No Single Cause

Doug's post provides a nice counterpoint to a too-common logical fallacy of blogospheric arguments: the idea that an event can have only one major cause.

How often have you seen a debate between someone who says "X is all about Y!" and someone else who insists "No, clearly X is all about Z!"? The Z-partisan will come up with plenty of examples where X occurs but Y doesn't, and the Y-partisan will fire back with examples where X occurs but Z doesn't. And it won't occur to either that maybe Y and Z are both major causes of X.

For X = "terrorism", Y = "foreign occupation", Z = "Islam", this is the Robert Pape debate in a nutshell. Those who say "It's all about Islam!" can easily give examples of Islamist terrorism occurring where there's no foreign occupation, real or perceived, to hate: Doug gives several and is far from exhausting the list. On the other hand, the "It's all about occupation!" folks can list just as many examples of anti-occupation terrorism occurring without Islam: the Tamil Tigers, IRA, ETA, PFLP, et multae cetera.

What fits all the evidence, though, is the proposition that foreign occupation and Islamist ideology are each, in and of themselves, major drivers of terrorism. Each would produce lots of terrorist activity even in the absence of the other: but on the other hand, ameliorating either one, even if the other were left in place, could help quite a lot. If the Western powers disengaged from the Middle East, that would still leave us a serious problem with plain ol' religious nutcases, but it'd be a lot less of an overall terrorism problem than we have now. Crushing Islamist ideology by brute force, if it could somehow be done (good luck with that one!), would also reduce terrorism considerably, but would still leave a serious problem with people who just don't like it when those they consider furriners control places they consider home.

Put this way, it sounds so obvious as to be banal. If it were in fact obvious, though, you'd expect to see more acknowledgement of it, and less point-scoring citation of the latest Pape study, Pew poll, imam's rant, etc. as evidence for the arguer's favored single-cause theory.

Share this

The Chemistry of Terror If

The Chemistry of Terror
If we think of terrorism as a chemical reaction, then Islam is more of a catalyst than a cause. Foreign occupation is one of (many possible) fuels of the reaction.


Oh I don't know, I wouldn't

Oh I don't know, I wouldn't be too hard on the social scientists. Even physicists have trouble with the N-body problem. Human brains just don't seem wired too well to handle multicausal phenomena.

See, thats cause its really

See, thats cause its really all about jobs and economics!

With the rare exception most terrorism is driven by poverty - either the victims of it (suicide bombers in Israel) or uppity middle class kids wanting to do something about poverty(Bolsheviks, 9-11 hijackers, london bombers, etc).

And of course there are the people at the top (UBL, Lenin, Stalin, etc) who forment the hatred to gain their importance.

Terrorism is only driven by

Terrorism is only driven by poverty to the extent that poverty limits the methods of attack - it certainly doesn't inspire terrorism, anymore than a lack of nuclear weapons inspired the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo. Quadrupling the income of every Palestinan would have absolutely no effect on their general desire to kill all of the supposedly imperialist, baby eating, blood drinking Jews. Was the IRA fighting for better economic policies that would improve the "awful" standard of living of north Irish Catholics in the last half century?

I agree that both Islamist

I agree that both Islamist ideology and Western intervention in the Muslim world are causal. However, I disagree that if we disengaged we'd still have a serious problem. No; the choice of target is important. Anti-Western interventionism, as a motivator for terrorism, makes target choice obvious: us; we that intervene. But Islamicist ideology does not. It might motivate some general anti-Western attacks, but not specificially anti-US ones, and not very strongly. It will primarily motivate attacks against the ruling Muslim regimes, and against Western-influenced Muslim organizations. This is a problem, yes, but it is not our problem.