the view that it is occupation, not religion, that is the single most important motivating factor for suicide bombers... more than 95% of suicide bombers come from countries under occupation... Pape and his colleagues at the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, ask What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous? -Via The Washington Note
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (88 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess the Egyptians and Saudis who piloted the airliners into the World Trade Center buildings were either statistical anomalies or were not suicide bombers. Or the guys who blew up the restaurant in Bali.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:05 AM on April 1, 2010


Did you read the article? Or the text from the FPP. Yes, they are atypical.
posted by chunking express at 9:10 AM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Sept 11th attacks are part of the database. The Bali attacks were 2005, and the database only goes up to 2001.

Neither statistical anomalies nor some kind of non-suicide-bombing. They're part of the 5% that isn't the 95% mentioned in original post.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:12 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or the Iranian volunteers in Iraq...

etc etc...

I mean, look at all those Catholic Suicide Bomber IRA attacks; thick on the ground they were. Occupied? Check! Religious? Check! Political Grievances? Check! They [the ira] used Proxy Bombs (which in reality without the kidnapping, I think the majority of suicide bombs could be classed as, willing or not right?) but were not known for using Suicide Bombs (save for accidents)

What does this do to the thesis? Ireland was certainly under occupation longer than Palestine....
posted by NiteMayr at 9:13 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


So they're Muslim and they live under occupation. Conclusion: it's on the occupation that's important.

By the way, who decides what constitutes "occupation"? Are American Indians living under occupation?
posted by gnossie at 9:13 AM on April 1, 2010


One of Al Qaida's talking points is that Saudi Arabia, specifically the holy cities of Mecca and Media, are/were occupied by American soldiers stationed there after the Gulf War.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:14 AM on April 1, 2010


I think the thesis lacks scope, Terrorist Bombings vs Suicide Bombings might have yielded more accurate results.
posted by NiteMayr at 9:15 AM on April 1, 2010


Suicide bombers from Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Chechnya have two things in common: they are Muslim and they live under occupation.

University of Chicago Professor Dr. Robert A. Pape, who has assembled a comprehensive database of every (or nearly every) suicide bombing since 1980, has been the most prominent proponent of the view that it is occupation, not religion, that is the single most important motivating factor for suicide bombers.
Emphasis mine.

OK. Then why don't Palestinian Christians blow themselves up in crowds of Israeli civilians on a regular basis? There are between 60,000 and 80,000 of them in the West Bank and Gaza.

There are clearly two factors here, and he's tossing one out (that the suicide bombers are overwhelmingly Muslim) because the suicide bombers don't seem to be observant. Does he not think that their religious culture could possibly promote the belief that a homicidal/suicidal attack against one's civilian enemies is a viable option?

It seems logical that occupations would encourage the suicide bomber phenomenon. But his illogical dismissal of their religion as a primary factor smacks of confirmation bias.
posted by zarq at 9:17 AM on April 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


My first thought when I saw the word "occupation" was, "Aah, so they have finally picked up engineers, in particular electrical engineers, seem to have a really high incidence of this," but no. Physical occupation makes sense, as you are looking for a dense mass of "enemy" into which you can sidle wearing your InstaMartyr vest. Nice interface to the database. I was surprised to see only 257 deaths in Israel over that twenty-one year period. Are they counting the suicide bombers in that tally, too?

I just hope nobody takes seriously the idea that "blah blah blah Western cultural imperialism blah blah blah taking over our culture blah blah" counts as occupation. You can argue that in a hand-wavy sort of fashion and manage to fit in the September 11, 2001 attack in that fashion, but I think that's reaching.

I think someone will reach anyway.
posted by adipocere at 9:23 AM on April 1, 2010


Also, the LTTE seriously represents. Damn. Also of note is they are a more or less secular group. Or were, anyway.
posted by chunking express at 9:27 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a mess. They cherry pick their data and whatever fits their theses. And you can really keep expanding the "exceptions", from anything starting with suicide bombers from Algeria and other North African countries through Pakistan etc., etc., etc. - and if you say "repressive regimes" rather than "occupied" in order to get around some of these exceptions, you're still faced with recruits from such non-repressive regimes as Britain and Belgium (even if the bombers were not successful - nobody doubts that Richard Reid would've died had he succeeded). Yeah, we get the 5% exceptions, but that's really sloppy - it undermines your theses; you know, when you are faced with that many heterogenous exceptions, there is something wrong with your thesis. Plus the time frame is limited - and the more you expand that timeframe the worse the theses looks. Bottom line, it's a load of bollocks. No doubt occupation creates unique problems, but this thesis is entirely too facile. You know, if you overlay any group of data sets, just based on sheer statistics you'll get a lot of false correlations - "shoe size to IQ" problem, and the human brain is naturally led to see patterns and invent plausible sounding explanations for such, but it takes much more rigorous investigations to draw valid conclusions, and the nature of the exceptions (which really is a way of saying - "doesn't fit, we don't hear it, la, la, la, la") drives a spike through this pile o' rubbish. Nice try, hope they do better next time.
posted by VikingSword at 9:30 AM on April 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, t is interesting and on a certain level it makes some sense. It takes a certain level of desperation and justification to engage in suicide bombings. The desperation may come from feelings of absolute hopelessness when you feel unable to resist an overwhelming outside force. It gets easier to justify such acts of total sacrifice when you don't see any other way of making a difference. Many religions have some sort of codification of martyrdom they can call upon in types of extreme stress, so asserting that it is not Islam that breeds suicide bombings but a reaction to a given situation seems at least plausible.

Having said all of that I think the data observed should be historically expanded beyond the 20 year time frame, and the reasons for suicide bombings.
posted by edgeways at 9:30 AM on April 1, 2010


I think actually, I am going to drop them a line and see if they would be open to popping in here to discuss this.
posted by edgeways at 9:35 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK. Then why don't Palestinian Christians blow themselves up in crowds of Israeli civilians on a regular basis?

Well, while they aren't blowing themselves up, Palestinian Christians were involved with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
posted by Atreides at 9:43 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Prof Pape is an established scholar but I believe he misses something here.
There are suicide bombers to be found among buddhist monks, those raised in muslim communities. They may or may not be religious when they strike out, and certainly an impulse to assert political independence is important for them.

But then look at the the IRA, Basques separatists, French Canadians, Zionists prior to
establishment of Israel, and so.

What we seem to have is a desire for political statement that is coupled with cultural (and religious) background as a way of expressing those aims.
Final example: Japanese kamakazi pilots were suicidal in using their planes as weapons, but they did so because of their culture; contrast this with American pilots. Eastwood noted in his two WWII films: Americans wanted to be heroes but wanted to live; Japanese wanted to be heroes and dying for a cause was very much a part of their culture.

Thus Pape seems to me to discount Nurture in his sole focus upon geo-political considerations.
posted by Postroad at 9:53 AM on April 1, 2010


I am in the unlikely position of being an apologist for religion here. Martyrdom was a facet of Judaism, damn near a central tenet of Christianity, and continues on through Islam. It's approaching a tradition in the Abrahamic religions. So you have to ask, why Islam? Well, what other former empires do you have which have been parted out into colonies for more recent empires? Islam looks more like a dependent variable when you look at those sets of territories, once proud, now humbled.

