Why do suicide bombings occur?

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If you believe political scientist Robert Pape, you might blame suicide bombings on the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. According to his book on suicide bombing, almost all suicide attacks have one feature in common: they target a country believed to be a foreign occupier. Pape also rules out religious extremism as a motivating factor, calling into question some of the conventional wisdom underpinning current U.S. foreign policy.

Don't worry if you don't buy Pape's arguement. Political scientists Scott Ashworth, Joshua Clinton, Adam Meirowitz, and Kristopher Ramsay contend that Pape's conclusion is wrong. In a soon-to-be published paper they argue this: To know whether a foreign occupier causes suicide bombings, we need to know how the inclination to use suicide bombing varies with the presence of a foreign occupier. Not only do we need data on when such suicide bombings occur, but we need equivalent data on when terrorists do not use suicide bombings. Analyzing only instances when suicide bombing occurred is not sufficient data for Pape to draw such a bold conclusion.

Ashworth et al make a fair point. The U.S. has occupied plenty of other countries without the threat of suicide attacks.

Pape's book is here.

The Ashworth et al paper is here.

Read them both and draw your own conclusion.

(Hat tip: The Monkey Cage)


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