BLUNDERS IN TIGERLAND: PAPE’S MUDDLES ON “SUICIDE BOMBERS” IN SRI LANKA

MICHAEL ROBERTS

No study of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam can afford to neglect Sri Lanka’s cultural, historical, and geographical backdrop. The lack of existential awareness of religious cross-fertilisation, the either/or foundations of Western reasoning and absence of local knowledge bedevils the scholarship that incorporates Sri Lanka in their global surveys of suicide attacks. Pape’s Dying to Win is used as an Aunt Sally in order to establish this argument. The LTTE’s multi-pronged capacities are poorly evaluated. Too much significance is attributed to the coercive success of suicide attacks in bringing the government to the negotiating table at various moments. While concentrating on the Sri Lankan scene, this review intersperses comparative data on suicide missions (SMs) elsewhere.

This article has been presented online at Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics available at http://hpsacp.uni-hd.de. It is now reproduced here within our repository for longer essays. It includes 27 revealing photographs taken at various moments of the ethnic struggle in Sri Lanka.

ANOTHER STRUGGLE

There is a revealing history attached to its eventual appearance in the public domain. An initial version was sent to the journal Terrorism and Political Violence, which appears out of St. Andrews University in Aberdeen, UK, on 8 August 2006. The reports of two referees A and B were received in November. Both were generally approving of the thrust, but Referee A suggested a radical overhaul of the manner in which the article was set out.

This was attended to and the article resubmitted to the Editor, Alexander Schmidt. In February 2007 Referee A conveyed his strong approval of the changes, while suggesting a reduction in length. In his covering letter, however, the Editor expressed his s reservations about the manner in which my language “condoned” the activities of the LTTE.

I was puzzled since I had referred to the LTTE as “ruthless” and had, elsewhere, in other articles, noted their killing work. I could only presume that this comment referred to my explicit conceptualization: “My concept of ‘sacrificial devotion’ is a considered label, one that attends to the inspirations promoting the commitment of Sri Lanka Tamils. It is deployed here as counterpoint to the pejorative terms, ‘suicide terrorism’ and ‘suicide bombers’.” When I asked for clarification Schmidt sent me two reports: a second one from Referee B who now adopted a critical stance and another review from a third Referee C protesting at the manner in which I spoke about the LTTE (that is, did not explicitly condemn them).

This was, to me, a shifting of the goalposts and a form of censorship –totally unprofessional. I was in Switzerland at this point and after consulting Brendan O’Duffy and other academic friends I withdrew the article from TPV. In a way this was blessing in disguise: the article has in fact been lengthened and its online presentation enables the inclusion of photographs, many in colour and thus quite graphic. Readers may also be interested in the recent article “A critique of Robert Pape’s Dying To Win,” by David Cook in the Journal of Strategic Studies, Volume 30, Issue 2 April 2007, pp. 243-254.

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