The perception that one has been humiliated, that always seemed to be such a common thread to me, whether in the Middle East or the right-wing terrorism right here in the U.S.A. Former glories, old power, now it is gone. Strange ways "forced" upon you. Look at the troubles in Ireland. Maybe some historians of the United States Civil War might have some thoughts — were there analogous attacks by the South in the antebellum period?
posted by adipocere at 10:00 AM on April 1, 2010


Final example: Japanese kamakazi pilots were suicidal in using their planes as weapons, but they did so because of their culture; contrast this with American pilots. Eastwood noted in his two WWII films: Americans wanted to be heroes but wanted to live; Japanese wanted to be heroes and dying for a cause was very much a part of their culture.

Arguably, the Japanese Kamikazes peaked at the Battle of Okinawa, which the Japanese saw as being "homeland" territory. Even earlier, there was a sphere of territory the Japanese felt was their turf, and it had been attacked, invaded, and conquered. Iwo Jima, for example, was one of those places.
posted by Atreides at 10:00 AM on April 1, 2010


Many religions have some sort of codification of martyrdom they can call upon in types of extreme stress, so asserting that it is not Islam that breeds suicide bombings but a reaction to a given situation seems at least plausible.

Is it not possible that both can be significant factors?

The only Christian suicide bombers that I'm aware of under an occupation were three Lebanese during the 80's. Most of them were actually communists, rather than Muslim.
posted by zarq at 10:05 AM on April 1, 2010


Meaning, most of the Lebanese suicide bombers were communists (and therefore atheists,) not Muslims... and three suicide bombers were Christian, not Muslim or communist.
posted by zarq at 10:06 AM on April 1, 2010


Well, while they aren't blowing themselves up, Palestinian Christians were involved with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Which makes them more like IRA terrorists than suicide bombers. The two are not equivalent.
posted by zarq at 10:07 AM on April 1, 2010


Bah, I meant postbellum.
posted by adipocere at 10:12 AM on April 1, 2010


Arguing with myself here... but there is an excellent analysis of the motivations behind suicide bombing over at Alternet that refines and counters some of my own assumptions about why people become suicide bombers.

The author, Nichole Argo, has an additional paper, Understanding and Defusing Human Bombs: The Palestinian Case and the Pursuit of a Martyrdom Complex which I haven't yet read, but looks interesting.
posted by zarq at 10:17 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Final example: Japanese kamakazi pilots were suicidal in using their planes as weapons, but they did so because of their culture; contrast this with American pilots. Eastwood noted in his two WWII films: Americans wanted to be heroes but wanted to live; Japanese wanted to be heroes and dying for a cause was very much a part of their culture.

Then what's all the hoo-ha about "dying for your country" every time some American soldier dies? Pretty much every military engagement is a suicide mission for somebody: I'm not sure that wading onto a beach covered with machine guns/artillery/etc shooting at me ala Normandy fills me with much less horror than crashing my plane into a big boat shooting at me. And then we could talk about World War I...

And, I'm not sure I really understand the whole question: what difference does it make if a terrorist attack is a suicide mission or not? Personally, as a non-terrorist I'd just as soon not worry about how to prosecute a mass-murderer with a political mission. The important thing for me would be the damage they inflict; I'm not so concerned about their desire to kill themselves.

Unless of course I wanted to think of them as being subhuman, like the "Japs" in World war II or wanted to pretend that a global religion with billions of followers was the enemy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Then, those pesky cultural differences would sure be important...
posted by ennui.bz at 10:20 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


ask What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?

Okay. I appreciate it's a short article and journalists don't write their own headlines and etc etc, but still, if you are going to ask the question that way, a better answer should surely be a bit more complex than "because they blow shit up." There's an interesting New Statesman article on female Chechen suicide bombers here, discussing one woman who was arrested before her bomb detonated:
Her debts became so great that a group of men from whom she had taken a loan told her she had no choice but to pay them back with her life: if she would complete a suicide mission, her debts would be repaid and her family would also receive money. She claims she lived in a mountain village for a month with Chechen independence fighters, who fed her stories of Russian atrocities.

Eventually she was "ready" for her mission and sent to a safe house in Moscow where a woman with the code name "Black Fatima" looked after her. Zarema has claimed she wanted to carry out the suicide bombing to avenge her husband's death, but she also says she was drugged regularly in her orange juice, which gave her headaches. On the designated day, she was sent to a central Moscow cafe: she attempted to detonate the device in three different places before being arrested in a fourth restaurant. Police reported that she was extremely upset by the death of the officer who tried to defuse the bomb.
There's a blurry, blurry line between suicide bombings and proxy bombings, and it seems that a lot of the female Chechen bombers fall somewhere in the overlap zone. Which should matter if we're going to talk about this stuff, and it's a shame that so much media coverage of suicide terrorism focuses on the 'suicide' part as if that elevates it to a whole new plateau of evil which overwhelms any and all significant differences between the people doing the bombings (see also: Afghan suicide bombers, for example).
posted by Catseye at 10:20 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


More information: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism is a lengthy interview with Dr. Pape on the topic.
posted by zarq at 10:21 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


also,

Eastwood noted in his two WWII films: Americans wanted to be heroes but wanted to live;

What does Clint Eastwood know about war anyway? Isn't he a B-list movie actor famous for playing cowboys?

Personally, I don't think I could manage wading onto the beaches of Normandy unless I expected to die and was ok with it.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:25 AM on April 1, 2010


OK. Then why don't Palestinian Christians blow themselves up in crowds of Israeli civilians on a regular basis?

First, I would point out additional research done by ICAHD and B'Tselem has shown that a majority of suicide bombers have had a housing demolition in their past. Furthermore, Israel has used housing demolition to punish the families of suicide bombers, leading to an increase in suicide bombers. I'm busy planning a seder so I don't have time to dig up all this research but it's out there. Second, the vast majority of homes destroyed have been Muslim homes, visit Bethlehem and you'll find most of the destroyed houses are in the camps, the Christians usually hold deeded land that's not under threat of demolition. There's an economic gulf between Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims that must also be taken into account.

Christians living under occupation are more likely to be "native" to the West Bank, vs. Muslims displaced during the Nakba. Thus the tense political infighting re: right of return. This is entirely anecdotal, but most of my Christian friends living the the OPT want to eschew the right of return (they don't need to return, they're living where they've always lived.) Those in the camps want their land restored, are willing to fight for it, and are almost entirely Muslim.

But I can see that what's really happening here is folks want to attach suicide bombing to religious beliefs, to that of Islam, specifically - and no amount of research will probably change your mind. This is an incredibly complicated issue, though, and let me assure you that Christians are just as capable of horrific acts of terrorism as are Muslims. Their exists, however, a different level of dispossession between the two groups in our world today. It's incredibly cynical and naive to presume that Muslims have some kind of "terrorist tendency" that is resultant from their faith. Especially given recent events.

This is an incredibly complicated issue.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:33 AM on April 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


What does this do to the thesis? Ireland was certainly under occupation longer than Palestine....

Last time I checked, from 63BC to 1948AD, there were no independent states in Palestine. The Arab Palestinians themselves still do not have an independent state. That's significantly longer than the pre-partition foreign occupation/suzerainty of Ireland that occurred between 1172 and 1937, not including the six counties in the North who still remain occupied.

