Richard Melson

September 2006

Dying to Win: book

Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

by Robert Pape

Editorial Reviews

Book Description
Suicide terrorism is rising around the world, but there is great confusion as to why. In this paradigm-shifting analysis, University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has collected groundbreaking evidence to explain the strategic, social, and individual factors responsible for this growing threat.

One of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject, Professor Pape has created the first comprehensive database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until today. With striking clarity and precision,
Professor Pape uses this unprecedented research to debunk widely held misconceptions about the nature of suicide terrorism and provide a new lens that makes sense of the threat we face.

FACT: Suicide terrorism is not primarily a product of Islamic fundamentalism.

FACT: The world’s leading practitioners of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka–a secular, Marxist-Leninist group drawn from Hindu families.

Ninety-five percent of suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of coherent campaigns organized by large militant organizations with significant public support.

Every suicide terrorist campaign has had a clear goal that is secular and political: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.

FACT: Al-Qaeda fits the above pattern. Although Saudi Arabia is not under American military occupation per se, one major objective of al-Qaeda is the expulsion of U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf region, and as a result there have been repeated attacks by terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden against American troops in Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole.

FACT: Despite their rhetoric, democracies–including the United States–have routinely made concessions to suicide terrorists. Suicide terrorism is on the rise because terrorists have learned that it’s effective.

In this wide-ranging analysis, Professor Pape offers the essential tools to forecast when some groups are likely to resort to suicide terrorism and when they are not. He also provides the first comprehensive demographic profile of modern suicide terrorist attackers. With data from more than 460 such attackers–including the names of 333–we now know that these individuals are not mainly poor, desperate criminals or uneducated religious fanatics but are often well-educated, middle-class political activists.

More than simply advancing new theory and facts, these pages also answer key questions about the war on terror:

• Are we safer now than we were before September 11?
• Was the invasion of Iraq a good counterterrorist move?
• Is al-Qaeda stronger now than it was before September 11?

Professor Pape answers these questions with analysis grounded in fact, not politics, and recommends concrete ways for today’s states to fight and prevent terrorist attacks. Military options may disrupt terrorist operations in the short term, but a lasting solution to suicide terrorism will require a comprehensive, long-term approach–one that abandons visions of empire and relies on a combined strategy of vigorous homeland security, nation building in troubled states, and greater energy independence.

For both policy makers and the general public,
Dying to Win transcends speculation with systematic scholarship, making it one of the most important political studies of recent time.

Throwing Stones is Throwing Stones, June 6, 2005

Pape's book takes a flinty-eyed look at the data and presents us with inarguable conclusions that many readers will not like. (Witness the ideological hatchet job below, masquerading as a reader review.) If you can't make yourself believe that US foreign policy (and the foreign policies of other powerful democracies) might somehow be a contributing factor in the proliferation of suicide bombing campaigns we are witnessing today, then don't bother reading this book. If you have to let yourself believe that Islam is the source of most suicide bombing in the world, even if the data shows that it isn't, then don't waste your time reading this book. But if you're tired of not understanding why hundreds of billions of dollars of military hardware, intelligence infrastructure and foreign aid, and hundreds of thousands of US soldiers posted overseas, seems only to buy us more suicide bombers, then perhaps you'd be interested in a fresh idea why this is the case. You may not like Pape's conclusions. You may not be happy about them. But you can't deny that they are based on the data, and that his analysis of the data is manifestly non-ideological in the best sense of that term. If we are going to win the war on terrorism, we had better be prepared to stop thinking ideologically from time to time, and take a look at the facts.

Insightful, Groundbreaking Work. + rebuttal to 1-star review, June 16, 2005

This new work by Robert Pape is a long awaited step forward in the understanding of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism that presently faces the Western world. In it, Pape makes his case in a straightforward and airtight argument based on his study of the global experience of suicide terrorism from 1980-2003. And by no means is this any run-of-the-mill examination. It is by far the most comprehensive, thorough, and methodical look at suicide terrorist attacks, the terrorists themselves, the societies that support them, the democracies that bear their cost, and the political circumstances surrounding them.

