Book Review of Robert Anthony Pape’s “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”
by Elias Davidsson, April 20, 2014
Two major scholarly sins mar the quality of the book
Many of the authors dealing with the issue of terrorism can be dismissed as purveyors of junk science. One of those who does not deserve that label is Robert A. Pape. His seminal study on suicide terrorism remains till today the best in its kind. Yet, even he sins in a number of ways against the rules of serious scholarship. His work, based on examining 315 cases of suicide terrorism relies almost entirely on what third parties (governments, law-enforcement agencies, mass media, organizations claiming the act) have designated as a “suicide operation.” The author saved himself the effort to assess the forensics of the cases, i.e. to determine, independently, that the particular events under consideration were actually suicide operations. Admittedly, such work would have required efforts beyond his capacity. On the other side, taking into account the propagandistic nature of terrorism, a scholar cannot take at face value claims by interested parties regarding the nature of the operation. Another failure was to disregard entirely the phenomenon of synthetic terrorism (sometimes called ‘false-flag terrorism’), namely operations covertly staged by governments to appear as authentic terrorism. Was the author unaware of Operation Northwoods (USA, 1962) and of the synthetic terrorist acts committed in Italy and Belgium in the Cold War, commonly known as Operation Gladio?
These two sins by the author seriously mar the value of his study.
An impatient and informed reader might already close the book after reading the very first paragraph of the first chapter, in which the author claims, self-confidently, that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. By 2005, the year of the book’s publication, the author should have been aware that the US authorities had not produced any evidence for their claim that 9/11 was the work of Muslim terrorists (the names of the alleged terrorists do not figure on any authenticated passenger list, no one has seen them board any of the four flights, their bodily remains were not identified, and even the FBI regards their identities as questionable [see appropriate FBI website]) He should have been aware of a large and growing skepticism among US scholars toward the official account. He should have been aware of a documented relationship between Western intelligence agencies and Al Qaeda. He should have taken note of the fact that none of the perpetrators or planners of 9/11 had been brought to court. Taking into account these facts would have led him to qualify his conclusions and examine whether some of the other cases of terrorism he listed might also have been synthetically manufactured by state agencies. To the extent that these scholarly sins can be attributable to a blind spot in the author’s perspective, they may be remedied by him. Having said so, readers might still find the book useful, keeping in mind that the conclusions of an author who relies on corrupt data, must be considered with great circumspection.