The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight


August 6, 2006

I wrote too soon.

Taylor Owen points my attention to Dershowitz’s latest, um, foray into social science.

The oft-reported mantra that “occupation causes terrorism” is false. Occupations, like Israel’s presence in the West Bank, are often the necessary result of attacks by insurgent groups and terrorists – not the other way around.
History and contemporary experience make this clear.

First, Palestinian terrorism began well before there was any Israeli occupation. It started in 1929 when the grand mufti of Jerusalem ordered a terrorist attack against Jewish residents of Hebron, whose families had lived in that Jewish holy city for generations.

Second, terrorism against Israel got worse after Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon and Gaza, as these unoccupied lands became launching pads for rockets, missiles and kidnappings.

Third, other occupied people, for example the Tibetans, have never resorted to terrorism against innocent Chinese civilians, though their occupation has been longer and more brutal than anything experienced by the Palestinians.

Fourth, while it may be that a brutal occupation can increase the number of people willing to become suicide bombers, it is also true that no suicide bomber ever sent himself. They are sent by well-educated, affluent leaders like Osama Bin Laden, who do not live in occupied areas.

Fifth, Islamic terrorists have sworn to continue terrorism even if Israel were to end its occupation of the West Bank. They regard all of Israel as occupied.

Let’s take these in order.

First, scholars like Robert Pape do not claim that occupations “cause terrorism.” They argue that occupations increase the probability that terrorists will adopt suicide tactics (PDF).

Suicide terrorism is rising around the world, but the most common explanations do not help us understand why…. In contrast to the existing explanations, 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. Suicide terrorists sought to compel American and French military forces to abandon Lebanon in 1983, Israeli forces to leave Lebanon in 1985, Israeli forces to quit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1994 and 1995, the Sri Lankan government to create an independent Tamil state from 1990 on, and the Turkish government to grant autonomy to the Kurds in the late 1990s. In all but the case of Turkey, the terrorist political cause made more gains after the resort to suicide operations than it had before. Thus, Western democracies should pursue policies that teach terrorists that the lesson of the 1980s and 1990s no longer holds, policies which in practice may have more to do with improving homeland security than with offensive military action.

While I have doubts about aspects of Pape’s argument, the logic clearly has some applicability to even the example of non-suicide terror Dershowitz uses to “falsify” the argument: a series of riots and massacres incited by the Mufti over his claims that the Jews were planning to seize back the Temple Mount. Remember that this was in the context of a growing Zionist movement in Israel/Palestine, one that, however one comes down on the moral issue of Jewish settlement, threatened Palestinian territorial control.

Second, in Pape’s American Political Science Review article he argues expressly that states should not give up territory in response to suicide terror because it reinforces the view that it works. I know that this doesn’t entirely square with his position on Iraq, but let’s put that aside for the moment. Indeed, nothing in the occupations-beget-suicide-terror logic requires that we blame occupiers for suicide terrorism.

Of course, Dershowitz’s response further misses the point: the suicide terrorists want further territorial concessions from Israel–many view the entire state as an illegitimate Zionist occupation, so the fact that terror persists says nothing about the causal logic of the argument.

Third, no one claims that occupations comprise a sufficient condition for suicide terrorism, let alone terrorism. Occupations increase the probability of suicide terrorism. Pape does suggest that occupations are a necessary condition for suicide terrorism (since social causation never involves non-trivial necessary conditions he clearly overreaches here), but he does not claim that occupations always produce suicide terrorism.

Fourth, not every leader of a movement that uses suicide terror lives in cushy surroundings–although my guess is that OBL isn’t exactly living the high life right now and that he considers both Afghanistan and Pakistan to be “occupied” by enemies of Islam. Plenty of other people who send young men and woman to their deaths for a cause, moreover, might also be described as “well-educated, affluent leaders… who do not live in occupied areas.”

Dershowitz’s point, of course, has exactly zero bearing on the argument he claims he’s refuting. If we take Dershowitz at his word, then there must be some hidden clause in the occupations-produce-suicide-terrorism hypothesis that specifies the following: only poorly-educated, impoverished leaders living inside of occupied areas would conclude that (suicide) terrorism is an effective strategy to use against occupying powers.

So, let’s check….

Nope, I can’t find any such caveat.

Fifth, well, yes, that’s one of the problems with his refutation of the argument.

Dershowitz concludes his five points with:

And so, occupation does not cause terrorism.

What’s the opposite of QED? I think we need one here.

This may seem like a strange post. After all, I obviously agree with Dershowitz that occupations are neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for terrorism. But, I suspect, not for reasons that Dershowitz would find convivial.Terrorism is a strategy in which state or non-state actors attempt to coerce their opponents by instilling fear in civilian populations. They opt for these strategies for any number of reasons. Yes, even democracies.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.