Ron Paul and what causes suicide terrorism

Rep. Ron Paul is always a guy you can look to for some crazy comments. Whether its his views on the economy or on health care, this guy is always good for some raised eyebrows and a laugh or two. Recently, Paul has argued that the primary motivation for suicide attacks on the United States, like 9/11, is US occupation of Muslim countries. First, Paul made that claim in a web post . He said:

Though it is hard for many to believe, honest studies show that the real motivation behind the September 11 attacks and the vast majority of other instances of suicide terrorism is not that our enemies are bothered by our way of life. Neither is it our religion, or our wealth.

Rather, it is primarily occupation. If you were to imagine for a moment how you would feel if another country forcibly occupied the United States, had military bases and armed soldiers present in our hometowns, you might begin to understand why foreign occupation upsets people so much.

He was attacked for this view at the last debate when Rick Santorum said “We were not attacked because of our actions,” Santorum said. “They want to kill us for who we are and what we stand for.”

However, as much as it pains me to say it, on this point Ron Paul is mostly right. Robert A. Pape , one of the most respected academic experts on national security, recently published a book (with James K. Feldman) titled “Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It.” In it they argue that Muslims are motivated to kill Americans and other Westerners because of

“deep anger at the presence of Western combat forces in the Persian Gulf region and other predominantly Muslim lands….  nationalism–the desire to protect and perpetuate their community’s political, religious and social institutions –is the central explanation for why some individuals …willingly chose to defend their community’s way of life by sacrificing their own in carrying out suicide attacks.”

Their evidence is compelling. They have compiled a worldwide database of every known suicide attack and confirmed suicide attacker since 1980. After looking at the database, one comes to the unmistakable conclusion that occupation and a desire to protect a community’s political, religious and social institutions are the root causes of suicide terrorism.

For example, the overwhelming majority of suicide attacks in Iraq have been carried out by Iraqi Sunnis or someone from a neighboring (Sunni) country. Why are only Sunnis carrying out suicide attacks in Iraq? Because Sunni communities have been on the losing end of the American occupation. Saddam used the Sunni minority to dominate the Shias and Kurds in Iraq. Now, Shias are dominant in the new Iraqi government, the Kurds have a fairly autonomous enclave. As a result, the Sunnis have been facing a huge threat to their traditional way of life in Iraq. The evidence shows that we are not “fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here.” As Pape and Feldman note, we’re fighting them over there because that’s where they live! These suicide attackers would have taken up that disgusting calling  if their homeland had not been occupied and their way of life threatened.

The same dynamics hold in Afghanistan, where suicide attacks started in earnest only after the coalition occupied Pashtun areas of the country in 2006. Pashtuns were the base of the Taliban’s power pre-2001. They only started carrying out suicide attacks after NATO redeployed troops from the North and West of the country into Taliban lands in the South and East in 2006. Likewise, even though Al-Qaida was headquartered in Afghanistan in 2001, the 9/11 suicide attackers came almost exclusively from the Persian Gulf countries, which is where America had troops stationed in 2001. But what of other theories on suicide terrorism? Pape and Feldman take care of them.

Islamic Fundamentalism and Suicide Terrorism

The authors knock down the theory that Islamic fundamentalism is the cause of suicide terrorism. For example, they note that from 1980 to 2003 “the Hindu, avowedly antireligious” Tamil Tigers were the world leaders in suicide terrorism. Overall, Islamic fundamentalism cannot account for even half of worldwide suicide terror attacks before the US invasion of Iraq, while foreign occupation can account for over 95% of suicide attacks in that period.

When discussing Iraq, they point out that Shia Iran, Iraq’s neighbor, is a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, yet we have not seen a single verified suicide attacker come from that country. Nationalism, not Islam, is the motivation for suicide terrorism.

“They hate us for our freedoms” -George W. Bush

The authors also dismiss this notion, that Muslims hate countries with substantial freedom. Judging from the tome of martyr videos the database possesses, there is absolutely no indication that opposition to the freedoms of the American people is a driving factor in motivating individuals to carry out suicide attacks.

Most martyrs would see themselves as supporting the cause of freedom. They carry out attacks because they want their country to be free from foreign occupation or free from a repressive monarchy supported by a foreign power (as in Saudi Arabia). If suicide terrorists hated freedom, they would probably attack all “free” countries equally, instead of focusing their attacks on countries that have troops occupying their homeland. Osama bin Ladin himself responded to Bush’s quote by saying “if so, let him explain why we don’t strike for example–Sweden?”

Conclusion

I’m of course not saying that the 9/11 attackers or any other suicide attackers are justified in their actions (neither is Paul). But it does seem clear that America’s actions have provided the motivation for the suicide attacks perpetrated against her, contrary to popular belief. This does not mean that the US was wrong to station troops in Saudi Arabia before 2001 or that we were wrong to respond after 9/11. It just means that even well-intentioned actions can provoke unforeseen responses. Now that we know what is causing suicide attacks and anti-Americanism, we can better weigh the risks of military intervention overseas and tailor our action to minimize dangerous consequences.

(9/22: Iraq section updated)

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  1. Now if only we can convince Morelli of this…

    And quit raggin’ on Ron Paul, he’s mostly right on nearly everything. I love the little guy…

  2. I found my common ground with Paul on this, but I don’t know if I’ll ever agree with him on much else lol.

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