Pape lays out his ideas in what he terms as the "Nationalism Theory of Suicide Terrorism." One sees, through his analysis, that almost all suicide terrorist attacks since the advent of the tactic have had several similarities. 1) They exist as part of a larger organized campaign 2) they target democracies 3) they seek a strategic political objective (national liberation). This is a cursory explanation of the author's ideas that are elucidated in the book. He then concludes with recommendations stemming from his study's findings.

These ideas are simply novel, well thought-out, and groundbreaking. If they do not find wide acceptance in short order they will certainly be the subject of important debate and any future scholarship will be obliged to address them. The author and all those that worked with him did a great job.

The concluding prescriptions for future foreign policy decisions are quite reasonable and based on sound footing, but, of course, always debatable. Foreign policy has to be one of the most convoluted and difficult issue areas in any field and it is a matter of dire importance because, unlike in domestic policy, you only get one chance.

That is the end of my review. I would like to take a minute to address a previous 1-star review entitled "A Misleading Work" June 6, 2005 by "Anonymous."

Though the anonymous reviewer's complaints about the book lacked coherence and organization, though probably not more than their thought process, there seems to be three main issues in Pape's study that they object to:

1) Too much reliance on graphs/statistics, along with statistical errors

2) The LTTE (Tamil Tigers) existing as a statistical outlier

2a) All other suicide terrorist attackers were Muslims

3) Definition of foreign occupation too broad

3a) Al-Qaeda organization does not fit into Pape's model

I will briefly show that these objections are faulty.

1) Too much reliance on graphs/statistics, along with statistical errors

"Pape provides 14 pages of charts..."

The author conducted the largest study of the subject in history and drew his conclusions from the data. It is obviously necessary to use those facts/statistics to present the argument.

"...factoring 315 suicide terrorists into a billion people is just foolishness..."

There are roughly one billion Muslims in the world, Pape did not use this statistic in his analysis. There were a total of 315 suicide attacks during the period covered by the study, 48-57% were secular and even less were Muslim. (Pape 210)

"...with such a small set --only 15 total campaigns over 30 years -- one group can easily flood the averaage."

There have been only 18 campaigns in the 23 years covered in the study. 13 have been completed, five are ongoing, and all are included. The "small set" is comprised of all suicide terrorist campaigns in modern (relevant) history.

2) The LTTE (Tamil Tigers) existing as a statistical outlier

2a) All other suicide terrorist attackers were Muslims

"...if they are excluded, it is clear from Pape's own charts that every single other suicide attack since 1980 was committed by a Muslim."

The LTTE is the most prolific suicide terrorist organization in history and has succeeded in assassinating the two highest ranking officials through suicide attacks (heads of state). Any study that did not include the organization would be seriously flawed. It is just plain false that all other attacks were committed by Muslims. Did you read the book?

3) Definition of foreign occupation too broad

3a) Al-Qaeda organization does not fit into Pape's model

"The definition, however, is too broad to be useful."

Pape's definition is apt, especially in the minds of the people living in the countries in question. Your definition may differ but that is irrelevant.

"If a risk can only be calculated by taking into account a potential enemy's subjective experience..."

Understanding the "subjective experience" of the people in question is the ultimate purpose of the book. Achieving that understanding is necessary for calculating risk, developing strategies, and making decisions.

" isn't at all obvious that al Qaeda, the group we are really concerned about, qualifies."

Based on your definition of occupation, whatever that may be, the group may not qualify. However, Pape shows that this is exactly how Osama bin Laden defines it. It is the foundation of his organization's propaganda and mobilization efforts and, as is shown in the book, 95% of people in Saudi Arabia agree with him. (Pape 82)

The errors in your analysis and criticism reveal several things about you.

You have an entrenched view of Muslims as terrorists, you don't understand anything about Islam or the Middle East (in either contemporary or historical terms), and you apparently do not understand that not all people in "Muslim" areas/countries are Muslims.

