That perception is prelude to reality is implicit. We may believe it in our bones but it is not always so, particularly in the case of suicide bombing. For example, our gut reactions for prevention would only exacerbate the situation. And the origins of suicide bombing it turns out belie common belief.
So asserts the University of Chicago’s Robert Pape, a political science professor and an expert on the subject who directs CPOST (Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism). Among other things, the project compiles a Suicide Attack index in which data are gathered combing through media, and from reports by the terrorist groups themselves. One of its findings is that large-scale attacks like in Paris and Nigeria reached a 12-year high in 2015 without signs of a let-up. This year we have already had Kabul in July and Quetta, Pakistan this month. The Nice truck driver who mowed down the strollers on the Promenade des Anglais, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, had a history of petty crime and violence against women. He was also disturbed and had stopped taking his medication — clearly not the genuine article.
On Monday (August 8), lawyers had gathered at the Government Hospital, Quetta for a procession to mourn a prominent lawyer, shot dead earlier in the day. His body was about to be brought out when a suicide bomber struck, killing 70 and wounding more than 120. It is significant that suicide and terrorist bombings of civilians was a rarity until Pakistan joined the US war on terror aimed initially at Taliban rule in Afghanistan — last month’s bombing in Kabul killing 80 people points to US inability to bring stability after almost 15 years. Mr. Trump, it ain’t that easy to eradicate these movements.
What has Professor Pape learned from his research? First, his research is persuasive that suicide terrorism is a direct consequence of military intervention, more so in territory prized by the adversaries.
They fight back and lacking advanced weapons and the equipment of modern militaries, suicide bombing becomes by default the most effective weapon at their disposal. The data clearly reveal the effectiveness of the method for roughly a third of suicide attacks enable these groups to seize and hold territory.
Next, Pape’s data challenge the common perception that suicide bombing is a tactic employed only by Islamic radicals. No, it was the secularist Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka fighting a Tamil-Sinhalese war against a militarily superior enemy, who pioneered this modern phenomenon as a war tactic. They bombed the military; they bombed civilians in the city; they even used a Tamil woman wearing a suicide vest to kill Rajiv Gandhi, the then Indian Prime Minister who was trying to mediate a solution. From 1980 to 2003, Pape’s data show they launched more suicide attacks than any other group, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Israel-Palestine.
One might add that terrorist bombings without suicide have been used even earlier in numerous struggles for independence: against the British in Cyprus and Kenya; and against the French in Algeria to name a few.
Poor knowledge of suicide bombers and their motivations abounds: Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking in Ohio recently, unveiled plans to forestall attacks by screening immigrants, using as a prop the rise in Syrian refugees. He also stokes fear after each European incident. Well here is news for him on those counts: The Nice lorry incident was carried out by a Frenchman born in Tunisia. The Bataclan attackers last November were Belgian and French nationals of Algerian and Moroccan descent. The axe-wielding teenager on the German train was from Afghanistan. No Syrians. No Libyans. And then there are numerous (sadly) incidents of an individual, not an immigrant, going berserk in the US.
To the extent there can be any answers, Pape’s stem from his data. And what do they reveal? After reaching an annual peak of about 525 in 2007, attacks were on a steady decline down to about half. Then came the Libyan intervention and Syria in quick succession. Following the escalation of the conflict in Syria (the end of 2011 into early 2012) they had risen dramatically: soaring 56 percent in 2012 over the previous year which had itself shown a 12 percent increase; then a 22 percent rise in 2013 to reach a new high of 600 in 2015 with no let-up in 2016. Military intervention therefore results in more attacks. The data could not be clearer.
Limit military intervention, says Professor Pape. Focus on improving domestic security. And support stable governance to benefit local people not just American interests — usually corporate, if the past is a guide. It is a simple recipe and brings to end the destabilizing, unwinnable, endless wars.
In the end, “political solutions are the true lasting solutions,” adds the professor. Sound advice it seems, both for interventionists and oppressive governments.
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor. A frequent contributor to the print and electronic media, his work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.