Archive for September, 2003

Political Science Targets Suicide Terrorism. Bystanders: Take Cover!

The study of terrorism is the orphan of Middle Eastern studies. The Middle East academics, whose self-appointed mission is to cast their subject matter in a favorable light, simply avoid the subject. They are happiest studying putative reformers of Islam, not the terrorists who invoke it. Just look at the program of the upcoming conference of the Middle East Studies Association: not a terrorism paper in sight.

The field has been left wide open for social scientists without any particular knowledge of the Middle East. We should be grateful that some in academe are thinking about these things. The problem is that some terrorism research wobbles, precisely because it isn’t sufficiently grounded in the complexities for which the Middle East is famous.

I’m moved to write this after reading an article that has gotten a lot of play over the past few weeks. “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism” is by a University of Chicago political scientist, Robert A. Pape, and it appeared in the August issue of the American Political Science Review, the flagship journal of the American Political Science Association. The publication is described by the assocation as “the preeminent political science journal in the United States and internationally,” and it is received by the association’s 14,000 members in 70 countries. Last week, Pape also published an op-ed in the New York Times, distilling his study for an even wider audience.

Pape’s thesis is really quite simple: suicide terrorism is not irrational or an expression of religious fanaticism. It is part of a strategy deliberately adopted by the groups that sponsor it. “In contrast to the existing explanations,” writes Pape, “this study shows that suicide terrorism follows a strategic logic, one specifically designed to coerce modern liberal democracies to make significant territorial concessions. Moreover, over the past two decades, suicide terrorism has been rising largely because terrorists have learned that it pays.” For that reason, too, it is used by secular groups (e.g., Tamil Tigers) even more often than by religious ones. What gives Pape’s argument its “scientific” aura is that he spent a year compiling a list of all suicide attacks that took place between 1980 and 2001 (188 in number) and infers from their timing that they took the form of deliberate campaigns.

I find all of this to be fairly obvious, so I was surprised to see myself as one of the foils of Pape’s study. Pape:

The small number of studies addressed explicitly to suicide terrorism tend to focus on the irrationality of the act of suicide from the perspective of the individual attacker. As a result, they focus on individual motives—either religious indoctrination (especially Islamic Fundamentalism) or psychological predispositions that might drive individual suicide bombers (Kramer 1990; Merari 1990; Post 1990)…. some analysts see suicide terrorism as fundamentally irrational (Kramer 1990; Merari 1990; Post 1990).

Now Professors Merari and Post, who are in the psychology business, can speak for themselves. But peruse my 1990 article, “The Moral Logic of Hizbullah,” and show me where I even suggest that suicide terrorism is “irrational.” To the contrary: I demonstrate that the method enjoyed such stunning success that leading Shiite clerics were prepared to bend their interpretation of Islamic law to sanction it. As for “irrationality,” in a 1993 article, subtitled “The Calculus of Jihad” (and which Pape didn’t consult) I made my view absolutely clear:

Hizbullah’s collective choices regarding the extent and intensity of its violence had a clear political rationale. Hizbullah was also a political movement, and indeed saw politics as an inseparable part of religion. When it employed violence, it did so for political and not ritualistic purposes—to bring it closer to power. In making its choices, Hizbullah weighed benefits against costs.

Later in Pape’s article, he associates me again with the notion that terrorists are irrational: “Many observers characterize Hamas and [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad as fanatical, irrational groups, extreme both within Palestinian society and among terrorists groups in general (Kramer 1996).” Really? In that 1996 article, I don’t mention Hamas or Islamic Jihad at all.

For years, I (and others) have argued that suicide bombings fit nicely into savvy strategies for terrorist groups, and that their popularity grows when they seem to work. So Pape’s main claim to originality is that he has documented this with empirical evidence.