You are also suspicious that Pape is some sort of liberal/socialist despite the non-political nature of his book (he does not use George Bush's name once). Finally, you are likely a conservative, a fact which is disheartening and embarrassing for a proud neo-con like myself due to your sub-par presentation and mistaken/uniformed positions.

In conclusion, I would just like to say, don't listen to that person. They don't know what they are talking about and the book does not deserve the 1-star review. It's a great book, go read it.

Where do suicide bombers come from? September 7, 2006

The negative reviewers here miss the point: do not fix the blame, fix the problem. A thesis that many in the media/pundit/political world miss, Robert Pape in this book supports: Muslim Fundamentalism is a separate problem from suicide bombing. Same blame (both violent), but different problem. Fundamentalism is a real problem no doubt, but there has never been one Al-Qaeda suicide bomber from Iran or Sudan, two of the most extremely fundamentalist countries. So he looked away from religion/culture/fundamantalism (to the negative reviewers consternation), and focused on actual suicide bombers.

What creates a suicide bomber? Sure, a fanatic group like Muslim Fundamentalists, but no one in that group performs the suicide attack. They need to find someone else to do the dirty work; Pape's research shows that a majority of suicide bombers have never committed a terrorist or even violent act before. So the fanatics need to either coerce or persuade that someone else.

Between persuasion and coercion, persuasion always works best, and occupation provides the most persuasive argument regardless the cause. Recall that the Crusades were started based on occupation.

For a Muslim, occupation is extremely "haraam" or forbidden. The Koran specifically defines "non-believers" as second class; so to have a "non-believer" military in a Muslim land creates the ultimate haraam. Pape found that "two thirds [of suicide bombers] are from the countries where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops since 1990." Pape also reminds us of Osama's reason for forming Al-Qaeda: to get U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia.

There will always be extremists, religious or otherwise. They only gain broader support when they bring moderates into their camp. Every extremist group either coerces or persuades moderates into their fanatical way of thinking. This timely book reinforces that persuasion is the best method, and occupation the best argument.

Important study, September 2, 2006

Robert Pape's study is an important contribution to our understanding of suicide terrorism. He explores the recent evolution and deployment of suicide terrorism as a political tactic.

Some key points: Islamic terrorism is not the only exemplar of suicide terrorism; much suicide terrorism has "popular" support; suicide terrorism is often aimed at forcing occupying forces--especially democracies--to leave the territory that terrorists consider their home territory; perhaps most controversial, suicide terrorism can work, with occupying forces on numerous occasions retreating.

With respect to the latter point, he notes the following (page 61): "The main reason that suicide terrorism is growing is that terrorists have learned that it works. Even more troubling, the encouraging lesson that terrorists have learned from the experience of suicide terrorist campaigns since 1980 are not, for the most part, products of wild-eyed interpretations or wishful thinking." Nonetheless, suicide terrorism is no silver bullet; it works sometimes (as with the United States' withdrawal from Lebanon in the 1980s), but not always.

Pape argues that (page 21) "The logic of suicide terrorism is aimed at political coercion. . . . Suicide terrorist campaigns are primarily nationalistic, not religious, nor are they particularly Islamic." Other reviewers have raised relevant questions about this statement. Nonetheless, Pape emphasizes, rightly, that suicide terrorism is a political tool.

His policy prescription? It is from a realist poisition and may not convince the reader (as it does not convince me): withdraw from those countries where the United States (and other countries) are perceived as occupiers and use "off-shore balancing" tactics. That is, to quote Pape (page 247): ". . .our objective should be to withdraw all American combat forces from the region expeditiously. . .while working with Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf states to ensure that they maintain the critical infrstructure for a rapid return of U. S. forces should that prove necessary." While I have some sympathy for the United States maintaining a low profile, we are leaning upon weak reeds if we depend upon the Iraqi etc., governments to serve as our surrogates/allies.

At any rate, this is a provocative book and well worth reading as a means of thinking about the political logic of suicide terrorism.

