Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, gave a lecture titled “Cutting the Fuse: Moving Beyond the War on Terror” on October 28, 2010, at Georgetown University. The room in which it was held was packed to full capacity, which gives an idea of his celebrity.
Pape has garnered much attention and influence in recent years for his thesis that the vast majority of suicide bombings—“well over 95 percent of them,” as he put it— are motivated by foreign military occupation. The goal is tactical: to kick out the occupying power. Pape expanded on this thesis, noting that he approaches the study of suicide bombings as an oncologist approaches the study of lung cancer and, as such, has concluded that foreign occupation triggers suicide bombings in the same way smoking triggers lung cancer. Therefore, he proposed, ending foreign occupation should eliminate the majority of suicide bombings. The remaining examples would just be “flukes,” such as victims of lung cancer who never smoked a day in their life.
Pape explained that while strong religious beliefs can serve as the immediate trigger for a suicide bombing, religious fervor is often a byproduct of helplessness, which, again, allegedly stems from occupation. He summed it up:
From Lebanon to the West Bank, from Iraq to Afghanistan…the main goal has been to gain self determination from a foreign occupier.
In support of his thesis, Pape noted that the world’s leading suicide bombers between 1980 and 2003 were the Tamil Tigers, a secular Marxist group in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, he argued, Hezbollah has not committed a single suicide bombing since Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000. Yet Pape’s premise is fallacious, as it presumes that Syrian troops, which were stationed in Lebanon until the Cedar Revolution of 2005—five years after Israel’s withdrawal—were not occupation forces. Given the massive demonstrations against the Syrians and their constant interference in Lebanese affairs—including a possible role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which sparked the revolution—Pape proffers a selective definition of “occupation.”
Pape’s thesis also ignores massive Iranian support for Hezbollah and the terrorist organization’s possible role in Hariri’s assassination. Earlier this month, this ostensibly benign army undertook a simulated takeover of Lebanon should the international tribunal investigating Hariri’s assassination find Hezbollah culpable. Pape thereby employs a double-standard: Israeli troops are foreign occupiers, while Arab troops occupying Arab countries are ignored.