Not really reading too much into this study, but suicide bombing tactics and in effect, their employment as a strategy, are a direct result of military planners foregoing the escape portion of guerilla attacks in part to defeat the technologically superior defenses emplaced using conventional military wisdom coupled with the massive social effect that these attacks have when executed outside of conventional battlefields.

In essence, suicide bombings work because they're easy, mostly undetectable and produce results. And if you're a 17-year old looking to join a militia, who are you going to go with? The guys throwing rocks at tanks or the guys racking up body counts in defenseless civilian areas?

I'd love to take Butler in the end, but I have to look Duke based on their numbers.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:33 AM on April 1, 2010


I don't know that this is explicitly part of Pape et al's argument , but one thing that leaps to mind about the difference between the motivations of IRA bombers and the Chechen Black Widows is that the British haven't waged a scorched-Earth policy against the Irish since (I think) Cromwell. The Russians laid waste to Chechnya in 1999.

Occupation is one thing. Occupation + scorched Earth = something a bit... more.

The Irish Republicans and Basque separatists, whatever they their grievances are, may just not be driven to the wall hard enough to the point where suicide bombings seem the only way to strike back against a monstrously superior oppressor.

Complex stuff, no doubt.

Also, thanks for the digging, Zarq. Heading out, but definately gonna read those articles when I get back tonight.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


What does Clint Eastwood know about war anyway? Isn't he a B-list movie actor famous for playing cowboys?

You're thinking of Ronald Reagan.

Clint Eastwood is an A-list movie actor and director famous for playing cowboys.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:39 AM on April 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ireland was certainly under occupation longer than Palestine....

I don't mean to derail, but this is a silly comparison. The historical experience of Palestinians and that of the Irish are so dissimilar as to make most comparisons worthless. England/Scotland and then Great Britain's influence and control over Ireland had many waxed and waned over the centuries, taking on a number of different forms. Describing it as just occupation is really an absurd generalization.

Also, regarding the IRA during the Troubles in the North, the IRA propaganda might have called it an occupation, but it is more proper to describe it as a conflict between two segments of a society. Lets remember the North remained with Britain because the majority of its citizens wished it that way. the resulting civil strife was not due to an oppressive 'occupation' of a foreign power, but due to infighting between the Northerners themselves.
posted by boubelium at 10:39 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Japanese kamakazi pilots were suicidal in using their planes as weapons" Did you miss the part that Japan had a divine emperor (religious deity)? They were religious zealots too (Kamikaze literally means Divine Wind if my 8th grade understanding of the word is correct)

They were not secular either... D'oh.
posted by NiteMayr at 10:43 AM on April 1, 2010


I was surprised to see only 257 deaths in Israel over that twenty-one year period.

Their propaganda effort certainly makes it seem like the Israelis bravely soldier on through carnage, doesn't it?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:43 AM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


And don't forget The Troubles™ were to a certain extent a civil war between Nationalists and Loyalists blowing each other up with the British Army and (hardly unbiased) RUC acting a referees. With the exception of the odd bit of internment Catholics in the north were free to do what they liked: work, go on holiday, stand for parliament etc. And there was rule of law, buses ran, legal contracts enforced, free press etc. Not saying it was super happy fun times but really not comparable to what the Palestinians are going through. The ferocity of oppression should be taken into account.

And I believe under Catholic law suicide is a mortal sin whereas killing other people there is some kind of 'ah but its a war' get out clause.
posted by Damienmce at 10:45 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


...not including the six counties in the North who still remain occupied.

Oh fuck right off...

Northern Ireland is no more an occupied territory than Scotland or Wales is, and I say that as a pro-independence Scot.

It was this kind of romantic, green-tinted view of the Troubles that led to so much money pouring out of places like the US, funding PIRA terrorism. Funny how all that money stopped flowing after 9/11. When the USA remembered that terrorism wasn't something that only happened to other people in far away places.
posted by littleredspiders at 10:46 AM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


But don’t the tamil tigers do suicide bombings too? and didnt palestinians get their inspiration for suicide bombings from them? and they are not muslim...amirite?
posted by MXJ1983 at 10:46 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


boubelium, I might just highlight the number of British soldiers in Southern Ireland during "the troubles" but I think instead you are just ignorant of Irish history and I'll ask you to just read up on it, while there is merit in your point you rationalize out the fact that the English occupied all of Ireland and only violent revolution pushed them out of the non-loyalist parts...

(If only for your own benefit and history, look up The Easter Rising...)

It's a valid comparison; the IRA represented an ethnic minority in Northern Ireland looking to through off their oppressors, if that does not equate the intifada I don't know what does.
posted by NiteMayr at 10:48 AM on April 1, 2010


Most Tamils are Hindu. Come on, Google is right there.
posted by littleredspiders at 10:51 AM on April 1, 2010


Most Tamils are Hindu. Come on, Google is right there.

Come on, its a rhetorical question
posted by MXJ1983 at 10:54 AM on April 1, 2010


I think it should be called homicide bomber not suicide
but thats just me
posted by SatansCabanaboy at 10:55 AM on April 1, 2010


Sorry. I'm still buzzing from that nonsense about Northern Ireland being an occupied territory. Hair trigger. It's no excuse, but I hope you'll accept my apology.
posted by littleredspiders at 10:56 AM on April 1, 2010


"only 257 deaths in 21 years" and only 3,000 due to direct terrorism in 250 years of US history....

Way to minimize the rocket attacks (not counted) gun attacks (not counted) grenades (not counted) non-suicide attacks (not counted) and anything else not deemed "terrorism"

I dunno if any of y'all actually remember how 9/11 felt; but a whole continent got spooked for a couple days, and that was really only one event and not even all that intimate; the bombings and rockets in Israel happened at random locations all over the place... I use the past tense as the rockets appear to have tapered off and increased security have cut down on the bombings.

Israel may have bastards at the reigns but to look at a people that is surrounded by cultures would like nothing more than to see them swept into dust and say "only 257 deaths" is to spit on them all; and I shun you like I would shun any other zealot. They may be there by force, but they are there now and to minimize the impact of random intimate terrorism like that is shocking.

Whatever the motivation; this study appears to only focus on very limited criteria and is getting the kind of tanning I'd expect from the blue... but let's not use it as some kind of bludgeon to say that "it's not really a problem"
posted by NiteMayr at 10:57 AM on April 1, 2010


NiteMayr - I am not aware of any British troops occupying southern Ireland during the Troubles... Ireland was already an independent country. The troubles began in the 1960s... Citation for your claim? And for the Easter Rising, have you forgotten about the Home Rule Act of 1914? It is not a clear cut issue of physical violence as the only means of forcing Britain out. Lets not forget the advancements made by moral force and investments in constitutional change. The historical reality is a far more interesting and complicated matter than your Britain Occupies Ireland narrative.

Oh, and add me to the people taken aback by the person who commented on the North still being occupied. I'm no Unionist, but that is just an incredibly distorted view of things.
posted by boubelium at 11:02 AM on April 1, 2010


But I can see that what's really happening here is folks want to attach suicide bombing to religious beliefs, to that of Islam, specifically - and no amount of research will probably change your mind.