But reading through Pape’s database of suicide attacks for the place and period I know best—Lebanon in the mid-1980s—I kept encountering operations that I couldn’t remember at all, or that I remembered as having different authors than the ones he names, or that I remembered as having killed far fewer people than appear in his “killed” column. Here are a few glaring discrepancies:

  • Pape’s Campaign 2 (“Hezbollah vs. Israel”), incident no. 2, June 16, 1984, lists a suicide bombing of an Israeli army post that supposedly killed 5. In fact, this was the first suicide bombing conducted by Hizbullah’s rival, the Amal movement, and it didn’t kill anyone. (It’s one of two case studies I treat in an article on the first suicide bombings against Israel in Lebanon. Not in Pape’s bibliography.)
  • Pape’s Campaign 2 (“Hezbollah vs. Israel”), incident no. 3, April 9, 1985, lists a suicide car bombing of an Israeli army post. It did happen, but the bomber was a teenaged woman (pictured below), and she belonged not to Hizbullah but to a pro-Syrian organization (the Syrian Social Nationalist Party). It was the first such bombing ever done by a woman, and it was much-celebrated.
  • Pape’s Campaign 2 (“Hezbollah vs. Israel”), incident no. 6, June 15, 1985, lists a suicide car bombing of an Israeli army post in Beirut that supposedly killed 23. It never happened: by that date, Israel was long gone from Beirut. This would seem to be a confused reference to a suicide car bombing that took place in Beirut the day before, June 14—not against Israelis but against a position of the predominantly Shiite Sixth Brigade of the Lebanese army, then laying siege to Palestinian refugee camps (the so-called “war of the camps”). In other words: a Palestinian suicide bombing against Shiites.
  • Pape’s Campaign 3 (“Hezbollah vs. Israel and South Lebanon Army [SLA]”), incident no. 6, September 3, 1985, lists a suicide car bomb at an SLA outpost that supposedly killed 37—a whopping toll that would have been unforgettable. In fact, the suicide bombing killed only its perpetrator (who was not a member of Hizbullah but belonged to the Lebanese Baath party).

SSNP suicide bomber.

In sum, Robert Pape has not told us much we didn’t know anyway, and his data inspire less confidence than earlier data-based studies. We already knew that suicide bombings were strategic choices. Even in Lebanon, and without the example of the Tamil Tigers, we knew that secular groups could embrace the method with fervor. (In Lebanon in the mid-1980s, pro-Syrian secular groups did three attacks for every one launched by Hizbullah. In Pape’s data, all of these attacks are inexplicably attributed to Hizbullah.) What happened in Lebanon has been repeated in the Palestinian territories, where secular groups have jumped on the bandwagon of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. What begins as a strategic campaign is often driven forward by organizational and Islamist-secular rivalry.

I suppose we should still be grateful to Pape for telling a wider audience the truth—that suicide bombing has a strategic rationale, that it’s being used by more groups because it seems to work, that it’s even superseding other terrorist tactics, and that it’s so appealing in its simplicity and effect that you don’t have to be a religious fanatic to plan one or carry it out. Pape comes closest to an original claim (for academe) in his argument that Yitzhak Rabin, by his words and deeds, gave Hamas and Islamic Jihad every reason to assume that their suicide bombings were working. Pape concludes that small concessions under fire, such as those made by Rabin, just increase the fire—something most Israeli voters concluded a few years ago.

But in his broader policy conclusion, Pape strikes out in an unexpected direction, and on very thin ice. Reading his analysis, you would think that the conclusion would be to raise the costs for terrorist leaders who choose suicide bombings, from Afghanistan to Gaza—to mark such attacks as crimes against humanity and war crimes, to find the masterminds, and to put their heads on pikes for all to see.

Yet Pape does a last-minute twist, arguing that the most effective response would be an American disengagement from the Middle East and Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. The United States and Israel should stand back and hunker down behind defensive perimeters. Why? This would diminish the incentives (read: grievances) behind strategic suicide bombing. I find this conclusion completely at odds with the analysis. Wouldn’t this be the ultimate concession to the suicide strategy—and be celebrated as such by its planners? Wouldn’t this inspire yet more mutations of the method, and the expansion of the terrorists’ strategic goals? One is left suspecting that Pape’s conclusion has been infected by his loyalties to the Chicago “realists,” a school of political scientists who favor a low-profile posture for the United States in the Middle East (and who also opposed the Iraq war).

In short, Pape has given us a paper of limited originality, based on data that need double-checking, and topped off with conclusions that don’t flow from the findings. It’s more evidence that this kind of work has to be done on an interdisciplinary basis, and in consultation with people who remember.

Update: Over two years after this post, Martin Kramer debated Robert Pape at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on November 8, 2005, by which time Pape had turned his article into a book.

