Suicide Bombers and What Makes Them Tick

Chalmers Johnson died last Saturday.  An intellectual stalwart and a powerhouse in political economy, he will be sorely missed.  He was ever the pragmatist — first, when he realized its futility, turning against the Vietnam war.  The conceptualization, examination and analysis of state capitalism became his bailiwick with Japan as the focus.  Such a confluence of government, private industry and workers for the goal of economic growth and market domination by first Japan, then the Asian tigers and now China continues to be ignored, despite his warnings.  Our corporate titans are in for a cheap buck — short term profits, and executive bonuses based on them, as our industry is hollowed out by exporting manufacture.  His views of the causes of terrorism also come to mind as the empirical analysis in a new book, Cutting the Fuse:  The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It(University of Chicago Press, 2010) by Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, validates his thinking.

If anyone says the words, “suicide bomber”, what images flash across ones mind?  No matter how careful we are, or how assiduous in being well-informed, these images remain — a direct result of the media narrative.  Inevitably, they lead to preconceptions, states of mind, habits of thought, a world view, a personhood that is ourselves.  It also makes us malleable to policies, often contrary to the general welfare, promoted by special interests.

So what fuels such terrorism?  The media would have us believe it is religious extremism — the notion of Islamic terrorists and religious madrasahs serving as factories for them is transfixed in our consciousness.  But Pape and Feldman, after exhaustive research into 30 years of data, conclude otherwise; instead they contend the evidence places the blame squarely on foreign occupation.  The principal objective of the terrorist, it seems, has always been to compel a democracy to withdraw from prized land.

For example, Hezbollah did not exist before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982.  Thereafter, in the next four years, there were over two dozen suicide attacks including the truck bomb killing of 241 U.S. Marines in October 1983.  As U.S., French, and then Israeli forces began to leave the country, the attacks first declined, then ceased completely following Israel’s total withdrawal in 2000.

Suicide bombers, undoubtedly, are highly effective as the 9/11 attack demonstrated when 19 operatives managed to kill thousands.  Pape calls the technique, the ultimate smart bomb.  Between 1970 and 2001, they accounted for only 3% of terrorist attacks yet caused 70% of casualties.

Attacks against U.S. forces and interests are found to be directly correlated with our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  From 1980-2003, less than 15% of the 343 such attacks worldwide were aimed at the U.S.; from 2004-2009, fully 92% of a vastly increased number (1833) were.

This correlation between force level and the number of attacks holds in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It held true even during the Iraq ‘surge’, when attacks declined, because in fact the total international force level was down — more coalition troops were leaving Iraq than the U.S. surge arrivals.  In Afghanistan, as troop levels escalated, so did the attacks:  there were only 15 from 2003 to 2005, then jumped to 87 in 2006 and 128 the year after.

To Donald Rumsfeld’s famous question of whether more terrorists were being produced than the U.S. was eliminating, Pape answers in the affirmative adding again that occupation serves as the trigger.

Returning to the image of the suicide bomber, it is interesting to note that the first suicide bombers of the post WWII era (that is after the kamikazes) were the secular Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, who happened to belong to a Hindu minority concentrated in the north.  They were responsible for most of the suicide attacks (78) during the period 1987-2001.  Tired of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese, they had opted for an independence struggle for their part of the island.

Given our stance in the Middle East, we have little choice but to contend with the present reality of possible suicide attack — that is until we rethink strategy and policy. As the deadliest weapon in the guerrilla arsenal, it is unlikely to be discarded.

Chalmers Johnson used to say we should:  stop supporting dictatorial regimes that bend to our will against the interests of their own people; revisit global trade policy so it does not punish the poor of the world; help maintain Israel’s security, but insist on the fair treatment of Palestinians.  Without such changes the developing South and the Islamic world will continue to look upon our actions as inimical to their interests.  So it was when he was saying it; so it is today.

  • Related article: “The Rationale of Suicide Bombing.”
  • Arshad M. Khan is a retired professor. He can be reached at: backfire@ofthisandthat.org. Read other articles by Arshad M..

    22 comments on this article so far ...

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    1. mary said on November 27th, 2010 at 7:09am #

      Has the author not heard of the phrase ‘False Flag’?

      Q.What makes a suicide bomber tick?
      A. The CIA, FBI, MI5, MI6, Mossad perhaps?

