Roots of terrorism: invasion, occupation and foreign domination
Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago’s Project for Security and Terrorism recently published extensive research which analysed each of the 2,200 cases of suicide bombing that have occurred since 1980. The research builds on Professor Pape’s earlier work published in his 2005 book ‘Dying to Win’.
This new study found:
- Suicide bombings have risen dramatically following the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, from some 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009.
- Over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American.
- Contrary to the belief that these attacks are undertaken by ‘foreigners’, the vast majority are by those local to the region: for example 90% of suicide attacks in Afghanistan have been undertaken by Afghans.
- Suicide attacks are more likely when the ‘social distance’ between occupied and occupier is more pronounced and that religion is not the only factor in determining this as he points to secular groups who have employed suicide bombings such as the LTTE (Hindu) against the Sinhalese (Buddhists)
- Suicide attacks have been a measure of last resort, and employed when all other non-suicide measures have failed
Professor Pape argues that research undertaken by his group demonstrates that the underlying narrative of the War on Terror, that these suicide attacks and 9/11 were a function of Muslim hatred of western values and that democracy was subsequently needed to bring stability to the Muslim world, was fundamentally flawed. His publication suggests: ‘It’s the occupation, stupid’.
The research points to conclusions that have long been claimed by people across the Muslim world, that events since, and indeed prior to, 9/11 cannot be separated from the context in which they occur. Foreign policy hawks have long-suggested that Islamic theology is inherently prone to violence and that the Muslim world’s displeasure with the ascendancy of the west has resulted in the desire to launch attacks on western capitals to return the balance of power and civilisation in their favour, to-redress the anchor moment in the 15th century when the Spanish inquisition started the reversal of Muslim fortunes.
Professor Pape’s debases these views empirically. The study shows there is a correlation between occupation and retaliatory violence in occupied territories as the indigenous populations attempt to remove foreign control: 95% of all 2,200 suicide bombings analysed were in response to foreign occupation.
Proponents of the now discredited War on Terror have failed to deconstruct the mix of theological, anti-occupation and anti-American rhetoric in identifying the real factors driving acts of violence and hostility.
What is of greater concern is that the War on Terror has increasingly become a War on Extremism in recent years. This new front however perpetuates a similar narrative, that Islam is the cause of Muslim resentment and ignores the fact that the west deploys troops that now permeate the majority of the Muslim world, support some of the most archaic and dictatorial regimes and have long supported policies which have been to the detriment to indigenous populations. This is further compounded by a confused mix of labels which suggest orthodox Islamic beliefs, held by the majority of Muslims, are problematic and must be either confronted or reformed.
As Pape’s study suggests, context is king. Without direct military and political occupation, a different relationship may have materialised between the Muslim world and the west, not one that now threatens the security and prosperity of both peoples.