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Author Discusses Roots of Suicide Terrorism

One of the world’s leading authorities on suicide terrorism has challenged the conventional wisdom that religious fanaticism, and specifically Islamic fundamentalism, is the primary motivator for suicide terrorists. Suicide terrorists are instead reacting to foreign occupation, according to Robert Pape, author of the newly released book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. In fact, the world’s leading suicide terrorist group is the Tamil Tigers, a Hindu rebel group in Sri Lanka that is secular.

Mr. Pape, a professor of international politics at the University of Chicago, said that in the past two decades, the primary goal of 95 percent of the suicide terrorists from Sri Lanka to Chechnya to the West Bank has been to force an occupying democratic state to withdraw from what they view as their territory.

Speaking on VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Mr. Pape noted that suicide terrorists have been more successful than many people realize. Of the 13 suicide terrorist campaigns that began and ended since 1980, he said, seven have produced political gains for the terrorists. Mr. Pape credited Hezbollah’s 1983 suicide truck bombing of the U.S. marine barracks in Beirut, which led to President Reagan’s decision to withdraw from Lebanon, as the watershed event inspiring the current wave of suicide terrorism worldwide.

Iraq is a prime example of the strategic logic of suicide terrorism, according to Mr. Pape. He found that Al Qaeda terrorists are 10 times more likely to come from Muslim countries where there is a major U.S. military presence than from other areas of the Muslim world. And since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled with each successive year of military occupation. Using the world’s first demographic profile of 462 suicide terrorists who successfully completed their missions, Mr. Pape found that very few of them fit the popular stereotype. Most were not depressed, lonely, and alienated criminals, but were socially integrated, working and middle-class people whose first experience of violence was their own terrorist suicide, Mr. Pape discovered. It is not hatred of America, but concern for their own community, that motivates suicide terrorists, he said.

Mr. Pape recommends a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops over the next two to three years in Iraq and warns that a “sustained presence of heavy American combat forces in Muslim countries” increases the likelihood of another 9/11.

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.