Seeing Terrorism Sideways

Walter Laqueuer’s review of Robert Pape’s Dying to Win and Mia Bloom’s Dying to Kill in the Washington Post brings up a few good points and the best is that terrorism, simply, is no more than a weapon.
The importance of that sentence is usually lost at first glance, as it was on me, but here it is again in another form: suicide bombing is no different than air-to-ground bombing is no different than stabbing. Each are no more than a ways to a means.
This is important because, by focusing on terrorism, and trying to draw conclusions from cases of violence whose only shared characteristic is the method used (i.e. suicide bombing), one looses the forest for the trees. Pape’s thesis, that suicide bombing is strictly a political act for political ends, falls apart when one differentiates the acts of violence based upon their aim and not their means. In other words, the attacks of 9/11 or 3/11 or 7/7 might have suicide bombing in common with, say, the Tamil Tigers–but that is where the commonality ends. And any effort to draw generalizable conclusions from grouping these all together obscures more than it makes clear.

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