A very insightful book, August 14, 2006

This is a very insightful book. It uses analysis and clear and present facts from terror events in th last 30 years to give an idea of why suicide terrorism takes place. Beggining in Lebanon in the early 1980s the suicide bomber has been an increasing phenomenon. The authors conclusion is that this is due to occupation and the existence of U.S or foreign military bases on 'occupied' areas perceived occupied by the local people. Suicide bombers do not result from poverty or religious reasons.

While this may seem clear from the data it presents to issues that are not clear. Why are there so many places that are occupied that dont preduce suicide terror? Why do U.S bases in Saudi provoke terror but not in Germany or Korea? So whiloe the data may point to certain reasons, the overwheliming data of who does not become a terrorist is lacking. Why are there some palces where there are no terrorists. Why, for instance, are Muslim Malays in Thailand involved in terror but Buddhists in malaysia, who are more discriminated against, are not? And herein we must ask deeper questions about religious intolerance and its responsibility for motivating terror.

However this book does show quite clearly that Tamil Tiger terror accounts for almost 1/3 of suicide terror and that here you have a Hindu group that is exporting terror and it runs contrary to the perception of Islam as the motivatign agent. This is why this book is a good resource, it is unemotional and honest. However it only looks at terror against democracies, what of those many suicide bombers who fought dictatorships that we dont read about in the press?

Religion is Not the Enemy, August 12, 2006

This is one of the most important books of the decade because Pape squarely puts his finger on the continuing violence we see throughout the world.

Many people make the mistake of associating the violence in the Middle East with Islamic beliefs, but this is a dangerous idea to hold, especially since the majority of Muslims embrace the notion of peaceful co-existence with the West. The problem, as always, resides in the extreme minority of vigilantes who have managed to gain the approval of the disenfranchised poor. Furthermore, as Pape describes in his book: "Suicide terrorist groups are neither primarily criminal gangs dedicated to enriching their top leaders, nor religious cults isolated from the rest of their society. Rather, suicide terrorist organizations often command broad social support within the national communities from which they recruit, because they are seen as pursuing legitimate nationalist goals, especially liberation from foreign occupation."

In many societies, religious ideology is not separated from political, economic, or territorial idealogy, as it is in the United States. Whenever we are faced with a competing belief system, be it religious, political, or nationalistic, one group will tend to feel threatened by other groups, especially if the other group holds more economic or political power. Again, it is not religion per say that causes group conflict but simply any system of belief that strongly contradicts the in-group's values and beliefs. This point was persuasively argued by Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, in his book WHY WE BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVE. In addressing issues concerning morality and criminality, Newberg presents substantial documentation that our brains are biologically predisposed to rejecting any system of belief that contradicts our own. This lends more credence to Pape's position that terrorism is not a product of religion but rather a politicized orientation designed to encourage one's opponents to withdraw or concede power.

Religious beliefs play an important role in many societies throughout the world, but we should remember that the greatest numbers of murders were committed by nonreligious regimes (Communism, Nazism, racism against blacks, etc.) As an associate fellow with the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania, I do not find any validity to other reviewer's complaints about this book. It is neither superficial nor biased, nor are the statistics "massaged" or flawed. Until people begin to realize that the rhetoric used by politicians--theirs and ours--has created profound hostility between countries (especially now, between America and the Middle East, thanks largely to callous remarks made by Bush in response to 9-11), the war on terrorism will escalate. Even if you don't buy this book, just take a few minutes to use the Amazon tool "Look Inside This Book." You'll come away better educated, and better able, come next election, to cast a well-informed vote that just might change the course of history.

About the Author
Robert A. Pape is associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, where he teaches international politics and is the director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. A distinguished scholar of national security affairs, he writes widely on coercive airpower, economic sanctions, international moral action, and the politics of unipolarity and has taught international relations at Dartmouth College and air strategy for the U.S. Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies.

He is a contributor to The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, and The Washington Post and has appeared on ABC’s Nightline and World News Tonight, National Public Radio, and other national television and radio programs.

Product Details:

Dying to Win: Book

Robert Pape

September 6, 2006