If you noticed, I also produced three links to lengthy, complex articles / papers / interviews in two separate comments which actually argued against the points I had previously made upthread.

I am trying to keep an open mind about the subject.
posted by zarq at 11:03 AM on April 1, 2010


Also, thanks for the digging, Zarq. Heading out, but definately gonna read those articles when I get back tonight.

You're welcome! Good to see you, man. It's an interesting post.

Part of me wants to bitch that the doctor's NYTimes editorial sucked because his research analysis seems a hell of a lot more complex and in-depth than he conveyed. That interview (and the paper) make me a lot less likely to dismiss him outright as biased.
posted by zarq at 11:10 AM on April 1, 2010


that nonsense about Northern Ireland being an occupied territory

Ok, so I guess the confiscation of lands coupled with government-encouragement colonization by one type of people (one ethnicity, one religion) in the land of another, protected by an overwhelming military force and enforced through political and economic pressures, not to mention the threat of total war does not make the Plantation of Ulster an occupied territory in the same way as the settlements in the occupied West Bank do.

But the protestant Northern Irish choose to remain British, you say. No shit, Sherlock. I'm willing to bet that a referendum in the Jewish settlements would produce overwhelming results in favor of remaining part of Israel, so thus the Palestinians should just hand over the land and forget about it.

I do have one question though: does the Israeli government encourage the settlement of Arab Israelis of Muslim persuasion in the West Bank?
posted by jsavimbi at 11:12 AM on April 1, 2010


Storming across a beach in an invasion is doing your duty as a soldier. It is not thought of as a suicide mission you undertake in advance. To say that such things are suicidal is in fact to say that war itself is nothing but suicide. The Troops on both sides during the battle of Gettysburg, standing up and meeting the enemy fire etc seem to the modern perception but that was the way things were done at that time, and it was not considered suicide. In fact, given the very religious nature of that period, a suicide would not have died "the good death." and would be scorned.

The Japanese only employed kamakazie pilots as the war was winding down and they were clearly losing, and hence were closer to their home territory. They had been doing well previous to that and had no need for that sort of last resort measure (crashing planes).
It is glorious to die for your emporer. That is why, we are told, we used the A-bomb...the Japnese were going to die one by one rather than allow us on their sacred soil.

You mostly get the Medal of honor by (without thinking about it, I guess) doing something suicidal in order to save or help the greater good, the cause...but you don't plan in advance, as suicides do.
posted by Postroad at 11:16 AM on April 1, 2010


I couldn't give a toss which way the wind blows in Northern Ireland, jsavimbi. I simply do not care whether they remain a part of the UK or not. So your rather childish approach of putting words in my mouth is especially stupid.

So by your logic, Scotland and Wales are occupied lands too? After all, it was only a few Lairds who sold out Scotland and the rest of the population. And Scotland suffered it's fair share of ravages too.

Also, I'll decline to answer your final question as once again, I don't give a fuck and find each side as abhorrent as the other.
posted by littleredspiders at 11:18 AM on April 1, 2010


Okay I'm officially tapping out of the emerging Ireland/Occupation debate. I have a rule not to get ensnared into arguments on the internet.

But let me just say this to the lurkers and readers of this thread. Describing Ireland as continuously under Occupation for centuries is a key element in what is considered a very ultra-nationalist conception of Irish history. Modern historians of Ireland have far more nuanced and interesting accounts and a reading of the current Historiography of Ireland will reveal that. I have degrees in this area and though I am by no means an expert, I studied with professors who were. I just want to put it out there that the ultra nationalist viewpoint appearing in this thread are not supported by many if not most historians working in this field today.
posted by boubelium at 11:24 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I think it should be called homicide bomber not suicide but thats just me"

All bombing is "homicide bombing." That's why people use bombs. To commit homicide. If you're dropping 500 lb. iron bombs from an F/A-18 onto a building or setting a bomb in someone's car to explode when they turn the ignition, you're "homicide bombing."

The reason suicide bombing is called suicide bombing is because the attacker is using the unusual method of killing himself in the process. It's worth pointing out when that happens, because it's unusual. Most bombs are set off from a distance, with no danger to the bomber.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 11:28 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I couldn't give a toss which way the wind blows in Northern Ireland

Any measure of your words would find that debatable.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:33 AM on April 1, 2010


Final example: Japanese kamakazi pilots were suicidal in using their planes as weapons, but they did so because of their culture; contrast this with American pilots. Eastwood noted in his two WWII films: Americans wanted to be heroes but wanted to live; Japanese wanted to be heroes and dying for a cause was very much a part of their culture.

Well, the kamikaze were very much a desperation weapon. It's well known that the Japanese employed them after they felt certain that the war was lost unless some sort of divine wind similar to the one which stopped the Mongol invasion of Japan came and saved them. (They were probably a lot less willing than you are popularly told -- according to "Victory at Sea", many Kamikaze would come back claiming that they could not find a target). The Germans considered manned V-1 flying bombs. Additionally, JG300 was ordered to to contemplate deliberately ramming enemy bombers when circumstances permitted.

Even George Gay, the only surviving member of Torpedo Squadron 8 after its unescorted attack at the Battle of Miday wrote:

It's when a fellow is just gone and knows it, it is just crash into the ship or crash into the sea, and you have enough control to do a little bit more damage, why you crash into the ship.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:35 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


All bombing is "homicide bombing." That's why people use bombs.

No, people use bombs for lots of reasons that don't include murder. All a bomb is, is explosive material with a timer or other means (like a wire/detonator) that allows it to be blown up under specific conditions. Bombs are used for timed explosions to raze buildings, clear land, etc.
posted by zarq at 11:44 AM on April 1, 2010


Any measure of your words would find that debatable.

Um, seriously?

jsavimbi - On this side of the Atlantic, really not caring whether Northern Ireland ends up Irish or British is actually pretty common. Condemning the violence does not require picking a side.
posted by Catseye at 11:45 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are clearly two factors here, and he's tossing one out (that the suicide bombers are overwhelmingly Muslim) because the suicide bombers don't seem to be observant. Does he not think that their religious culture could possibly promote the belief that a homicidal/suicidal attack against one's civilian enemies is a viable option?

It seems logical that occupations would encourage the suicide bomber phenomenon. But his illogical dismissal of their religion as a primary factor smacks of confirmation bias.


Your arguments smack of TL;DR.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:59 AM on April 1, 2010


Yes, seriously.

littleredspiders didn't pipe up about anything, much less condemn violence, until I asserted my green-tinted view of the world. A hair-trigger about Northern Ireland, I believe was mentioned, prior to their suddenly neutrality. So yes, I find a sudden care-not attitude to be debatable when I'd just experienced frothy discourse. If you choose not to engage after opinion turns to analysis of fact, I can understand, but denying the importance of an issue that moments before had you seeing red is weird to say the least.

Or maybe you're reading a different thread than I am.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:02 PM on April 1, 2010


homicide bomber not suicide
but thats just me


No, that's not just you, it's a standard big lie talking point.

Homicide bombers drop bombs from airplanes, then they come back and drop some more. This is homicide bombing.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:05 PM on April 1, 2010


No, that's not just you, it's a standard big lie talking point.

