Monday, October 17, 2011

Robert Pape & Assaf Moghadam

The other day I watched a very interesting debate between Sam Harris and Robert Wright; I've generally liked what I've seen of Wright, but he had to invoke the authority of Robert Pape in his argument. Perhaps as Divine punishment, he proceeded to (rather badly) lose the debate.

Have you ever heard of Pape? If you haven't, you're not up-to-date on the God debate or on the Middle East conflict. He comes up endlessly.

Pape is an academic who authored a large study of suicide bombing entitled Dying to Win. I haven't read it yet (although it's certainly on the list). My understanding from all the places I see it cited is that in Pape's understanding, terrorism is caused by the perception that one's land is being unfairly occupied. So Ron Paul, Noam Chomsky, and the anti-imperialist crowds love this. The liberals and religious moderates who think the New Atheists are too hard on the religious also do; to them, religion isn't the problem, the bad policies of the West and powers which are perceived as occupying are the problem. What irks me about this is that in discussions of terrorism, Pape's study is cited as the authoritative academic treatment. But of course it isn't (how could there be one authoritative treatment of such a controversial topic!?). Assaf Moghadam of Harvard for example takes great issue with Pape and sees religious ideology as an important factor in explaining why suicide bombings occur. To quote from one of Moghadam's essays, "Because ideology is an important—and often neglected—factor in the genesis and spread of suicide attacks, challenging the appeal of this ideology is a crucial component of an overall counterterrorism strategy." Those of us who are against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being understood solely in terms of occupiers and victims would do well to remember Moghadam's name; we must remember that fundamentalist ideology is a big part of the problem (and as Sam Harris has noted, there are Christian Palestinians, but you haven't seen them suicide bombing). Also, those of us who are against fundamentalism would do well to remember Assaf Moghadam's name because he reminds us that people really believe what they say they believe.

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