When Robert Pape’s study of suicide bombings came out a few years ago, many people saw its flaws immediately. Michael Gordon eviscerates Pape’s study expertly here. But of course the mainstream media and the learned experts all took Pape’s central finding — that suicide bombings had no connection with Islam and were more common among non-Muslims — as absolute truth. Many, many time Pape’s study has been thrown up to me, as if it somehow negates the jihadist attempt to recruit suicide bombers on the basis of the promise of Paradise to those who “kill and are killed” for Allah (Qur’an 9:111).
But now here is a new piece that shows how Pape cooked his data, in ways that minimized the Islamic aspects of suicide terror.
“Contrasting Secular and Religious Terrorism,” by Jonathan Fine in Middle East Quarterly (thanks to drtigay):
Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, there has been a steady rise in Islamist terrorism. Too many analysts underestimate the ideological basis of terrorism and argue instead that rational-strategic rather than ideological principles motivate Islamist terror groups. Comparison between terrorist groups with secular and religious agendas, however, suggests that ideology matters for both and that downplaying religious inspiration for terrorism in an effort to emphasize tactical motivations is both inaccurate and dangerous.
Some researchers suggest that to understand terrorism it is more important to study what terrorists do rather than what they say. University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape argues, for example, that Islam has little to do with suicide bombing. Rather, he suggests, that suicide bombers, wherever they are in the world, are motivated much more by tactical goals. He juxtaposes the suicide terrorism of the (non-Islamic) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with Islamist suicide bombing to demonstrate that a desire to end occupation is the common factor rather than religion. Therefore, he suggests focus upon religion is a distraction and that policymakers seeking to stop the scourge of suicide attacks should work instead to address root causes, which he sees as the presence of troops or interests in disputed or occupied lands.
Despite the revisionism advanced by Pape and others, the fact remains that most suicide bombings since 1980 in the world in general and in the Middle East in particular are sponsored by Islamist and not secular terrorist groups. Pape avoids this conclusion by gerrymandering his data so that he does not need to include the significant numbers of suicide bombings conducted by Sunnis against Shi”˜a in Iraq.
Middle East expert Martin Kramer suggests that Pape’s theses may be comforting to Western readers who want to believe that if only the United States were to pull its military forces from the Persian Gulf and if only all occupation in the Middle East would end, that there would be no more suicide bombings. Western thinking admires empirics, metrics, and pie charts. The secular emphasis of Pape’s theories also comforts. But comfort does not correlate with reality. Islamism is an ideology, and that it does not fit neatly into existing political theory should be beside the point.
Read it all.