Dying to Win

Published By: Random House Trade Paperbacks

Book Category: Non-Fiction,

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Reviewed by Muhammed Hassanali

Subtitled: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

The attacks on 9/11 and other attacks around the world (such as the attacks in Britain and Spain, and the daily bombings in Iraq) have created a heightened interest in understanding terrorism in general and suicide terrorism in particular. Some, like Pape, believe that this form of terrorism is a recent phenomenon (since the 1980s). Others, like Mockaitis, (in his book The ‘New’ Terrorism: Myths and Reality, believe that it bears striking resemblance to past movements. One can find several publications addressing specifically suicide terrorism from various different perspectives.

Pape believes that to understand the rational behind suicide terrorism, one needs to respond to the following questions:

1) Why does suicide terrorism make sense from the perspective of the organization financing, planning, training and ultimately taking responsibility for such attacks?

2) Why are suicide terrorists so willing to give up their lives for such acts?

3) Why does the organization receive broad support for terrorist activities? Accordingly, this book is divided into three parts, each addressing a question above. In each section he presents a thesis, which he then analyzes and presents evidence for.

The main points he brings out are that this form of terrorism is used when there is a perceived threat to one’s homeland (by foreign occupation), its goals are nationalistic (not religious), and it is directed at democracies. Pape dismisses two suicide myths. First that it is carried out by only Muslim groups (he points to the Tamil Tigers as a counter-example). Second that these terrorists are poor, uneducated and fundamentalist. He states that recent events show the terrorist as having above average education and opportunity, and as being well integrated into his/her community–to the point where the greater good for the community overrides personal goals.

One may question the validity of Pape’s theory and even the soundness of his statistical analysis. What is important is that a book like Dying to Win engages us in a dialogue that enables us to understand suicide terrorism. This in turn helps us craft policy that effectively protects those targets most vulnerable to such attacks and minimizes the organizations willing to carry out such attacks.

Armchair Interviews says: Robert A. Pape is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago specializing in international security affairs.

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