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365 Days of Campus Watch

A year ago, and one week after the launch of Sandstorm, Daniel Pipes launched another website: Campus Watch. How well I remember. My endorsement of Campus Watch appeared in its first press release, and since Pipes happened to be traveling in Canada, I was the one who got inundated with calls from journalists asking just what Campus Watch intended to do. I dodged the question: I had endorsed Campus Watch on trust, without knowing the direction Pipes would take. I knew only that he had invoked my book, Ivory Towers on Sand, as inspiration for the project.

It wasn’t long before cries of McCarthyism rolled across the land, as a result of the website’s opening gambit: listing a number of professors with especially egregious records. It was a wild start. But a year later, and looking back on it, I can say with certainty (and relief) that my trust in Campus Watch was vindicated. After the initial wave of publicity and protest, it dropped the list of professors, and began to provide two invaluable services to the public.

First, the website has scoured the press, posting everything related to the Middle East politics of American academe. Until Campus Watch, such material accumulated only in the files of organizations and universities. Since Campus Watch, it has been available to anyone. This has made the site immensely popular, to judge from its ratings. And since the Campus Watch site refers traffic to Sandstorm (instead of posting), I know from my own tracker that many of its readers come from universities (dot-edu domains). I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most people in Middle Eastern studies rely on the site to follow debates about their own field and Middle Eastern matters on campus.

Second, Campus Watch has conducted and published its own research. Many academics feared that Campus Watch would be engaged in espionage in the classroom, because it invited students to send it information. But while students may have helped to alert Campus Watch to problems, the published research of Campus Watch over the last year has been based upon the on-the-record speaking and writing of the professors themselves. The research has been solid and well-documented—the same sort of rigor I try to practice in this column.

In sum, Campus Watch has provided a real service and met a genuine need. And regular visitors to the site cannot but reach the conclusions that animated its launch: first, that the American campus has become an arena in which some professors openly propagandize on Middle Eastern issues; and second, that Middle Eastern studies—the supposed bastion of objectivity—are no exception. Indeed, on some campuses, they are the heart of the problem.

Over the year, I was often amazed by the way some academics and students played up the “menace” of Campus Watch. This reached a disgraceful culmination at York University in Toronto, where a university research center disinvited Daniel Pipes on the spurious grounds that Campus Watch somehow threatened academic freedom. It reached a comic apogee in the completely bogus claim by a UCLA professor that he had been listed by Campus Watch—a crass bid for the sympathy of his fellows. Those criticized by Campus Watch suffered, at worst, bouts of email spamming (quelle horreur!), but charges of McCarthyism and cries of “Down with Campus Watch!” became the convenient rallying cry for a wide range of campus opportunists and poseurs.

The fact is that Campus Watch plays within the rules of legitimate give-and-take. Its gloves are off, but it doesn’t slug beneath the belt. And it more than proved its worth in its first year. That’s because in the build-up to the Iraq war, many professors said and wrote things that perfectly exemplified their complete detachment from the realities of the Middle East and American politics. The statements that caught the headlines—such as the hope expressed by a Columbia professor that “a thousand Mogadishus” befall U.S. forces in Iraq—were not isolated blurtings by way-out extremists. They were extrapolations of ideas and arguments generated by professors in Middle Eastern studies. Thanks to the reporting of Campus Watch, it was possible to see patterns in this patter.

The next step for Campus Watch is to move beyond criticism to foster new alternatives within Middle Eastern studies. Students often write to me, asking where they should study to escape the rigid conformism of the field. The question has no easy answer, but I intend to formulate one, and Sandstorm will be making some endorsements this year. Daniel Pipes, who has taken a seat on the board of the United States Institute of Peace, is now positioned to legitimize and support alternatives in scholarly research. Campus Watch has set its ultimate goal as “the improvement of Middle Eastern studies.” Achieving that will take more than watching for bias. It means watching for promise too.

Concealment Continues at Columbia

“An outrageous Israeli, Martin Kramer, uses his website to attack everybody who says anything he doesn’t like.” That’s Edward Said speaking, in an interview in a new collection entitled (predictably) Culture and Resistance. I would take it as a compliment, if I didn’t already know how easily Professor Said is outraged. But it’s a valuable testimonial nonetheless, and one worth quoting as Sandstorm marks its first anniversary.

