Ezra Schricker writes this letter to the editor in response to Max Boot’s review “Suicide by Bomb: Misunderstanding a weapon in the terrorists’ arsenal,” which appeared in a recent issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD (Boot's own rejoinder follows):
It is rumored that U.S. General George S. Patton kept a picture of his adversary, German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, on his desk during World War II as a reminder to learn as much as he could about his enemy. “Know your enemy” has long been a central tenet of warfare. Yet, in his recent book review of Cutting the Fuse: The Global Explosion of Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It, Max Boot scoffs at the link between suicide terrorism and foreign occupation because it “adopt[s] Osama bin Laden’s perspective as reality.” For Boot, bin Laden’s worldview is not worth taking seriously. “Is the United States actually trying to “control” Muslim countries?” Boot asks, “Isn’t it more accurate to say that we are helping to defend Muslim nations at their own invitation?” No doubt it is a mystery to Boot why General Patton bothered to understand Rommel when he did not share the German’s worldview. Regardless of whether Max Boot agrees, Osama bin Laden’s perspective of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East is a ‘reality’ for some individuals, most troublingly, suicide terrorists.
As one of the contributors to Cutting the Fuse, I was disappointed that Boot, a polemical yet sharp thinker, was not only unprepared to take the stated motivations of suicide terrorists seriously, but that he appeared to have read only the acknowledgment section and a handful of pages in our book. This resulted in understandable confusion about our arguments. Yet I was heartened to see that Boot’s analysis of suicide terrorism came very close to arriving at one of the book’s principal findings: Suicide terrorism is a deadly weapon which is used strategically by terrorist groups to compel the withdrawal of military forces from territory that terrorists consider to be their homeland.
Cutting the Fuse makes this point in detailed case studies of the eight largest suicide terrorist campaigns. These case studies draw upon a comprehensive database of suicide attacks that span from the 1980s, when the first suicide bombing campaigns began, to the present. The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism—lead by Cutting the Fuse co-author, Robert Pape—compiled the database which contains a wide-range of information on suicide attacks including targeting patterns, group affiliation, and the demographic make-up of attackers. The database is available online.
The Chicago Project also translated scores of ‘Martyr’ videos made by the suicide attackers themselves, in which they explain in detail their rationales for carrying out these attacks. The suicide attackers in these testimonials are both men and women, young and old, religious and secular. Despite their disparate backgrounds, the attackers share a common purpose: to end foreign military occupation in a territory they consider their homeland. This same motivation is present in the testimonials of transnational suicide attackers such as Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 7/7/2005 London bombers, who plainly states his rationale in English: “You will never experience peace until our children in Palestine, our mothers and sisters in Kashmir, our brothers in Afghanistan and Iraq feel peace.” Mohammad Sidique Khan, another London bomber, warns: “Until we feel security, you will be our targets, and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment, and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight.”