Say the words "suicide bomber," and a picture probably comes to mind. A desperate, religious fanatic, who's willing to end this life for reward in the next. But there's new information saying that's not the case.
When people end their own lives in the hope of taking many others', just what are they trying to accomplish? A local professor extensively researched what's behind the bombings and found a common answer. In my Closer Look, groundbreaking research now being studied by the Pentagon.
"It's not driven by religion, but by a clear goal. Iraq is a perfect case in point."
Whether a car bombing in Baghdad, an attack on Marine barracks in Lebanon, or September 11th; Robert Pape says he's found a simple explanation for what drives suicide bombers.
"Right after 9/11, I assumed, as I believe the president did, and most people, that it was Islamic fundamentalism that was driving suicide terrorism," Pape says. "I now, of course, have come to a different view."
His surprising conclusion is based on exhaustive research. This University of Chicago political science professor catalogued every suicide bombing from the past 25 years.
"...462 suicide terrorists who actually killed themselves to kill others..."
Pape says the bombers were not driven by religion, not offended by our in-your-face, MTV culture. Instead, their motive?
"To compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland."
In plain English? They wanted someone off their property. Consider Iraq.
"Before our invasion of March 2003, Iraq never had a suicide terrorist attack in its history. Never!" Pape explains. "We're on pace to set a new record of 100 suicide terrorist attacks this year. The presence of American combat forces is the oxygen that the suicide terrorist leaders need to recruit the people to go and die for their mission."
Pape was also surprised by who those people are.
"I was suspecting to find, as we know from the standard stereotype, that they would be the wretched of the earth," he says.
We think of suicidal bombers. Poor, desperate, souls, looking to escape miserable lives.
"I found nearly the opposite. Most suicide terrorists are in fact quite socially integrated; they're quite educated, they, in fact, lead quite productive lives," says Pape. "They're operating out of a sense of duty in response to a foreign occupation and absent the motive of a foreign occupation, most would not commit suicide anyway."
That pattern seems to fit 9/11. Remember, the hijackers had no problem enjoying Hooters and American capitalism, while taking flight lessons here.
So, who were we occupying? Where did Bin Laden want us to leave? Analysts think he was retaliating for our use of Saudi Arabia -- Mecca -- during Operation Desert Storm.
Why hasn't he struck again? Pape says you can't credit the war on terrorism, so much as inconvenience.
"We still benefit tremendously from our oceans," he explains. "We're not an easy target to reach. In fact, you'll see that in al Qaeda's operation, they weren't interested in sending one person to blow up and kill 20 people. They were interested in sending a team to come in and kill thousands."
Pape says small attacks -- say, a movie theater in Peoria -- aren't worth al Qaeda's trouble. He makes a controversial proposal for further strengthening our borders. He says a massive fence will do more to keep us safe at home, than scouting caves in Afghanistan. He points to Israel, where suicide terror attacks are down 75% since they started building an enormous barrier wall.
"We already have a 14 mile fence in existence near San Diego," Pape says. "The exact same kind of fence -- triple barrier, security cameras -- that Israel has, I should point out, cost about $3 million per mile. If you were to extend that over the entire 2000-mile area, that would cost about $6 billion or about one month of operation in Iraq."
In his new book, "Dying to Win," Pape often refers to a 42-page document found on an al Qaeda computer two years ago. It lays out strategy for punishing the U.S. after the Iraq invasion. Hit allies like Spain, hard, to push them away from the coalition. The Madrid train bombing last year did just that.
Interesting to note: the all-time leader in number of suicide bombs is probably not who you think. It's the Tamil Tigers, a secular Marxist group in Sri Lanka. They invented the suicide vest.
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