This week’s post is a digression from this blog’s main focus, but I stumbled across two books on terrorism and suicide bombing that expand on some of the themes we looked at last time, and decided to share them for anyone who wants to dig further. Both books are written by authors with impressive credentials, and are spaced a decade apart, which offers a useful comparison of what we knew then and what we know now. Next week we’ll return to our discussion of religious and secular fundamentalism and its dangerous roots in utopian visions.
Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, by Robert Pape (2006). This is from the book blurb:
“One of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject, Professor Pape has created the first comprehensive database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until today. With striking clarity and precision, Professor Pape uses this unprecedented research to debunk widely held misconceptions about the nature of suicide terrorism and provide a new lens that makes sense of the threat we face.
“FACT: Suicide terrorism is not primarily a product of Islamic fundamentalism.
“FACT: The world’s leading practitioners of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka–a secular, Marxist-Leninist group drawn from Hindu families.
“FACT: Ninety-five percent of suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of coherent campaigns organized by large militant organizations with significant public support.
“FACT: Every suicide terrorist campaign has had a clear goal that is secular and political: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.
“In this wide-ranging analysis, Professor Pape offers the essential tools to forecast when some groups are likely to resort to suicide terrorism and when they are not. He also provides the first comprehensive demographic profile of modern suicide terrorist attackers. With data from more than 460 such attackers–including the names of 333–we now know that these individuals are not mainly poor, desperate criminals or uneducated religious fanatics but are often well-educated, middle-class political activists.
“More than simply advancing new theory and facts, these pages also answer key questions about the war on terror:
- Are we safer now than we were before September 11?
- Was the invasion of Iraq a good counterterrorist move?
- Is al-Qaeda stronger now than it was before September 11?
“For both policy makers and the general public, Dying to Win transcends speculation with systematic scholarship, making it one of the most important political studies of recent time.”
United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists, by Peter Bergen ( 2016). Again, from the book blurb:
“Since 9/11, more than three hundred Americans—born and raised in Minnesota, Alabama, New Jersey, and elsewhere—have been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges. Some have taken the fight abroad: an American was among those who planned the attacks in Mumbai, and more than eighty U.S. citizens have been charged with ISIS-related crimes. Others have acted on American soil, as with the attacks at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, and in San Bernardino. What motivates them, how are they trained, and what do we sacrifice in our efforts to track them?
“Paced like a detective story, United States of Jihad tells the entwined stories of the key actors on the American front. Among the perpetrators are Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born radical cleric who became the first American citizen killed by a CIA drone and who mentored the Charlie Hebdo shooters; Samir Khan, whose Inspire webzine has rallied terrorists around the world, including the Tsarnaev brothers; and Omar Hammami, an Alabama native and hip hop fan who became a fixture in al Shabaab’s propaganda videos until fatally displeasing his superiors.
“Drawing on his extensive network of intelligence contacts, from the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI to the NYPD, Peter Bergen also offers an inside look at the controversial tactics of the agencies tracking potential terrorists—from infiltrating mosques to massive surveillance; at the bias experienced by innocent observant Muslims at the hands of law enforcement; at the critics and defenders of U.S. policies on terrorism; and at how social media has revolutionized terrorism.
“Lucid and rigorously researched, United States of Jihad is an essential new analysis of the Americans who have embraced militant Islam both here and abroad.”
Next week we’ll be looking at the fatal flaw that turns utopian dreams into dystopian nightmares.