Monday, November 07, 2005

For my first trick

JWR has an article about a book. It's called a "book review".

Religion is not entirely irrelevant to suicide terrorism, in Pape's view, but what matters most is not the particular faith but whether it happens to differ from that of the occupier. Conflict that crosses a religious divide, he writes, "makes demonization, and therefore killing, of enemy civilians easier" and makes it possible to redeem "suicides that would otherwise be taboo." As Pape emphasizes, such ideas are not unique to Islam. His database includes groups that adhere to several different creeds, all of which embrace some version of martyrdom.

Indeed, Pape tries to prove mathematically that there is no special connection between Islam and terrorism. In one statistical analysis, he divides 66 known al-Qaeda suicide terrorists into groups based on national origin. Comparing these nation-by-nation tallies with the total number of Muslims in each country who are known to be influenced by Salafism — the fundamentalist creed embraced by al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist terrorist groups — he finds no significant statistical relationship between the two.

. . .

As for Pape's effort to prove his thesis mathematically, it in fact proves nothing. Like all statistical results, his are only as reliable as the assumptions built into the underlying model. In this case, as any informed observer of the Middle East would know, the assumptions are not credible.

In a nutshell, Pape starts with the premise that all "Salafist-influenced" citizens in Sunni nations should exhibit an equal chance of becoming suicide bombers. Since Saudi Arabia accounts for 52 percent of the 66 al-Qaeda terrorists under study, but only 8 percent of the total number of Salafists in Sunni nations, the discrepancy, Pape concludes, must be the result of the U.S. military presence in that country.

But Salafists cannot be treated as interchangeable data points, like so many fruit flies in a jar. For years, and in a manner unparalleled elsewhere in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia's leaders have systematically indoctrinated their subjects with a sectarian and particularly virulent brand of militant Islam known as Wahhabism (a term sometimes used synonymously with Salafism). Until very recently, state-sponsored preachers openly espoused jihad, and the government paid hundreds of millions of dollars in protection money to al Qaeda. The practice of Christianity is a criminal offense there, and any deviation from the country's official sect is deemed heretical. Obviously, such a nation can be expected to produce far more terrorists per capita than a randomized model would predict.

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