    2. bozh said on November 27th, 2010 at 9:47am #

      one does not have to even know how to read and write to see that no movement, march, protest, organization, talk, think tank wld ever change anything that the people who interpret u.s laws ['laws' =diktats] don’t want changed.
      all the changes enacted, seemingly on demand by protesters, proved to have benefited the interpreters of u.s laws.
      and if just palestina does not prove that it is so, we can add also 700 bases, hundreds of warships, thousand of aircraft, drones, gap between rich and poor widening, more lying than ever, etcetc.

      take schooling or ‘schooling’. why is it mandatory? does one need to be told why?take voting. why is that allowed?
      why one-party system? in waging wars, ignorance, poverty, neglect? but 3 + for dealing with drug users, alimony, gay issues, etc?

      of course, once again china is put in bed with japan, u.s. it is blamed, horrors of terrors, for trying to industrialize in order not to be attacked by u.s, japan, nato.
      does one hope that china wld cave in to u.s-nato threats and abandon whatever is it they r building?
      thus, just raise chickens, geese; grow rice, trees, etc., while u.s and nato manufacture ever ‘better’ killing metal. and, of course, solely for defensive purposes???
      of course, i’d love if china wld stick to just raising geese, etc., if nato, japan, u.s wld do the same? god bless all growers-tillers and devil bless ?all metal makers! tnx

      fat chance! tnx

    3. Don Hawkins said on November 27th, 2010 at 11:45am #

      Let’s see what the metal makers have in mind for tomorrow it;s only a day away and everything was going so well.

    4. hayate said on November 27th, 2010 at 12:44pm #

      Mary

      “Has the author not heard of the phrase ‘False Flag’?

      Q.What makes a suicide bomber tick?
      A. The CIA, FBI, MI5, MI6, Mossad perhaps?”

      That was the first think that came to my mind when reading this piece.

    5. Max Shields said on November 27th, 2010 at 1:54pm #

      Mary could you explain why you think false flag answers why all suicide bombers become…well suicide bombers?

      Frankly I don’t think one quip suffices…but I would like to get your take.

    6. Angie Tibbs said on November 27th, 2010 at 11:48pm #

      I am bewildered with respect to the sentence (in part) … “help maintain Israel’s security, but insist on the fair treatment of Palestinians.”

      Can we not insist that the Palestinian people have security? It would be a novelty for them, of course, as they’ve never had security/safety in the 60 plus years under a brutal occupation.

      “Fair treatment” is all well and good if one is alive to enjoy it.

    7. bozh said on November 28th, 2010 at 9:45am #

      if a mother dies protecting her child from a grizzly bear, shall we call her suicidal protector. add, shld we?, of her child? at the same time gladden the heart of every mother, father, and deermomma.
      ok, what does it have to do with a pal suicidally protecting her tent, shack, igloo [made of sand; keeps everything cool]
      well, don’t know???!
      don, am i also running in circles? add, bigger and bigger? tnx

    8. catguy00 said on November 28th, 2010 at 4:02pm #

      I wonder what percentage really believe they will be rewarded in the afterlife?

    9. kalidas said on November 30th, 2010 at 1:21pm #

      The % of those who have sensed a 4th dimension?

    10. Transhumanisten said on December 20th, 2010 at 10:38am #

      Hello, – I have just posted on this subject on my own blog :
      http://transhumanisten.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/suicide-bomber-profile/

      Your article is fine, as far as it goes.. , but one-sided, ’cause you only comment on the views of Robert Pape – “It’s the OCCUPATION, stupid”. How about French filmmaker Pierre Rehov, who has interviewed Palestinian suicide bombers in Israeli prisons. He represents the opposite view: “It’s the RELIGION, stupid”. –

      Ok, – you do write that you dismiss this as media-manipulation, but still.., – be a littel more objective, perhaps.. ??

    11. Kim Petersen said on December 20th, 2010 at 9:41pm #

      Transhumanisten,
      With all due respect, the logic in your comment is missing. Are you saying that without an occupation that there would be suicide bombers because of religion?
      And to try cloak your comment in “objectivity” does not give any credence to its silliness.

    12. Transhumanisten said on December 21st, 2010 at 12:33pm #

      No-one in their right minds will deny that occupation plays a major role, but then IRAN is not under foreign occupation.., – neither is Pakistan.., and yet I hear of frequent suicide bomber attacks in these two Muslim countries..
      The same goes for Iraq: Although there are still troops there, most suicide attacks seem to be carried out by Shias against Sunnis, and vice verse, so other factors are clearly involved.. – It is my belief, that religion plays a major role, which is why I suggest that: the mindsets of suicide bombers reflect religious ideology and political aspirations being INTERTWINED, as witnessed by the Stockholm bomber.
      If occupation explained everything, we’d probably see far more suicide bombers, so my point is that it takes occupation, – “occupation” sometimes being internal injustice, humiliation, discrimination, etc., – plus A CERTAIN MINDSET, which, again, I believe is religious in nature in most cases, but, if you prefer, let’s call it deep faith in a broader sense.

