how to defeat suicide terrorism.

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    Demystify It
    How to defeat suicide terrorism.

    By Adam Wolfson
    National Review Online
    September 16, 2003

    The religious orientation of the Islamists…breaks down deterrence. How do you deter someone who is willing, indeed eager, to die?…You cannot deter Islamic fundamentalists.
    — Fareed Zakaria

    In the suicide terrorist we have met our match. Or so we are told. For 40 years, deterrence kept the Soviets at bay, dissuading them from attacking our cities. But deterrence is impossible, it is said, against religious zealots. How astonishing and inexplicable is their behavior! What unfathomable commitment they show! Surely, such fanaticism cannot be deterred.

    That's the conventional wisdom, but as is so often the case with conventional wisdom, it is mostly wrong. In a rigorously researched article for The American Political Science Review, Robert Pape has examined every suicide-terrorist attack in the world from 1980 to 2001. There have been 188 such suicide attacks worldwide, ranging from Lebanon to the West Bank, from Sri Lanka to Chechnya, and from India to Turkey. From his survey research, Pape, who teaches political science at the University of Chicago, is able to explain much about this barbaric practice: He shows how suicide terrorism operates, and why it became a growth industry over the last several decades. His superb study should help dispel the widespread notion that suicide terrorism is somehow beyond comprehension, and beyond remedy.

    One of Pape's most important findings is that suicide terrorism is guided by clearly identifiable strategic goals. It is not a mere act of wanton cruelty, though it is certainly that. Nor is it an act of desperation by the dispossessed. Rather, suicide -attacks are nearly always carefully calibrated to accomplish the political goals of nationalists groups. Of the 188 suicide-terrorist strikes from 1980 to 2001, a whopping 95 percent were undertaken as part of an organized political campaign; that is, only 9 of the 188 attacks were unplanned.

    These statistics give us a clearer picture of what we're up against. The vast majority of suicide attacks are not the work of psychos; they are not the random and unpredictable acts of fanatics. We're not in the realm of trying to divine the dark psychology of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Rather, suicide terrorism occurs, as Pape describes, in "clusters." And it is nearly always deployed as part of a larger political-military campaign. The psychology of an individual suicide terrorist might indeed be incomprehensible, but this is not the case of those who recruit, train, and outfit him. A suicide terrorist's handlers are not so eager to die, and there is little reason to believe that deterrence — if forcefully and consistently applied — will not prove effective against them.

    Pape uncovers another startling and vitally important pattern: Every suicide attack in the period under study was launched against a democracy. Hezbollah used this weapon to force the United States and France from Lebanon in 1983; Hezbollah and Hamas have used it repeatedly to force concessions from Israel; Tamil terrorists have used it against the Sri Lankan government; the Kurds against Turkey; the Chechen rebels against Russia; the Kashmir rebels against India; and perhaps most infamously, on September 11, al Qaeda launched its suicide -terrorist attacks against America.

    This is an extraordinarily important finding. Clearly, the terrorists have reached certain conclusions about our own "regime." They think we are "soft," and they surmise that democracies in particular are vulnerable to nihilistic coercion.

    And in this regard, the terrorists are, sadly, not entirely wrong. For another pattern Pape unearths is that suicide terrorism against democracies is effective. It is more destructive than regular terrorism — from 1980 to 2001 suicide attacks made up 3 percent of total terrorist attacks but produced 45 percent of all casualties — and that's not even counting the immense carnage of September 11. Moreover, suicide terrorism more often than not achieves its strategic goals. By Pape's accounting, of the eleven separate suicide campaigns from 1980 to 2001, six produced "significant policy changes by the target state toward the terrorists' major political goals." This bodes ill for the future, as Pape indicates:

    The main reason suicide terrorism is growing is that terrorists have learned that it works. Even more troubling, the encouraging lessons that terrorists have learned from the experience of the 1980s and 1990s are not, for the most part, products of wild-eyed interpretations or wishful thinking. They are, rather, quite reasonable assessments of the outcomes of suicide -terrorist campaigns during this period.

    So how should democracies respond to this new scourge? Pape argues in favor of beefing up homeland security. Good advice. But much more than that can and should be done.

    We need to see suicide terrorism for what it is; we need to demystify it. Suicide terrorists are not some other breed of men, unsusceptible to the usual tools of statecraft. As Thomas Hobbes once said of human cruelty: "That any man should take pleasure in other men's great harm, without other end of his own, I do not conceive it possible." The terrorists have their ends. Deny these — make sure that suicide terrorism does not pay — and it will surely lose much of its luster.
 
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