Said offers this sample of my outrageous conduct:

For example, [Kramer] has described Columbia as “the Bir Zeit (university) on the Hudson,” because there are two Palestinians teaching here. Two Palestinians teaching in a faculty of 8,000 people! If you have two Palestinians, it makes you a kind of terrorist hideout. This is part of the atmosphere of intimidation that is McCarthyite.

I’m delighted to learn from this passage (and other sources) that my “Bir Zeit-on-Hudson” label has stuck to Columbia. Columbia warrants it not because Palestinians dominate the teaching of the modern Middle East there (they do), but because of the total absence of other perspectives, and Columbia’s apparent lack of interest in promoting a diversity of approaches. I never called Columbia a terrorist hideout, nor have I described any of its faculty as apologists for terrorism. I do accuse them of creating, on their campus and especially in the Middle East department, an atmosphere of intimidation that really is McCarthyite.

Said’s interview also jogged my memory: his reference to me includes a footnote harking back to a Sandstorm entry from last November. It was then that newspapers first reported that Rashid Khalidi, a University of Chicago historian, had been invited to Columbia to occupy the newly-established Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies. It was also reported that Columbia would protect the anonymity of the chair’s donor(s). In my entry, I insisted that the university had an obligation to reveal the identity of the donor(s).

Here we are, ten months later, and there has been no disclosure. A couple of donors, approached by a journalist, have acknowledged making contributions. But the vast majority of donors—and there are apparently almost twenty—have remained anonymous, and Columbia has not published any names.

As it happens, I have seen what purports to be a list of the donors. I’m not at liberty to publish it, and in any case I see no reason to relieve Columbia of its responsibility. But I don’t think it would violate a trust if I were to characterize the list. It includes individuals and foundations, Arab and non-Arab, known as supporters of the Palestinian cause—no surprise there. There is a corporate presence, which is a bit of a surprise. And on the list that I have seen, there is a foreign government, which I find positively alarming.

Why alarming? Rashid Khalidi, the new incumbent of the Said Chair, has also been named the director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, which will receive about $1 million in federal subsidies over the next three years. Under any circumstances, a university’s concealment of a gift from a foreign source strikes me as unethical. Under these circumstances, Columbia’s failure to disclose is unconscionable. It’s also worth noting that if a foreign gift is large enough ($250,000), it must be disclosed to the U.S. Department of Education in a timely manner, according to Section 1011f. of the Higher Education Act (“Disclosure of Foreign Gifts”). In New York State, there is a similar disclosure law that kicks in at $100,000, although according to a recent account, “there is little, if any, compliance with existing law.” Ah, universities.

All of which leads me back to my original demand. Now that the incumbent of the Said Chair is administering a federally-funded National Resource Center, with control over taxpayers’ funds, his own funding is a matter of the public interest. Columbia must make known the donors, or at the very least identify any foreign government, entity or person that contributed to the endowment of the Edward Said Chair. If Columbia continues to refuse to make such information public, the Department of Education should initiate action to secure it, and then make it available to the rest of us.

I also urge the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), at its annual conference in November, to pass a general resolution calling upon all universities to reveal the sources of endowments in our field. The remaining credibility of Middle Eastern studies is at stake. If Columbia’s practices spread throughout the field, it is only a matter of time before a major scandal erupts, linking scholars to tainted money. MESA should stand unequivocally on the side of public disclosure—even if Khalidi is a former MESA president, and even if the current MESA president is a Columbia dean.


Updates from Sandbox

The updates below originally appeared in Sandbox, this website’s quick news log. Sandbox is a supplement to the established weblog Sandstorm.