      Deep faith, – as with the Tamil Tigers, where no orthodox religiosity as such is involved, although I see them described as “a cult of death and martyrdom”.. – I’d like to examine the Tigers bombers more closely, – what I do recognize out of hand, is strong group identification and a willingness to obey extreme leadership.. – There may also be a higher degree of altruism involved, compared with Middle East Jihadists.. , but then I would certainly not declare myself an expert in any way.., – my main objection to your article is merely, that one should look at all aspects, – i.e. not focus exclusively on occupation, as Pape does, and which suggests he has a political agenda, rather than an academic..

    13. bozh said on December 21st, 2010 at 2:07pm #

      a factor in engendering hatred between different peoples is denial to self governance by the stronger ethnos to the weaker one [s].
      by self-rule, i mean two arrangements: an autonomy that s. tyrol in n.italy has or independence.

      this leads to bloodshed. in pak’n, afgh’n, china, palestine,, iraq, iran, ex-yogoslavia, n.ireland, sri lanka, chechnya.

      outsiders such as u.s, france, u.k, often take sides, but to promote self-interest or even deny self-rule to some peoples.
      and always religion.
      but the biggest factor in hatred generally or on all levels is supremacism: personal, cultural, ethnic, regional, religious.

      the peculiar terror, the suicide, is entirely caused by religion. however, not sole factor for pal’ns hate of ‘jews’, or mutual hatred of sunnis and shias.

      in short, for suicide to happen, hatred, injustices, western meddling and tayloring borders to suit their needs also must be present.

      afgh’n, iraq, palestina are locus clasicus for inhumane behavior by some peoples!
      tnx

    14. shabnam said on December 21st, 2010 at 2:45pm #

      { No-one in their right minds will deny that occupation plays a major role, but then IRAN is not under foreign occupation.., neither is Pakistan.., and yet I hear of frequent suicide bomber attacks in these two Muslim countries..}

      You are an IGNORANT person, indeed. Have you ever heard of DESTABILIZATION PROJECT? The evil empire under supervision of the Judeofascists, Bush, had allocated more than $400 millions for regime change in Iran. This project not only continued during Obama but also intensified. Thus, they are trying to destabilize the country through terror, color revolution, targeted assasination and illegal sanctions. I am sure you have not heard of these words. Why don’t you watch the following video so you don’t leave this site as ignorant as you are to be saved for the future debate on Iran?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKZ7XHyNEgI

      The suicide bombing in Iran is trained by the US/Israel and funded by the Wahabi regime, Saudi Arabia. Zionism and Wahabism are both SIDES OF THE SAME COIN. Your Evil Empire is training Jundollah who are the main American terrorists in Baluchistan and have just carried another suicide bombing where killed more than 40 people and wounded hundred. So, as you see, majority of killing is designed and implemented by US/Israel and their servant states, not FOR RELIGION BUT FOR EXPANSION OF THEIR INTEREST IN THE REGION to install “world government’ according to the Protocol.

      {The same goes for Iraq: Although there are still troops there, most suicide attacks seem to be carried out by Shiites against Sunnis, and vice verse, so other factors are clearly involved.. –}

      You really annoy me. You are so ignorant that do not view Iraq as an occupied land. Furthermore, 99% of the killings in Iraq are carried out by the US/Israel and Saudi Arabia. Most of the killings by these countries are carried out through REMOTE CONTROL but they spread lies that it was suicide bombing. For example, when the US and Saudi Arabia killed Al Hakim, a Shiite leader, along with 400 other people, and 1000 people wounded, then US announced that it was carried out by a ‘suicide bomber’ where was A LIE. It was carried out by remote control so the killing of Christians done recently.
      You should educate yourself before hitting the keyboard.

      {It is my belief, that religion plays a major role, which is why I suggest that: the mindsets of suicide bombers reflect religious ideology and political aspirations being INTERTWINED, as witnessed by the Stockholm bomber.}
      I am afraid this rubbish has been copied from a Zionist notebook. Instead, you should ask yourself, why majority of the killing are happening where the evil empire and their enablers are landing. Or look at the destructive role of the Zionist entity in the region where are carrying out assassination, occupation, demolition of Palestinian land to STEAL MORE TERRITORIES to erect “greater Israel’ where every single person in the region is against these colonists and thieves.

      Muslim, Christians and very small community of Jews have lived together for centuries. You are not going to fool anyone to hold ‘religion’ responsible for the imperialists and Zionists war crimes.

