Innovations In Clinical Neuroscience

SEP-OCT 2014

A peer-reviewed, evidence-based journal for clinicians in the field of neuroscience

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Innovations in CLINICAL NEUROSCIENCE [ V O L U M E 1 1 , N U M B E R 9 – 1 0 , S E P T E M B E R – O C T O B E R 2 0 1 4 ] 84 Project on Suicide Terrorism, makes the claim that suicide operations are almost always rational and strategic. Specifically, he argues that such a ttacks are designed to coerce an adversary and drive occupiers out of a homeland. "Every group mounting a suicide campaign over the past two decades has had as a major objective [...] coercing a foreign state that has military forces in what the terrorists see as their homeland to take those forces out." 5 How well does this theory stand up to the empirical evidence? The tactical benefits of suicide terrorism are well known. Suicide attacks are cheap. Estimates vary, but the operation may cost as little as $150 per attack. 11 This kind of attack can be mounted anywhere and the perpetrator can easily pivot and change direction without having to make elaborate escape plans. Suicide attacks are also effective in that they kill many more people than other kinds of attacks. According to one estimate, the average number of victims from a suicide truck or car bombing is 30 times higher than the number from a shooting (97.8 vs. 3.3) and 14 times higher than the number from a remote-control explosive attack. 5 As a result suicide operations create a spectacle, bringing attention to a cause. But is suicide terror always designed to expel an occupier from a homeland? Professor Pape uses over 300 cases to support his theory. He points out that that Hezbollah, with the support of Iran, used campaigns of suicide attacks to drive the United States and France out of Lebanon, that the LTTE used suicide operations to get Sri Lanka to accept a Tamil State, that Palestinian groups used suicide attacks to try to get Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza, that Chechen rebels also used the same modus to get Russia out of Chechnya, and al Qaeda fits the model insofar as one idea behind the 9/11 attacks was to get the United States to withdraw from Arab heartlands including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Palestine. One could argue that the Taliban fits this model too as is evident in a 2013 headline, "Taliban vow suicide a nd "insider" attacks in new spring offensive." 12 Pape's theory is not without flaws. One problem is that not all countries that are occupied produce suicide attackers. There is the additional problem that many suicide attackers come from countries that are not occupied. Consider the Madrid bombers, the London bombers, the waves of young people from countries such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and other non-occupied lands who flocked to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct suicide operations. These trends have led to growing skepticism about the merit of seeing suicide terrorism as a strategy of national liberation. As Atran puts it, "When Arabs from more than a dozen countries rush to embrace death in Iraq to kill Shi'as who are probably more supportive of Iran than the United States, it is quite a stretch to identify the common thread as a secular struggle over foreign occupation of a homeland unless "secular" covers transcendent ideologies, 'foreign occupation' includes tourism, and 'homeland' expands to at least three continents." 13 The general theory that suicide terrorism is always rational and strategic has also come under attack. Brym and Raj, for example, observe that the during the Second Intifada, "the objectives and precipitants of suicide bombing reveal little of the strategic logic that, according to Pape, lies at its core." Indeed they claim that retaliation for specific Israeli actions was more pertinent, and, in this case, suicide tactics could hardly be considered rational since they resulted in so many arrests, assassinations, and other collateral damage. 14 Gaining an edge over rivals. Mia Bloom, while agreeing that suicide terror is often a strategy of liberation, observes that its attraction may lie, in addition, in the prestige it confers. In particular, she n otes that suicide terrorism can give a group an advantage over rivals in terms of recruitment, publicity, and money. Bloom uses the example of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that turned to suicide terrorism only after it realized that Hamas had gained in popularity and recruitment when it engaged in suicide terrorism. 15 Others, however, have raised questions about the extent to which market share plays a significant role. Crenshaw, for example, observes that the most vigorous suicide campaigns of the LTTE occurred well after the group had eliminated most of its competition and al Qaeda's actions too are "hard to explain in terms of competition with rivals." 16 Poor economic development. Political leaders have long claimed that poverty breeds terrorism. The evidence to support this claim, however, is weak. Princeton economist Alan Krueger and his colleague Jitka Maleckova found no correlation between poor economic conditions and terrorism. Indeed their research indicated that Palestinian suicide attackers came from wealthier families and had higher levels of education than those of average Palestinians. 17 These results are supported by others. Harvard professor Albert Abadie, for example, found that while the freest and richest countries have experienced the least terrorism, this is also true of the poorest and most oppressed. 18 James Piazza's findings are consistent with these results. 19 On the other hand, Efraim Benmelech and colleagues at Harvard have produced more nuanced findings showing that while economic conditions are not associated with the quantity of terror, they may impact its quality. In particular, they note that poor economic conditions may lead more able, better educated

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