Robert Pape’s Theory of Suicide Terrorism Continues to Reverberate

While visiting my mom, I took in a fine talk on U.S. dilemmas in the Mideast by Retired Ambassador William A. Rugh. The talk was sponsored by a local peace group and was remarkable to me for the use Rugh made of Robert A. Pape’s book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape’s book argues on the basis of extensive field research on suicide bombers that these bombers, from Sri Lanka to the west, are motivated not by religious fanaticism but by a desire to rid their lands of foreign occupation. This theory is of course at odds with the Bernard Lewis theory that suicide terrorists are angry that Constantinople is no longer the center of the universe, or the Peter Beinart and Tom Friedman theory that Muslims are chewed up by inadequacy because they aren’t making microchips, or the George W. Bush-Paul Berman theory that there is an arc of Islamo-fascism. I mention Rugh’s speech because Pape, a realist scholar at the University of Chicago, came out with his book more than a year ago (the paperback is lately released) and yet the idea is so powerful and important that it is only now beginning to resonate fully. Pape had an Op-Ed in the Times during the Lebanon war 2 weeks back, explaining Hizbullah’s ascent as a response to the Israeli occupation of 82-00, and now here was that idea being put forward by a sage ambassador to 120 or so well-educated people in an Episcopal church meetinghouse, in a summer community on the Cape. That is intellectual influence.