      (If occupation explained everything, we’d probably see far more suicide bombers, so my point is that it takes occupation,)

      Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and many more are occupied. Many of these countries are under DESTABILIZATION PROJECT FOR PARTITION LIKE IRAQ. Wake up and educate yourself.

      {There may also be a higher degree of altruism involved, compared with Middle East Jihadists..}

      This sentence exposes your identity as a JUDEOFASCIST. The word ‘Jihadist’ entered into the stupid Zionist stooges’ vocabulary taken from a Zionist, Jessica Stern, at Harvard University who is a bitter women because according to her biography, she and her sister , were RAPED BY AN STRANGER IN their MASSACHUSEETS RESIDENT BUT POLICE NEVER FOUND THE RAPIST. So, since then she tried to $$$ in from pain so directed her hate at Muslims and present them as ‘Jihadist’ which has been translated for the ignorant people, like you, a ‘terrorist’. She never looked at the MAIN Source of Terrorism, meaning the US and ISRAEL.
      Get an education.
      {I’d like to examine the Tigers bombers more closely, – what I do recognize out of hand, is strong group identification and a willingness to obey extreme leadership.. – There may also be a higher degree of altruism involved,}

      You like Eli Wiesel, who is known as, a charlatan in the service of the ‘HOLOCAUST’ industry, look at Tamil’s terrorism differently because your petty ‘leader’ Eli is supporting this group, to bring more crowds for the little Israel as an ILLIGITIMATE STATE.

    15. shabnam said on December 21st, 2010 at 2:46pm #

      { No-one in their right minds will deny that occupation plays a major role, but then IRAN is not under foreign occupation.., neither is Pakistan.., and yet I hear of frequent suicide bomber attacks in these two Muslim countries..}

      You are an IGNORANT person, indeed. Have you ever heard of DESTABILIZATION PROJECT? The evil empire under supervision of the Judeofascists, Bush, had allocated more than $400 millions for regime change in Iran. This project not only continued during Obama but also intensified. Thus, they are trying to destabilize the country through terror, color revolution, targeted assasination and illegal sanctions. I am sure you have not heard of these words. Why don’t you watch the following video so you don’t leave this site as ignorant as you are to be saved for the future debate on Iran?

      {http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKZ7XHyNEgI}

      The suicide bombing in Iran is trained by the US/Israel and funded by the Wahabi regime, Saudi Arabia. Zionism and Wahabism are both SIDES OF THE SAME COIN. Your Evil Empire is training Jundollah who are the main American terrorists in Baluchistan and have just carried another suicide bombing where killed more than 40 people and wounded hundred. So, as you see, majority of killing is designed and implemented by US/Israel and their servant states, not FOR RELIGION BUT FOR EXPANSION OF THEIR INTEREST IN THE REGION to install “world government’ according to the Protocol.

      {The same goes for Iraq: Although there are still troops there, most suicide attacks seem to be carried out by Shiites against Sunnis, and vice verse, so other factors are clearly involved.. –}

      You really annoy me. You are so ignorant that do not view Iraq as an occupied land. Furthermore, 99% of the killings in Iraq are carried out by the US/Israel and Saudi Arabia. Most of the killings by these countries are carried out through REMOTE CONTROL but they spread lies that it was suicide bombing. For example, when the US and Saudi Arabia killed Al Hakim, a Shiite leader, along with 400 other people, and 1000 people wounded, then US announced that it was carried out by a ‘suicide bomber’ where was A LIE. It was carried out by remote control so the killing of Christians done recently.
      You should educate yourself before hitting the keyboard.

      {It is my belief, that religion plays a major role, which is why I suggest that: the mindsets of suicide bombers reflect religious ideology and political aspirations being INTERTWINED, as witnessed by the Stockholm bomber.}
      I am afraid this rubbish has been copied from a Zionist notebook. Instead, you should ask yourself, why majority of the killing are happening where the evil empire and their enablers are landing. Or look at the destructive role of the Zionist entity in the region where are carrying out assassination, occupation, demolition of Palestinian land to STEAL MORE TERRITORIES to erect “greater Israel’ where every single person in the region is against these colonists and thieves.

      Muslim, Christians and very small community of Jews have lived together for centuries. You are not going to fool anyone to hold ‘religion’ responsible for the imperialists and Zionists war crimes.

      (If occupation explained everything, we’d probably see far more suicide bombers, so my point is that it takes occupation,)

      Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and many more are occupied. Many of these countries are under DESTABILIZATION PROJECT FOR PARTITION LIKE IRAQ. Wake up and educate yourself.

