Atheists have It Wrong on Religious Causes of Terrorism and Suicide Bombing
This article dispels all illusions based on the belief that terrorism done by Muslim extremists is to be blamed on their religion, a view much favored by well-known atheist critics of religion such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
One of the implied back stories to this insightful article is that big-time atheist writers such as Harris and Christopher Hitchens (who is not mentioned), in blaming religion on terrorism perpetuated by Muslims and others, also happen to favor policies that perpetuate mass killing by larger western governments of large number of civilians in countries where Muslims live. That observation alone is worthy of an article all by itself.
“Science says more than 95 percent of terrorist attacks are motivated by politics and revenge. Atheists say, “That’s bullshit!” And not just atheist luminaries such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher. I refer to the several hundred hostile responses from atheists to my previous AlterNet piece, in which I cited the most exhaustive and comprehensive study of suicide terrorism ever conducted.
According to the Suicide Terrorism Database at Flinders University in Australia, which accounts for all suicide bombings committed in the Middle East between 1981 and 2006, it is politics, not religious fanaticism, that leads to terrorists blowing themselves up. The study shows that:
“…though religion can play a vital role in the recruitment and motivation of potential future suicide bombers, their real driving-force is a cocktail of motivations including politics, humiliation, revenge, retaliation and altruism. The configuration of these motivations is related to the specific circumstances of the political conflict behind the rise of suicide attacks in different countries.”
The findings of the Flinders University study are supported by the research conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism, which was partly funded by the Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Agency. The authors, Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, examined more than 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to present. Their research reveals that more than 90 percent of suicide attacks are directed at an occupying force. Of the 524 suicide terrorists carried out in the past 30 years, more than half of the attackers were secular. Let that rock your worldview.
More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks have a strategic goal in common—to compel an occupying force to withdraw from territory the terrorists prize. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to the West Bank to Chechnya, the central goal of every suicide terrorist campaign has been to resist military occupation by a democracy. Pape, who is also the author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, rejects outright the view that Islam is the root of the problem. “Rather, the taproot is American military policy.” The notion that Islamic fundamentalism is bent on world domination is “pure fantasy,” he argues, warning that an attempt by the West to force Muslim societies to transform “is likely to dramatically increase the threat we face.”
“In an op-ed for Mondoweiss, Theodore Sayeed says of Sam Harris,
“He is most happy when he can frame the discussion of war in religious terms. Israel is post-religious and the Palestinians are not. Therefore secularists should side with Israel. America is post-religious and Muslims are not. Therefore secularists ought to side with America. And because Muslims often use religious language to discuss political matters, because they say ‘jihad’ instead of ‘let’s fight back,’ and because they call their dead ‘martyrs’ instead of ‘fallen heroes,’ their concerns are not territorial at all, they are irrational superstition about which there can be no prospects for dialogue.”
Such simplistic dehumanization of the Muslim world does not stand up to even a casual level of scrutiny. Many atheists, like Harris, see conflict in the Middle East as rooted in a cultural failure of Islam to adapt itself to modernity rather than as a political aspiration to freedom from U.S.-backed regimes. The Arab Spring protests in Egypt demonstrated that this culturalist assumption does not hold.
“Popular sovereignty, not God’s sovereignty, was the basis of the Tahir Square protests; Muslims and Christians marched together. The slogans were demands for rights, dignity, and social justice. All of this confounds the clash of civilizations theses, which holds that ‘Islam has bloody borders’,” writes Arun Kundani, author of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror.”