Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dying to Win   posted by Razib @ 8/19/2006 07:13:00 PM

After a month of reading it on and off I finally finished Robert Pape's Dying to Win. This is an excellent companion to Marc Sagemen's Understanding Terror Networks. While Sagemen focuses on what may loosely be termed the "Salafist terror international," Pape examines the phenomenon of suicide terrorism in a cross-cultural context. I am going to think a bit about this book before I blog it in more detail. I don't know if I agree with all of the conclusions, but there was so much data that I'm also not sure I've processed most of it (I promise, no idiotic "Fiskings" like The Jawa Report). I would like to add three points

1) Pape reiterates that the demographic profile of suicide terrorists the world over does not tend to show that they are poor, psychologically abnormal, without prospects or even young. Unfortunately the meme that they are all these things is extremely powerful, but the data just does not bear this out in the totality. And it hasn't for a long time.

2) Pape is skeptical of the sufficiency of Salafism even within the Al Qaeda threat. This is what is really interesting to me as I am not particularly interested in Hamas, the Tamil Tigers or the Chechens in anything but an academic sense. Pape shows that the % of Salafists within a nation is a poor predictor of the representation of that nation amongst those who engaged in suicide attacks against the United States on behalf of Al Qaeda. Rather, he shows that "American military presence" within a nation results in a proportionate 10 X greater likelihood of an Al Qaeda suicide attacker being from that nation. There are issues with the nuance of how Pape presented the data in my opinion, but I found the numbers interesting and not easy to dismiss even when they contradicted my prior hypotheses.

3) Pape had his graduate students try to ascertain the details of the identities of 41 suicide attackers in Lebanon in the 1980s. In hindsight his analysis of Hezbollah is of current interest, but that is neither here nor there. This is what he found:

27 were affiliated with Communist or socialist groups
8 were affiliated with Islamic fundamentalist groups
3 were Christian! (one of these a female Christian high school teacher)

Sometimes it is frustrating to have to rework my assumptions all the time, but that's life.