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Reassessing the Reassessment of the Logic of Suicide Terrorism

- July 6, 2008

In a post several weeks ago, I summarized a critique of Robert Pape’s work on suicide terrorism. The critique is now published in the American Political Science Review (here, gated). Pape wrote a response to this critique (here, gated), which it is only fair for me to summarize. Here are some key points:

bq. A number of years ago, I published “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” (Pape 2003) an article advancing the hypothesis that suicide terrorism is mainly the product of foreign military occupation or, at least, the terrorists’ perception that territory they prize is under occupation, for example, Al Qaeda’s conviction that governments on the Arabian peninsula represent an American occupation regime. It is not, as the conventional wisdom holds, mostly a product of religious extremism independent of political circumstances. I showed that this hypothesis accounted for 95% of all of the 188 suicide terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide from 1980 to 2001. The article discussed differences between circumstances under which suicide terrorism has occurred and circumstances when it has not, but did not include an explicit effort to measure causal effects of factors influencing the difference. Based on the contents of their letter, Ashworth et al. (2008) seem to have stopped following the literature at this point.

bq. Several years later, I published Dying To Win (2005), which expanded and updated my previous analysis. This book not only adds more data on the global patterns of suicide terrorism through the end of 2003, but also, most important for our discussion here, the book tests the main hypotheses against all of the other causal factors that are prominent in the literature across several domains relying on methods that include variation between cases of suicide terrorism and cases when it did not occur.

Pape then quotes at length from Dying To Win.