It's less accurate, but it's certainly not a lie. Just because your personal political views disagree with the term doesn't make it more or less appropriate. A homicide is a murder of one human being by another. A suicide bomber does this by blowing themselves up with the intention of killing other human beings. Otherwise, they'd just be committing suicide in private.
posted by zarq at 12:12 PM on April 1, 2010


Your arguments smack of TL;DR.

No, his editorial was weak sauce. I added links in comments later which helped flesh them out.
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on April 1, 2010


I think it should be called homicide bomber not suicide
but thats just me


You and Fox News and every right wing demagogue out there, so don't feel so lonely.

And it's moronic. Bombs have been regularly planted in public places, with the express design to kill human beings - commit homicide. The unique - again, unique - distinction of the bomb placement by somebody who is going to die in that process - essentially commit suicide, is worth remarking upon. That's why we call them suicide bombers. The "bombers" part takes care of the homicide - that's inherent in being a bomber. Rather than add another redundant "homicide" to the "bomber", it is far more informative to add "suicide".

Ugh, I can't believe I spent a whole paragraph on refuting yet another brainless right wing meme./depressed/
posted by VikingSword at 12:14 PM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Very poor representation of Pape’s positions. I’d suggest reading (at least) zarq’s link

The Sept. 11 attacks dovetailed with religion and occupation. If we take OBL’s word for it (which I’m willing to do) it was indeed a foreign policy issue (in part support of Israel, in part the bases in Saudi) (as Pseudoephedrine et.al. mentioned)

But it’s dangerous to look at all this through western (separation of church and state) eyes. In many regions religion is part of the culture.
That’s all a goofy detour though. The core idea is more a response to the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy (which was analogues to Ralph Wiggum’s “One of my CRAZY friends says it's wrong to eat meat. Is he CRAZY!?”)

“And, I'm not sure I really understand the whole question: what difference does it make if a terrorist attack is a suicide mission or not?”

It’s not a suicide mission. It’s a direct intent to commit suicide in the course of destorying ‘x’ amount of the enemy. In a mission, suicide is a bug. In a suicide bombing, it’s a feature.
The reason why it’s important to understand is so one can set a logical policy up in response.
As it is, Bushco seems to have done a good job in getting people to think about this thing in the wrong way from first principles.

It’s nothing at all to do with culture or religion. The methodology there is in determining how successful persuasion is (to destroy oneself) the nature it takes and perhaps countermeasures to defuse it. Again – interesting, and reasonably discussed here, but off base from the get-go.
The meat of the thing is tactical. The IRA didn’t blow anyone up in very small part because Catholicism is against it. And in small, but larger part because of their environment and proximity to their enemy. And in middlin’ part because of a shared language, all that. But mostly because their tactics were working and they were making headway in reaching their goals. So why change them? And why directly expend cadre that way?
So I think Pape is perfectly correct in saying that suicide bombers are not crazy because they’re all crazied up with crazy religion, but rather that groups use it to reach tactical objectives.

I’d prefer the term foreign policy myself – bit more fastidious about accuracy on stuff like this – to ‘occupation’ etc. But he’s not entirely wrong (that of course, cedes many of the complaints here as to what ‘occupation’ means, etc.). And I think most of the ambiguity is do to poor journalism rather than Pape’s work.

As it is, it’s just a practical reality that some personnel might not be capable of anything but suicide bombing (in terms of direct action).
You’re not going to get 53 year old women running through sewers lugging RPGs and plastic explosive (usually the Russians own UXO, which mostly kills kids and causes havoc randomly otherwise) and attacking tanks from basements.

So the question then would be – why do they want to be directly involved? Why don’t they want to sit on the sidelines arming those who do the fighting, doing the extremely important (IMHO far more important) work of coordination, intelligence, logistics, public relations, and the many other things those kinds of organizations run on?

Well, it’s not their religion. The Bush administration pushed that. The Russians are pushing that. It’s all part of the dehumanization process as mentioned above.
And not everyone can be Svetlana Gannushkina (I would suggest reading her speech at Hohenheim)

A lot of it is despair in finding anything else that works - either as communication or as a tactic.
(Not to harp on the concept - but you create people with nothing to lose, you write your own epitaph)

So it’s critical to understand suicide bombing as a reaction to circumstance, not as a trait inherent in a given social or religious outlook.

As a practical matter – a great deal of unexploded ordinance is used by terrorists (et.al) to attack a given force. It is not philosophy, or even efficiency alone that convinces me of the usefulness of treating terrorism as a law enforcement/small unit matter. Any ordinance you dump on an enemy they can later pick up. So if you shell someone, drop bombs, plant mines, those can be defused, recycled and used against your group. And if your group has a large profile – all the easier to hit you.

Look at the Hutaree, they had very little operational security (f’ing youtube?). But beyond that, if 19 year old “Junior” is your explosives expert (say, you're a smart feller, you could make bombs, right?), kind of shows you the sophistication most folks have with stuff that blows up and how to keep them secret (and it’s very common in domestic counterterrorism to pose as a source for making explosives).

And that’s a common exposure problem for groups, so it’s also common to live off one’s enemy – cannibalize explosive components, etc. (hence the attempt to try to prevent that and that going SNAFU a bit ago by U.S. forces by targeting anyone who picks up explosive materials on a battlefield. Most folks don’t know what the hell it is.)
You need a lot of isolation to run a successful operation like this, and the more people who get involved, obviously the greater exposure.

The funky side here is that the more heavy handed one’s own forces, the greater isolation possible by the opposition. (Again – read almost anything by Gannushkina)

So you displace a given population, force them to feed on themselves, don’t engage them socially - surprise! - an attack comes out of “nowhere.” Well hell idiot, you marginalized and ignored them and their problems and suddenly you don’t know why you have no intelligence?

Again – social divisions, differences, make very little difference here beyond understanding how to communicate (which is critical, but beyond the scope of what Pape is addressing).

In terms of suicide bombing he’s arguing a kind of tactical reciprocity that I completely agree with (excepting certain lesser details) that impacts the social/political rather than having those social causes be the root of the suicide bombing tactic.

Indeed – it did harm the Chechens political cause to go too far just as it harmed the Russians politically. Not that the scorched earth thing isn’t effective against guerilla tactics.
Worked for the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Of course, they were willing to commit total genocide. Not that the Russians getting along on that road in Chechnya.
As it is, the harping on the alien nature of the terrorist bombers does look like a prelude to excuse further brutality. Whatever group or nation is asserting it. (Morality of terrorist bombing excepted for purposes of discussion of course).
posted by Smedleyman at 12:20 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The "bombers" part takes care of the homicide - that's inherent in being a bomber. Rather than add another redundant "homicide" to the "bomber", it is far more informative to add "suicide".

These are all good points. The main complaint I've had personally to the term "suicide bomber" is that it seemed to diminish the "murdered other people" aspect of what they're doing by focusing attention on the bomber's death. You're right, though. "Bomber" really does make it clear.

