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On Explaining Terrorism

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In case you missed it, on March 31 the New York Times published a very important oped, "What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?" by Robert A. Pape of the University of Chicago -- one of America's leading experts on terrorism -- and two of his students. After noting the fierce Russian repression of the Chechen drive for independence, the article concludes that although many of the Chechen suicide bombers have been Muslims, "few of them profess religious motives.... "As we have discovered in our research on Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, suicide terrorist campaigns are almost always a last resort against foreign military occupation." (emphasis added)

It is still common for mainstream U.S. and Israeli commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, or on Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorism in particular, to downplay or even to simply ignore the ongoing Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. Rather, the implicit or explicit assumption is that it is anti-Semitism and religious fanaticism -- practically by definition, immutable and unrelated to Israeli behavior -- that drives Palestinian resistance, whether terrorist or not.

In their oped on the recent terrorist attack on the Moscow subway, widely presumed to have been carried out by two Chechen women, Pape and his associates do not (beyond the brief mention of their previous research on the West Bank) extend their analysis to cover recent events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But can anyone seriously doubt the relevance of their analysis to that conflict? To put it bluntly, to discuss Palestinian terrorism as if it was unconnected to the decades-long Israeli occupation, repression, and humiliation of the Palestinian people is not merely intellectually and morally indefensible, it is downright crazy.