Terrorism and Collective Behavior

Two recent books are quite valuable in thinking about the relationship between terrorism and Islamic mobilization. Collecting the largest data on suicide terrorism around the globe (database available in the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism website), Robert Pape and James Feldman make a compelling argument to demonstrate strong impact of foreign occupation on suicide terrorism.

Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It analyzes the largest suicide terrorist campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Chechnya, and Sri Lanka. Going beyond the Al-Qeada campaigns strengthens the authors claim that foreign military occupation is the root cause of suicide terrorist acts, which often take place as a form of collective behavior (through political campaigns). This explanation, of course, disproves the essentalist arguments that emphasize Islamic ideology as the root cause of terrorism. In his short piece in Foreign Policy magazine, Pape discussed the policy implications of his extensive research in the past decade (see his earlier book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism ).

Charles Kurzman’s recent book also criticizes the essentalist argument. In The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists, Kurzman asks why Islamic resistance movements have failed to recruit radicals among 1.5 billion Muslims despite increasing attacks on Islam and Muslim-populated lands. Having an engaging/conversational style, the author provides statistical and qualitative data to show strength of moderate Islamic discourse among American Muslims. Kurzman also provides a sophisticated discussion on misrepresentation of facts by interest-driven think tanks as well as distorted media portrayals.

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