I’m blogging my way through the book that launched the New Atheist movement: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Please read the introduction to this series before you read this post.
Harris opens The End of Faith with a story about a young man who explodes himself on a bus:
Why is it… so trivially easy… to guess the young man’s religion?1
In the original version of this post,2 I agreed with researcher Robert Pape, who argues that suicide terrorism is most associated with foreign military occupation, not with religion:
Since many [attacks of suicide terrorism] have been perpetrated by Muslim terrorists professing religious motives, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause… [But] the data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism… In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamntly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents [of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003]…3
Right now, I think the data best support something like the following:
We don’t know for sure what causes suicide terrorism, but it seems to be highly correlated with foreign military occupation and also with some forms of religion.
So what I want to say here is that Harris may be premature in pronouncing his own strong conclusions about the causes of suicide terrorism, without really studying the scientific literature on the subject – which, of course, is exactly what I did.