Ugh, I can't believe I spent a whole paragraph on refuting yet another brainless right wing meme./depressed/

I like to think of myself as "not brainless." I'm neither right wing nor much of a Fox News watcher. I'm learning a lot from this thread. So, thanks.
posted by zarq at 12:25 PM on April 1, 2010


If you want to see how suicide bombers are made, I can't recommend anything more than this film:

Children of Gaza

I'll just quote a small section of the documentary. A mother and daughter are talking in a refugee tent. There home has been destroyed by the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza and they had multiple family members killed.

Daughter: "It's so hot in these tents. The heat is killing us."

Mother: "Let's talk about something else. Is there anything you wish for?

*silence*

Mother: "A home? to travel somewhere?"

Daughter: "to die."

Mother: "To die?"

Daughter: "I'd rather be a martyr than go on living like this."

This girl couldn't have been more than 13 years old.
posted by empath at 12:36 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


but it's certainly not a lie.

No one who refers to suicide bombers as homicide bombers calls actual homicide bombers that. Because they are lying.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:39 PM on April 1, 2010


Wings of Defeat, an excellent documentary about kamikaze pilots, is available on YouTube. (Wikipedia.)
posted by The Mouthchew at 12:48 PM on April 1, 2010


A hair-trigger about Northern Ireland, I believe was mentioned, prior to their suddenly neutrality. So yes, I find a sudden care-not attitude to be debatable when I'd just experienced frothy discourse.

Yeah, I have a bit of a hair-trigger reaction to a lot of Northern Ireland-related discussions on the Internet, too - and I really truly honestly do not care whether it's Irish or British in the future.

There's a widespread perception further afield, especially in North America, that Northern Ireland is a simple issue - either you're on the Irish side, and therefore you support PIRA as freedom-fighting heroes, or you're on the British side, and therefore you want the rest of Ireland back and probably beat Irish peasants for entertainment in the evenings. That's not what it's like, and that's not how it's seen here. When people have short fuses in regards to discussing the issue on the internet, it's usually got a lot more to do with having heard too many people defend terrorism out of an overly-romanticised view of a political situation than it does with having some personal territorial stake in Northern Ireland.
posted by Catseye at 12:55 PM on April 1, 2010


I'm not on board with this redefinition of "bombers" per se, because bombers are bombers, but not all bombs are meant to kill people, like those that are called in first. Ergo not exclusively homicidal or suicidal. Not saying bombs aren't, just saying that they're not always meant to be. Those bombs activated without the element of surprise are meant to send a message that the bombers are capable of planting a bomb in the time and place of choosing and using it in the manner in which they choose. It allows them to display a degree of control over the battlefield. ETA used the phone-in method whenever it suited them to make the various Spanish governments look incompetent and reassert themselves with their base.

I think it's better to refer to the suicide component as a tactical feature of the event and not the purpose of the bombing itself. Once it becomes a strategic policy, then the term can be reapplied.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:57 PM on April 1, 2010


No one who refers to suicide bombers as homicide bombers calls actual homicide bombers that. Because they are lying.

No, they call them terrorists, which isn't a lie either.
posted by zarq at 12:59 PM on April 1, 2010


Slight aside Buda's Wagon: A Brief History Of The Car Bomb is very good.
posted by Damienmce at 1:01 PM on April 1, 2010


zarq, I don't mean to imply that you are wrong to ask questions, and perhaps I should've expanded a bit on this - there is a purported ideological cast to this, which is why I think it's become a controversial term. When you specifically name an aspect of tactics like "suicide" in "suicide bomber", you are necessarily going to call attention to the whole context of why someone would go to such desperate lengths. We are all familiar with the concept of the hidden bomber, who exposes himself to relatively little risk, and launches "cowardly" attacks against innocents. This is a figure who is easily condemned as a gutless vicious in-the-shadows evil. But the suicide bomber seems to go against - at least at first glance - this image, because s/he is willing to pay the ultimate price for his/her actions... an integrity/bravery we usually expect of war heroes - and that's uncomfortable, because it makes it seem as if it's merely a question of *whose* hero, an equivalency of honor. We can't now simply say it's a shadowy cowardly opponent not worthy of any respect. This is why Bush would talk about the "cowardly" hi-jackers of 9-11 - signaling to us that it's OK to completely dehumanize these perpetrators... only it never quite felt right coming out of Bush's mouth, because on some level, much as we hate and condemn (rightly) these fanatical murderers, we recognize the inappropriateness of the term "coward" when they are willing to pay the ultimate price (for which we give our soldiers the highest medals) - especially absurd when our "brave soldiers" sit safely in airplanes and drop bombs or launch remotely controlled drones and rockets... it doesn't add up.

And what happens when we pause in thought - wondering - who is this... perhaps not "hero", but combatant willing to pay the ultimate price? We may start looking into his/her cause and motivation... and may discover oppression, our culpability and exploitation and crimes going on for decades. Not good. No such thought is necessary if the opponent is a faceless gutless coward, a "homicide bomber". And the right wing doesn't want you to think beyond the faceless coward image, and don't want you to delve into the background and motivation of those driven to such desperation, because knowledge and historical perspective is not something that's generally valued on Fox News. Hence, "homicide bomber".

Now, I don't want to romanticize or justify suicide bombers - many are themselves manipulated by actual faceless cowards, some are mentally not there, some drugged, many blackmailed etc., etc., etc., - after all, suicide bombing is a tactic, and does not connote ideology or rightness of cause. But it's uncomfortable enough - and more importantly complex enough - that ideologues of the right prefer not to deal with it... after all, "complicated" does not go well with "propaganda". And that's what's behind the "homicide" bomber controversy.

Now I feel even stupider, spending more paragraphs spelling out the obvious/jk/.
posted by VikingSword at 1:15 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


putting aside the womanist bias of this book, Shoot the Women First is an insightful read on the subject.
posted by liza at 9:18 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


they call them terrorists,

No, the people who call suicide bombers "homicide bombers" don't call the people who did this "terrorists." Because they are lying.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:34 AM on April 2, 2010


No, the people who call suicide bombers "homicide bombers" don't call the people who did this "terrorists." Because they are lying.

Well, if I had any idea what that picture is of, I might be able to agree or disagree with you. Would you mind adding some context?
posted by zarq at 8:58 AM on April 2, 2010


It's the attack on the Beirut airport.

By patriotic heroes.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:48 AM on April 2, 2010


As best as I can tell no one died, so I guess its just a vanilla bombing, and not a 'homicide' or suicide bombing
posted by rosswald at 11:05 AM on April 2, 2010


It's the attack on the Beirut airport.

By patriotic heroes.


By Israel I assume, and not the US in 1984?

Israel declared the rocket launches into its territory by Lebanon an "act of war" and it has subsequently been referred to as either The 2006 Lebanon War, The 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, The July War or the Second Lebanon War. Since Hezbollah was part of the Lebanese government at the time, it's kind of hard to argue that their attacks weren't state-sponsored.

Israel's attack on civilian targets during that war may have been a war crime, but it seems a little bit of a stretch to refer to them as "terrorism."