Dirhams at Columbia. On Friday, Columbia University finally disclosed the list of donors to the Edward Said Chair, held by Rashid Khalidi. Six months ago, I’d reported the presence on the donor list of a foreign government, but I didn’t name it. Now it’s confirmed: the United Arab Emirates. At this moment, a gift chair from the UAE to Harvard’s Divinity School is frozen, because of questions about the propriety of accepting it. Columbia apparently doesn’t have the same scruples, and saved itself a controversy by keeping the gift secret. Concealing gifts from foreign governments in this field is never acceptable, period. What I find disgraceful is that the leaders and institutions of Middle Eastern studies didn’t join my demand for transparency. Shame, shame, shame.
Wed, Mar 17 2004 7:06 pm
Share a chair. Several readers have asked for the full list of donors to the Edward Said Chair, which Columbia released Friday. For some reason, it’s not on Columbia’s website. Here is the list:

Yusef Abu Khadra
Abdel Muhsen Al-Qattan
Ramzi A. Dalloul
Richard and Barbara Debs
Richard B. Fisher
Gordon Gray, Jr.
Daoud Hanania
Rita E. Hauser
Walid H. Kattan
Said T. Khory
Munib R. Masri
Morgan Capital & Energy
Olayan Charitable Trust
Hasib Sabbagh
Kamal A. Shair
Abdul Shakashir
Abdul Majeed Shoman
Jean Stein
United Arab Emirates

Thu, Mar 18 2004 7:24 pm

Columbia owns up. The Columbia Spectator now tells the full story of Columbia’s ethical and legal dereliction in concealing the donors of the Edward Said Professorship (incumbent: Rashid Khalidi). The names were finally disclosed on March 12. Reporter Chris Beam writes: “Kramer, who led the call for disclosure of the names, wrote in an e-mail that although individual donors might justifiably request anonymity, gifts from foundations and corporations should be revealed. ‘But above all’, he wrote, ‘there are no circumstances—and I repeat that—no circumstances whatsoever, that justify the anonymity of a foreign government that has given to a university’.” The government in question: United Arab Emirates, good for $200,000.
Fri, Mar 26 2004 10:17 am
Palestinian millionaires. Sixteen of the donors to the Edward Said Professorship are individuals. Eight of these are trustees of the Geneva-registered Welfare Association, which gives to Palestinian welfare and development projects. The association, a wealthy club, has about a hundred active members, most of them prominent Palestinian businessmen. Edward Said was also a trustee. The Columbia Spectator article, cited immediately below, reports that Rita Hauser, a well-connected New York lawyer and philanthropist who happens to be Jewish, originally proposed the chair. Maybe, but these Palestinian millionaires look to me like the core of the initiative.
Sun, Mar 28 2004 8:48 am
And Columbia too. One of the donors of the Edward Said Professorship at Columbia is Ramzi Atta Dalloul. Once upon a time, he brokered arms deals between France and Iraq. When Saddam found out how much Dalloul was skimming off the top, he summoned him to Baghdad to demand his money back. Ken Timmerman’s Death Lobby (p. 66): “The terrified Palestinian is said to have forked up $8 million in cash and may have made other ‘contributions’ to a secret Baath party fund held in a Swiss bank.” (Here’s more on Dalloul’s Iraq deal from Said K. Aburish, who was in on it.) Dalloul was a generous fellow, according to Timmerman: “Besides making contributions to Arafat’s Fatah Movement, Dalloul sought additional protection by making substantial payments to one of Arafat’s rivals, the radical Palestinian leader George Habash.”
Sun, Mar 28 2004 5:57 pm
What about Columbia? Harvard University’s Divinity School has decided to return that $2.5 million gift for an Islamic studies chair to the donor: the United Arab Emirates. Bottom line: the UAE is just too toxic to warrant the kind of legitimation Harvard confers. Remember: the UAE also contributed $200,000 toward the Edward Said Chair at Columbia, a fact concealed by Columbia until last spring. Maybe now’s the time for Columbia to consider returning that UAE gift. Or are Columbia’s standards not quite up to Harvard’s?
Wed, Jul 28 2004 2:43 pm
Why Columbia should. Harvard is returning $2.5 million to the United Arab Emirates, donated earlier to establish an Islamic studies chair. The UAE also gave $200,000 toward the new Edward Said Chair at Columbia. So will Columbia return its gift? “Why would we?” a Columbia spokesperson says. “Our gift differs in both the source and the purpose from the Harvard gift.” Nonsense. If anything, Columbia has a greater obligation to return UAE money. (1) Columbia initially concealed the gift. (2) The chair it helped to create has adequate funding from other sources. (3) It’s disgraceful that a chair named after a University Professor (Columbia’s elect) be funded even partly by the ruler of a country defined as “not free.”
Mon, Aug 9 2004 3:10 a