Response to Adam Lankford

09/23/2011 10:31 am ET | Updated Nov 23, 2011

It is unfortunate that Adam Lankford has gone ad hominem in criticizing my work, but readers should not doubt the commitment and credibility of the scholarship behind Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How To Stop It published by the University of Chicago Press. The research represents years of work by a research team at the University of Chicago, was funded by the Department of Defense and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has been endorsed by the both heads of the 9/11 Commission, the current Chief of the U.S. Navy and numerous other prominent policy makers and scholars, and published by one of the leading university presses in the country after a lengthy peer-review process.

Cutting the Fuse surveys and analyzes over 2,200 suicide attacks and 2,500 suicide attackers around the world since 1980, based on over 10,000 documents in English and native languages and nearly every available martyr video in existence. The analysis examines the data as a whole and conducts detailed studies of every important suicide terrorist campaign and numerous studies of the specific motives of individuals (eg, the 9/11 Hamburg cell, July 2005 London bombers, and Moroccans who carried out suicide attacks in Iraq).

The overwhelming picture that emerges is that foreign occupation is the main cause of suicide terrorism, accounting for over 95 percent of the thousands of attacks since 1980. Of course, this finding is startling. It would be much easier to come to terms with the phenomenon of suicide terrorism, which produces devastating attacks like 9/11, if it could be explained as the result of psychological illness carried out by emotionally disturbed individuals as Dr. Adam Lankford would have us believe. We do like our villains to be monsters and it may be true that mental illness is responsible for some suicide attacks. However, the percentage is low; the data shows less than 5 percent of suicide attackers experience major depression associated with ordinary suicide. And, while mental illness and ordinary suicides occur in every country at fairly constant rates, suicide attacks are highly concentrated in specific areas of foreign occupation -- typically starting when the occupation begins and sharply declining when it ends -- patterns that strongly refute mental illness as a major cause as they confirm the main findings of Cutting the Fuse.

The strength of this scholarship and the transparent basis for its conclusions has led many in Washington and around the world to take the findings seriously. If, as we believe, the evidence shows that foreign occupation is the main cause of suicide terrorism, than Americans and other policy makers should take this seriously into account and pursue future courses of action accordingly.

Ultimately, readers should judge for themselves, either by turning to Cutting the Fuse or looking at the extensive documentation available at the website of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.

Robert A. Pape is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and Director of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism and author of Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It (2010).