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Posted Online on Saturday, 19 August 2006 21:55 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsUnderstanding Suicide Attacks: Listen To Robert Pape

By Subhash Gatade

The Milli Gazette Online

19 August 2006

It was only last week that Britain’s senior-most Muslim police officer Tarique Ghaffur had claimed in a meeting that the country’s anti-terrorism laws and enforcement agencies run the ‘real risk of criminalising’ minority communities. He had advocated that an independent judicial review be conducted to find out why young Muslims were becoming increasingly radicalised. Corroborating the need for an independent judicial review while addressing the same National Black Police Association Mr Ghaffur's another colleague Ali Dizaei had underlined that Muslims, particularly young members of the community, were concerned about the situation in the Middle East. (August 07, 2006 16:55 IST, The Independent)

Definitely neither Mr Ghaffur nor Mr Dizaei would have imagined that their cautioning would be vindicated in such a short time. Now when the world is discussing the foiled attempt to bomb a few planes belonging to US airlines and with 24 suspects still under investigation the question has come back to haunt us after all what motivates the suicide bomber ?

As far as the formal reaction from the President of USA and his 'poodle' Tony Blair is concerned, it is on expected lines. In his simplistic, world view which looks at it through the binary of 'good' and 'evil' Bush has commented that ' The London conspiracy is “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.' 

Definitely Bush's understanding is in tune with the well spun mythology about the spread of radical Islamic groups the world over ready to explode an IED anywhere which has come to dominate the discourse in the aftermath of 9/11 which allegedly saw involvement of Al Queda . One can see for oneself that the rightwing orientated media managers and bosses readily joined this ‘war on terror’ and have insidiously transformed the term ‘terrorism’ with Islam and therefore, the perpetrators (terrorists) are Muslims.

Of course one does notice many dissenting notes to this mythology which does not try to go beyond ‘terrorism as terrorism’. Three years back in his trip to India, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, had tried to draw a distinction between the oft heard “terrorism is terrorism” position by indicating that there was a social side to the problem as well. It cannot be the case that young people would for the sake of it join any extremist outfit and would be motivated to sacrifice their lives. 

A recent book ‘Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism’ by Robert Pape is a welcome addition to the ongoing debate which tries to put things in proper perspective. The book which has a 25 year database on suicide attacks tries to dispel the myth that “Islamic fundamentalism is the primary driver of suicide terrorism,”. According to Pape, who is an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks are committed for a secular strategic goal - to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory the terrorists view as their homeland. Citing suicide terrorism campaigns from Lebanon to Israel, Chechnya and Sri Lanka, where major democracies – the United States, Israel, France, India, Russia - had been the principal targets he emphasises that,”..presumed connection between suicide attacks and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading and could contribute to policies that worsen the situation.”

Closer home one can see that the world’s most prolific militant organization is the Tamil Tigers - a secular, Hindu group in Sri Lanka which invented the “suicide belt”. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s ex Prime minister at Perumbudur by a suicide bomber more than 14 years ago is a tragic reminder of the way it unfolded before us. In a recent interview to ‘American Conservative (7/11/2005) Mr Pape rightly said ‘The world leader in suicide terrorism is a group that you may not be familiar with: the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka... a completely secular group that draws from the Hindu families of the Tamil regions of the country. They invented the famous suicide vest for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Ghandi in May 1991. The Palestinians got the idea of the suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers.

The ‘Iraq experience’ also emphasises the interconnection between suppression of ‘national identity’ and the ‘emergence of the phenomenon of suicide bombers’. Iraq, can be said to be classic case of strategic terrorism. People still remember one of the first suicide attack on the US led forces came when the illegal invasion had just begun. The attack came when at a military post in South Iraq a Iraqi Shia personnel blew himself up and in the process killed more than four occupant forces. Pape makes it clear that prior to the US-led invasion in March 2003 there was “never in Iraq’s history a suicide terrorist attack” but since then they had doubled every year. He underlines that the failure of the US regime to see suicide terrorism as a response to foreign occupation, not Islamic fundamentalism, and its continuous use of heavy combat forces to transform Muslim dominated societies would further increase the number of suicide attacks.

A vindication of Pape’s hypothesis can be had from a look at the figures provided by the National Counterterrorism Center to the State Department. It reported 625 “significant” terrorist attacks in 2004 as opposed to 175 such incidents in 2003, the highest number in two decades. The statistics didn’t include attacks on American troops in Iraq, which President Bush as recently as Tuesday called “a central front in the war on terror.” It has been reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s office ordered “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report eliminated because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush’s administration’s frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism. One can say that this is rather a vindication of what Prof Pape wants to communicate. (Bush administration eliminating 19-year-old international terrorism report, By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Posted on Fri, Apr. 15, 2005).

Looking at the overall response of the western powers towards the 'war against terror' which have tried to demonise Islam and have singularly blamed the ‘perverted and poisonous’ doctrines of Islamic extremism or ‘their attack’ on our ‘way of life’ and the beginnings of political debate on anti-terrorism laws, deportation of foreigners, fingerprinting, and house-trained imams the prospects for Professor Pape’s hypothesis getting integrated in polity seem remote at least at the present juncture. They would definitely be averse to a suggestion which he made in a piece which he wrote for the New Youk times last year that the west should “rebalance” its strategy by withdrawing its forces from Muslim lands and instead support efforts of governments there to tackle the extremists. In it he had argued that the presence of western troops in the region, something which rarely happened in the 1970s or 80s, which is primarily enraging these people. 

It is learnt that (Guardian, 11th August 2006) "Tony Blair told select committee chairman at the liaison committee recently that too many Muslims in Britain had “false grievances” about western foreign policy and that this was encouraging a tiny minority to falsely justify the unjustifiable." 

Looking at the fact that neither Bush nor Blair are ready to look beyond the 'common sense' built around terrorism, the possibility of Pape's voice getting any takers definitely seems remote.

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