Characterizing it as such, any attack made by any state during war time that kills civilians would therefore also be terrorism, a definition which seems rather ludicrous to me.
posted by zarq at 12:35 PM on April 2, 2010


VikingSword, you've done an admirable, excellent job of changing my mind. Thank you. :)

This is why Bush would talk about the "cowardly" hi-jackers of 9-11 - signaling to us that it's OK to completely dehumanize these perpetrators... only it never quite felt right coming out of Bush's mouth, because on some level, much as we hate and condemn (rightly) these fanatical murderers, we recognize the inappropriateness of the term "coward" when they are willing to pay the ultimate price (for which we give our soldiers the highest medals) - especially absurd when our "brave soldiers" sit safely in airplanes and drop bombs or launch remotely controlled drones and rockets... it doesn't add up.

Very true.

An aside: Bush's speeches following 9/11 regarding terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were abstractly fascinating to watch. He took a page from history that had previously been quite successful when it came to sparking a lead-up to war, and it began to backfire on him almost immediately. In the past our political and news media rhetoric had often exaggerated atrocity in order to spur nationalism and an emotional reaction. It's a sad truth, but yellow journalism has always worked, because it has always been far easier to push the masses into vilifying a caricatured enemy. But in modern times with a more pervasive, omnipresent media, it's harder to do. FoxNews and the NY Post have tried their best, but I tend to think they don't do much more than preach to their choirs.

And what happens when we pause in thought - wondering - who is this... perhaps not "hero", but combatant willing to pay the ultimate price? We may start looking into his/her cause and motivation... and may discover oppression, our culpability and exploitation and crimes going on for decades. Not good. No such thought is necessary if the opponent is a faceless gutless coward, a "homicide bomber". And the right wing doesn't want you to think beyond the faceless coward image, and don't want you to delve into the background and motivation of those driven to such desperation, because knowledge and historical perspective is not something that's generally valued on Fox News. Hence, "homicide bomber".

Yes. This is also precisely why Israel's far right wing and much of American Jewish Orthodoxy has done their best to vilify all Arabs as being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel, and all Palestinians as bloodthirsty murderers. Admitting that reality is far more complex and nuanced would work against them, so they deliberately don't bother. They've done much to hurt their own image in the name of (as you so aptly put,) dehumanizing their enemies.

But it's uncomfortable enough - and more importantly complex enough - that ideologues of the right prefer not to deal with it... after all, "complicated" does not go well with "propaganda". And that's what's behind the "homicide" bomber controversy.

I hadn't looked at it quite this way before. Thanks for taking the time to explain, and kudos for changing my mind on the terms. :)
posted by zarq at 1:20 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since Hezbollah was part of the Lebanese government at the time, it's kind of hard to argue that their attacks weren't state-sponsored.

Since the Republicans are part of the US government, it's kind of hard to argue that Tea Party attacks aren't state-sponsored...

That latest invasion of Lebanon was just one more attempt to expand Israel's territory, no matter what sort of lies you try to justify it with. Hezbollah's beef with Israel has to do with Israel's refusal to return Shebaa Farms. Somehow or other, you find the seizure of territory by invasion to be justifiable, and then attempts to recover that territory are then used to justify further attacks to seize more territory. The lies cascade into an avalanche of homicide bombings.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:13 AM on April 3, 2010


Unless things have changed recently, the Tea Party is a mere political movement, not a separate, recognized political party with a charter, officers, bureaucratic hierarchy and its own elected seats in Congress. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was all of these things when they launched multiple attacks against Israel. Their attacks were therefore interpreted as state-sponsored, I assume primarily because Lebanon did little to stop them. I don't disagree with that interpretation of the situation, although I do personally feel that Israel's reaction was very disproportionate and wrong.

To carry forward your analogy: if a bunch of Tea Partiers decide to launch attacks into Canada, the US would be responsible for stopping them, (simply because the Tea Partiers are Americans) but since they haven't, and since TP'ers aren't an elected part of the US government, your analogy isn't really appropriate here, is it? It's hard to see how any hypothetical attack the TP'ers launch could realistically be seen as state-sponsored to a critical observer.

Somehow or another, you seem to feel perfectly comfortable telling me what you assume *I* think and believe about Israel, instead of bothering to *ask me*. However, I'm not an unquestioning or uncritical supporter, and I do object to much of what they've done. So if you have a question to ask, then by all means do so. Otherwise, please don't assume you know what I believe or am thinking beyond what I state outright.

If the Lebanese government wished to open diplomatic negotiations or declare war over Shebaa farms, they should have done so. Instead, their government's most militant wing, which many states still recognize as a terrorist organization, took it upon themselves to start a war. Like it or not, that affects the terms we use to describe and understand the situation.
posted by zarq at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2010


please don't assume you know what I believe or am thinking beyond what I state outright.

I suppose there's a better way to address the enthusiastic embrace of standard talking points by people who present themselves as thoughtful observers.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:23 AM on April 3, 2010


Jimmy, zarq is good people. Often I disagree with him, but he has something that's pretty rare - lack of unexamined partisanship. At our best we should all be willing to change our minds as we learn new things. Sadly it seldom happens.

I don't want to get drawn into another Middle Eastern argument, and these usually result from trying to assign emotionally charged terms to one side or another. So, rather, I'd emphasize things which are factual, so hopefully there's less controversy. Wrt. Hezbollah - the Lebanese government was and still is in no position to control them and therefore cannot be held responsible for everything that they do. This is not a teabagger situation - the Lebanese Army literally cannot take on the Hez - both because of sheer military power involved, and because the Army has a lot of Shiites who would most likely refuse to fight the Hez. So the Hez was and to a degree still is an autonomous actor - frequently at violent odds with the government. As to Hez being part of the government - the same applies in the reverse. The Hez is like an opposition party pretty much always at odds with the rest of the government when it comes to many issues (especially vs Israel) - it makes little sense to hold the Hez responsible for what the Lebanese government as a whole does, and the other way around. It's unfortunate, but a reality. Additionally, the Hez main areas of control are border areas with Israel - it's crazy to hold Lebanon responsible for what happens on that border. And for better or worse, Hez holds the moral high ground in Lebanon vs any question wrt. Israel, simply because it was Hez, not the Lebanese government that ejected the Israelis from Lebanon - so that no Lebanese government can afford to crack down on the Hez vs Israel (nor can they from a pure power point of view).
posted by VikingSword at 11:04 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


You have more patience than I do, and have done a better job of covering the issue. Thanks. I tend to get pretty short when I see "[cookie cutter big lie phrase], but that's just me" used in a discussion.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:24 PM on April 3, 2010


I suppose there's a better way to address the enthusiastic embrace of standard talking points by people who present themselves as thoughtful observers.

Whether you choose to read the thread carefully or not, I would think it would be obvious to anyone who does that I'm not simply embracing "standard talking points," because I've added evidence against 'em to this discussion.

Jimmy, after I made an initial comment in this thread, I actually went and did some research on Google regarding Dr. Pape, military occupations and suicide bombers. I then added three links I found to materials in two different comments that directly countered what I'd first said. The Alternet interview actually includes lengthy explanations from Dr. Pape explaining his research discussing (among other things) religion, occupations and his methodology at length. If you have the time to read Dr. Argo's work and conclusions, it's all quite enlightening. Dr Pape is not dismissing the religious cultural impact and "martyr complex" of Islam. But he is saying that while it may be a factor in why some people become suicide bombers, at least one of our major assumptions about all suicide bombers: that they are always Islamist religious fanatics, is wrong. In fact, most aren't fanatics at all. Because of this, we have to consider other factors -- and a specific type of oppression that imparts no hope of change is a factor that seems to be consistent with nearly every suicide bomber. There's a lot that makes sense here.

