How Can We Fight Suicide Bombers?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 30, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: Democracies are the principle target of suicide bombers (search), with innocent civilians the principle victims. And terrorist forces behind these attacks show no signs of letting up.

My next guest is Robert Pape, author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism." His book covers worldwide suicide attacks over the past 25 years.

Today's big question, Robert: How can we fight suicide bombers?

ROBERT PAPE, AUTHOR, "DYING TO WIN": It's terribly important to understand the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. If we're ever going to defeat it, we must defeat the logic that's actually driving suicide terrorism. And what I've discovered through my research is that, unfortunately, we appear to have the wrong logic in mind.

NAPOLITANO: All right, let's start with a couple of basics. Where do the suicide bombers come from? Where do they physically come from on the planet?

PAPE: Well, surprisingly to me, as much as I think it will be to most people, it's where foreign militaries in especially democratic states have put their forces. If we take Al Qaeda (search), my book studies the universe of Al Qaeda suicide terrorists — the 71 who actually killed themselves to carry out Usama bin Laden's orders.


PAPE: And the striking finding is that they are 10 times more likely to come from Sunni Muslim countries where American combat forces are stationed.

NAPOLITANO: Are you saying that because we were and are in Afghanistan and because we are in Iraq, we're sort of bringing them out from under rocks?

PAPE: We're magnets, is what I'm saying. And it's actually powerful in the data.

My book is the first to collect the universe of suicide terrorist attacks worldwide from 1980 through early 2004 to really look at the patterns and the universe as a whole.

NAPOLITANO: All right. One of the patterns you point out is that the targets are usually democracies or countries trying to become democratic — the United States, Israel, Spain, Russia. I mean, you can argue how democratic it is, but they had an awful series of instances with the Chechens. Why are the democracies being attacked?

PAPE: Because the purpose of suicide terrorism is not so much to die. It's to kill. It's to kill the maximum number in the target society, so that you can influence the government's decisions in the target society.

Democracies, rightly or wrongly, are widely viewed as especially vulnerable to coercive punishment. And, as you just said, the target of every suicide terrorist campaign since 1980 has been a democracy.

NAPOLITANO: Well, does it then follow that Islamic fundamentalism is not the engine that drives these people? And, if that's the case, what is?

PAPE: Not directly from that. The reason Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism is because the world leader in suicide terrorism is the Tamil Tigers (search), which is a Marxist-Leninist group, completely secular. And it draws its recruits from the Hindu families in the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka.

They are not Islamic fundamentalists at all, even though they've done more suicide terrorist attacks than Hamas.

NAPOLITANO: But are we wrong to believe that the 19 fanatics who attacked us on 9/11 and the hundreds, maybe thousands of insurgents who attack innocent Iraqi civilians and our troops every day were and are Islamic fundamentalists?

PAPE: We're wrong to believe that religion is the main cause, the actual root cause of their actions.

I'm not saying religion doesn't play a role as a recruiting tool. But the fact is, suicide terrorism is mainly a response to the presence of foreign military forces on the territory that terrorists view as their homeland. And, within that, many terrorist leaders use religion as a recruiting tool.

NAPOLITANO: What did Usama bin Laden (search) use among his own people to justify the 9/11 attacks?

PAPE: The main argument was our increasing occupation of the Arabian Peninsula. If you look at his 1996 speeches, he outlined how we would eventually conquer Iraq, break it into three pieces, and then we would conquer Saudi Arabia and break it into three pieces. And, of course, in fact, we have five years later conquered Iraq.

The second argument he made is that the reason the United States was doing this was because it was a crusader on a Christianizing crusading mission. And that argument together with the presence of our foreign military troops proved to be an extremely, unfortunately extremely good recruiting tactic.

NAPOLITANO: Is this belief that the suicide bombers think that they're going to die and run into 72 virgins in heaven just a facade? Are they not religious people and are they not religiously motivated at all, but they want us to think they are?

PAPE: Well, what is striking, my book looks at the 462 suicide terrorist attackers around the world who actually killed themselves on a suicide terrorist mission, not made attempts, actually did it. And, of that number, only 40 percent are actually religious.

The majority is not. True, there's a little uncertainty in the data, but the fact is, suicide terrorism is not an overwhelmingly religious phenomenon.

NAPOLITANO: We only have a couple seconds left. We talked about the targets being democracies. Saudi Arabia has been a target. Is Saudi Arabia a good friend to the U.S.?

PAPE: Saudi Arabia is a great friend to the United States. And that's why its government is on Usama bin Laden's hit list. And what we need to recognize is the presence of our forces there, at least for now, is not helping the legitimacy of the government. It's actually helping Usama bin Laden undermine that government.

NAPOLITANO: Professor Robert Pape, University of Chicago, thank you very much.

PAPE: Thank you so much for having me.

NAPOLITANO: You're welcome.

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