Suicide bombing is not about religion, it's about foreign occupation
Category: Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: October 6, 2010 12:35 AM, by Josh Rosenau
The opening of Sam Harris's End of Faith, like several essays he wrote at HuffPo, focus on suicide bombing. He argues that suicide bombing is absurd, and only exists because of religion. A footnote to EoF acknowledges that suicide bombing was first deployed on a large scale by the Tamil Tigers, who were not fighting a religious war, but rather were part of an ethnic and nationalistic conflict. He waves this objection away at HuffPo by writing: "it is misleading to describe the Tamil Tigers as 'secular' … While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death. The cult of martyr-worship that they have nurtured for decades has many of the features of religiosity that one would expect in people who give their lives so easily for a cause." In other words, they aren't motivated by religion, but their longstanding ethnic/nationalistic war has produced something just like religion even though it isn't actually religion. Therefore religion is still the problem. To say this style of argument is exactly what Popper derided as unfalsifiable in communism and Freudianism does Marx and Freud a disservice.
In that same essay, he handwaves away research by
Alas for Harris, Pape actually takes science seriously, and has continued his work, and here's the headline (probably not written by Pape himself or by co-author James Feldman, professor emeritus of the Air Force Institute of Technology and the School of Advanced Airpower Studies) for his latest book on the subject: How to end suicide bombings: The problem is not Islam, but lengthy military occupations. The press release about the book explains:
Despite a popular belief that suicide terrorism is the result of religious fanaticism, such bombings are really a calculated response to occupations by outsiders, according to research in a new book, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. The book examines exhaustive data on suicide attacks since 1980 in the Middle East,
The data show that the best way to reduce suicide bombings in
The central problem is that leaders in the
"But we now have strong evidence that the narrative — that suicide terrorism is prompted by Islamic fundamentalism — is not true," Pape said. Despite some military success, suicide terrorism has continued, Pape said.
An excerpt from the book rightly notes that, while suicide bombers come from multiple religions, from both fundamentalist and secularist wings of those religions, the common theme is blindingly obvious:
Building on what they claim to be a complete database of suicide bombings since 1980, the researchers show:
The stationing of foreign combat forces (ground and tactical air force units) on territory that terrorists prize accounts for 87% of the over 1,800 suicide terrorist attacks around the world since 2004. The occupation of
As further evidence that it is occupation, not simply nationalism or religion, which drives suicide bombing, the authors observe:
In other words, this is a view with substantial empirical support, and well-grounded in the extant theory of political science. Against this, all Harris can offer are a set of remarkably vagile goalposts. As Pape and Feldman write: "when moral posturing comes to replace reasoned assessment of data and dispassionate consideration of the causes of a phenomenon, we may end up with a visceral response rather than an effective plan of action to protect those we care about."
Harris somehow seems to think that visceral reactions are the same as scientific evidence, and tries to build a science of morality on such gut feelings. This is a bit problematic.
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