Robert Pape writes:
On Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines as they slept. This dark chapter of American history was one of the country’s first experiences with suicide attack since the Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War II. The attack, combined with the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that April and a sustained terrorism campaign waged by the group that came to be known as Hezbollah, was a major reason President Reagan ordered American forces to leave Lebanon in 1984.
The barracks bombing is perhaps the most well known attack in Lebanon during that period, but it was far from an isolated incident. Hezbollah’s campaign of suicide terrorism, mainly against American, French and Israeli military forces along with Western political targets, killed about 900 people. And the attacks would serve as a major inspiration for future terrorist groups that adopted similar tactics, most notably Hamas, Al Qaeda and the Tamil Tigers.
At the time, the prevailing narrative was that these attacks in Lebanon were the result of Shiite Muslim fundamentalism. It has become a common refrain over the last several decades that religion, and Islam in particular, is the primary cause of suicide bombings. This is an easy, convenient and clear argument that fits with the United States’ approach to the war on terror over the last decade.
There is just one problem with this argument: It’s wrong.