From those links, I drew the conclusion that the Times editorial just sucked, and said so. The editorial didn't explain Dr. Pape's methodologies well and made it easy to conclude that his conclusions were biased. After reading the extra materials I found, I came to the conclusion that he's probably right, and (as VikingSword explained so well,) while it may more comfortable for us to believe that suicide bombers are just crazy fanatics, many of them clearly aren't, and we need to pay attention to environments that encourage their formation.

Further, I've already resolved not to use the term "homicide" bombers again, now that VikingSword has so kindly and eloquently explained that my original thinking on its use was... un-nuanced.

We are all aware that the Israeli / Palestinian situation is highly complex. Understanding it requires a full comprehension of the motivations and psychology not only of both the Palestinians, (who feel that they were treated unjustly by the British, Israelis and other Arab nations who rejected and formed ghettoes and refugee camps for them, rather than embracing them as expected,) and Israelis, (who, having survived the Holocaust now place their own survival as a higher priority than anything, including (in some cases) observing human rights standards -- and even, stunning to me, attempting justify their actions in (questionable) religious terms,) but also of every other nation throughout the last 40-50 years who have manipulated both to their own advantage. The US, the Russians, the British, French, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, etc., etc., etc., have all used the region for their own political gains.

If we don't keep the full picture in mind, it's easy to fall into spouting propaganda talking points for either side. I'm sure I've done so myself in the past, and will no doubt do so again despite my own best efforts... but I am quite sure I didn't do that here. Whether that makes me "thoughtful" or just plain cynical, I don't know. But I like to think it doesn't make me a mindless follower.

Look, I grew up in a family to whom the terms "Arab" and "German" were epithets, for their efforts to exterminate the Jews. This, despite the fact that I had an uncle who was killed by Zionists in the King David Hotel bombing. It seems more logical to remember that no one's hands were clean, and it's damned stupid and shortsighted to stereotype an entire people based on the actions of a few of their members. There's a lot of history and emotion here, and it shouldn't be ignored.

This, by the way, is why I tried to add more information to this FPP. As far as I could see, the links there missed the point entirely. Unless someone convinces Israelis and American Jews that establishing and enforcing peace with the Palestinians is the only way Israel that will be able to survive and thrive then it will never, ever happen, no matter how much pressure is placed on them by the rest of the world. Likewise, the Palestinians need to be made to see that Israel is not going to simply go away, and that *IF* Israel recognizes them as a distinct nation, then it's not only in their best interests to do likewise, but also the only way they will survive and thrive.

Some Palestinians and Israelis seem to understand that they're trapped in a no-win situation, and need to change their entire dynamic. Which bring us back full circle to suicide bombers, who seem to be trying to do exactly that. I hate their methods. But after reading this thread and contributing to it, I can understand their motivations a little better.
posted by zarq at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


VikingSword... my response to Jimmy took up my kids entire nap time, so I'm going to have to write my response to you a little later.... after I try teach my daughter that every color is not "Pink!" and my son how to say "Fork" properly (he skips the "R") before he scandalizes my mother this evening. :D

That said, thank you. It was very nice of you to say that. I truly appreciate it.
posted by zarq at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2010




From the interview with Professor Pape that Zarq dug up re: "how religion figures into the equation":
TAC: Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders also talked about the "Crusaders-Zionist alliance," and I wonder if that, even if we weren't in Iraq, would not foster suicide terrorism. Even if the policy had helped bring about a Palestinian state, I don't think that would appease the more hardcore opponents of Israel.

RP: I not only study the patterns of where suicide terrorism has occurred but also where it hasn't occurred. Not every foreign occupation has produced suicide terrorism. Why do some and not others? Here is where religion matters, but not quite in the way most people think. In virtually every instance where an occupation has produced a suicide-terrorist campaign, there has been a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied community [
emph mine]. That is true not only in places such as Lebanon and in Iraq today but also in Sri Lanka, where it is the Sinhala Buddhists who are having a dispute with the Hindu Tamils.

When there is a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied, that enables terrorist leaders to demonize the occupier in especially vicious ways. Now, that still requires the occupier to be there. Absent the presence of foreign troops, Osama bin Laden could make his arguments but there wouldn't be much reality behind them. The reason that it is so difficult for us to dispute those arguments is because we really do have tens of thousands of combat soldiers sitting on the Arabian Peninsula.
Pape also goes into why the IRA never resorted to suicide-attacks:
If you look at the pattern of violence in the IRA, almost all of the killing is front-loaded to the 1970s and then trails off rather dramatically as you get through the mid-1980s through the 1990s. There is a good reason for that, which is that the British government, starting in the mid-1980s, began to make numerous concessions to the IRA on the basis of its ordinary violence. In fact, there were secret negotiations in the 1980s, which then led to public negotiations, which then led to the Good Friday Accords. If you look at the pattern of the IRA, this is a case where they actually got virtually everything that they wanted through ordinary violence.

The purpose of a suicide-terrorist attack is not to die. It is the kill, to inflict the maximum number of casualties on the target society in order to compel that target society to put pressure on its government to change policy. If the government is already changing policy, then the whole point of suicide terrorism, at least the way it has been used for the last 25 years, doesn't come up.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:28 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]




I hope you will accept my apology, zarq.

I do think your comment that set me off is a good example of how well the Big Lie technique works, since that idea that "suicide bombers are really homicide bombers" was successfully inserted into your discourse, despite your obvious thoughtfulness.

One aspect of suicide bombing that gets glossed over is its self-limiting, defensive nature. It is a tactic that can only be used when there is a pool of people who have been so abused that the natural animal desire to live is overcome. Each suicide bombing depletes that pool, and so the tactic can only continue so long as new candidates are being created. Contrast that with actual homicide bombing, where the only limit on the carnage a bomber can wreak is the moral restraint of his society.

If the targets of suicide bombing address this aspect of the tactic, it actually increases its effectiveness, since they realize that it is their own actions that create the attackers. So the leaders of the side being targeted need to create a propaganda mechanism to counter the propaganda effect of the bombings. The typical method is to ask "What kind of people could do such a horrible thing?" and then answer that they must be so different from "Us," such a profound "Them," that there is no way to address their grievance. Any mention of the bombers' actual grievance is studiously avoided, while focusing entirely on the grievance of those who have been the victims of suicide bombers. That mental construct of "suicide bombers are really homicide bombers," which deliberately evades the identity of actual homicide bombers is a prime example of the technique. The propagandists express horror at the homicide perpetrated by suicide bombers while glossing over the horror of the homicides they perpetrate themselves, homicides which are the actual source for the pool of suicide bombers.

The "72 virgins" story is a similar propaganda line meant to obscure the victims' own culpability in the attacks. It is also meant to paint the attacker as such a radical Other that there is no appeasement possible. The same with the claim that all suicide bombers are Muslims, creating the false symmetric argument "all Muslims are suicide bombers".
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:06 AM on April 6, 2010


« Older Around and around and around it goes.   |   Kafka's castle is collapsing Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post