      {There may also be a higher degree of altruism involved, compared with Middle East Jihadists..}

      This sentence exposes your identity as a JUDEOFASCIST. The word ‘Jihadist’ entered into the stupid Zionist stooges’ vocabulary taken from a Zionist, Jessica Stern, at Harvard University who is a bitter women because according to her biography, she and her sister , were RAPED BY AN STRANGER IN their MASSACHUSEETS RESIDENT BUT POLICE NEVER FOUND THE RAPIST. So, since then she tried to $$$ in from pain so directed her hate at Muslims and present them as ‘Jihadist’ which has been translated for the ignorant people, like you, a ‘terrorist’. She never looked at the MAIN Source of Terrorism, meaning the US and ISRAEL.
      Get an education.
      {I’d like to examine the Tigers bombers more closely, – what I do recognize out of hand, is strong group identification and a willingness to obey extreme leadership.. – There may also be a higher degree of altruism involved,}

      You like Eli Wiesel, who is known as, a charlatan in the service of the ‘HOLOCAUST’ industry, look at Tamil’s terrorism differently because your petty ‘leader’ Eli is supporting this group, to bring more crowds for the little Israel as an ILLIGITIMATE STATE.

    16. Transhumanisten said on December 22nd, 2010 at 12:33pm #

      @shabnam
      I’m a bit surprised that your edumacated nonsense made it passed moderation, but if it shows the blog-owner’s commitment to freedom of speech, I’m quite pleased with that, since we Danes are at the forefront of the battle for just that.
      In our Country you frequently see Voltaire /Evelyn Beatrice Hall quoted: “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

      Other than that, I have nothing to say to you, as I consider you to be beyond reach. I take it that the “protocols” you mention, are “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, called “The Mother of all Conspiracy Theories” and a notorious fraud, exposed by the Times of London back in 1921.
      Do educate YOURSELF before throwing rubbish at others, but I have a feeling you’re the kind of person who will object to anything sensible, – like, for instance: Oh yeah.., – Times of London.., – surely owned and edited by Jews..

      Merry Christmas all the same..

    17. Transhumanisten said on December 22nd, 2010 at 12:33pm #

      @bozh
      Unlike the nonsense of Shabnam, your comment put a smile on my face #;-) – As I see it, you hit the nail right on the head, – and I think you are elaborating on what I’ve written myself.
      Merry Christmas to you too..

    18. bozh said on December 22nd, 2010 at 12:44pm #

      thanks transhuman.
      but christmas-santaism, to me, represents yet another of our diseases!

    19. shabnam said on December 22nd, 2010 at 2:08pm #

      Transhumanisten:

      I think I was right about your true identity. You should have watched the video before hitting the keyboard. If you had done that, then you would have reached the same conclusion as Seymour Hersh and I arrived, believing that It is the destabilization project, not religion, responsible for deaths and destruction in the region including Iran. Have you watched the video?
      I should remind you that we are not in the 19th or 20th century to buy your victimization card. People are not going to be silent because you accuse them of ‘anti-Semitic’. Overuse of this word to censor dissent has reduced its effectiveness of the word in the 21th century and no one buys it anymore because your crimes against humanity by itself are a powerful piece of evidence against you.

      Regarding the ‘protocol’, I just present a quote from Israel Shamir who respect freedom of speech. I agree with Shahak who writes:

      {Indeed, if the Protocols would have no relation to reality, they probably wouldn’t be as popular as they are. The Jews are sufficiently powerful to dream of domination, and some do. Apparently some Jewish ideas found their way into the text. Other thoughts are ascribed to the Jews on the basis of “qui bono”.}

      {http://www.israelshamir.net/English/Elders_of_Zion.htm}

    20. 3bancan said on December 22nd, 2010 at 6:10pm #

      Transhumanisten said on December 21st, 2010 at 12:33pm #

      The zionazis here have got a new helping hand in Transhumanisten…

    21. 3bancan said on December 22nd, 2010 at 7:11pm #

      “Chalmers Johnson used to say we should: (…) help maintain Israel’s security, but insist on the fair treatment of Palestinians”
      Ie, we should help the illegal, unlawful, immoral, fascist, nazi state of thieves, robbers, vandalizers, torturers, murderers, genociders and consummate liars and deny the Palestinians, the owners of the land, their basic human rights: the right to their land and the right to selfdetermination…

    22. Transhumanisten said on December 23rd, 2010 at 11:39am #

      @bozh
      Again, I agree with you about the “disease” of christmas-santaism, but that doesn’t forbid us wishing each other a Merry Christmas, and, indeed, a Merry ALL-YEAR ! # ; – )