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Roots of Terrorism
November 9, 2004 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Poverty, Political Freedom and the Roots of Terrorism [pdf]. "In the past, we heard people refer to the strong link between terrorism and poverty, but in fact when you look at the data, it's not there," says Alberto Abadie, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
posted by gyc (8 comments total)

yeah, it's all over the right-wing blogs today, as vindication of the "let's civilize the savages with our freedom-loving bombs" neocon theory.

it is indeed true that the Mohammed Attas of the world -- and America better hope there are very few Atta wannabe's out there -- are not the direct product of poverty/ignorance. nor, say, is rich-kid turned God's warrior Osama Bin Laden.

in the abstracts you linked there's very little talk of the main problem here -- a political problem of methodology. is the strategy of ramming "democracy" down Arab's throats (or up Arabs' asses, if we consider Abu Ghraib) a good thing, in the long run, for what should be the Western citizen's main interest, ie not having a hijacked plane fly into one's office building or one's commuter train blow up?

is the Arab world buying the Messianic role of democracy-spreading America, in what her commander-in-chief called more than once "a crusade"?

also, I'm eagerly waiting for a study to examine the link between terrorism and having, say, one's Satanic ass blown off by America's liberating bombs, or one's kids or wife or sister raped by the Americans at Abu Ghraib.
we'll see.

posted by matteo at 9:14 AM on November 9, 2004

The Terrorism to Come

the best analysis i've read yet. from the f'ing hoover institute.

there can be no victory, only an uphill struggle, at times successful, at others not.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:28 AM on November 9, 2004

If you're looking at poverty per se, you're not only looking at the wrong thing -- you didn't pay attention in high school history class. And you don't pay attention to the world around you.

When I took history in Jr. High and HS in the '70s, it was regarded as a commonplace that countries in the throes of rapid transition -- particularly ones where the standard of living was increasing from a very low level for the first time -- were more prone to revolution. Russia before the revolution was the poster-child. You can sit in your armchair and see echoes of this in "popular" revolutions all around the world. Extend your mind a little more, and you see that it's not increase in wealth, per se, but rather instability in the social order; we (being capitalists, and thus capital-centric in our worldview) see that in economic terms.

Which is to say that I don't have any understanding of how this would support a "right wing" position. Just read the goddamn abstract: Countries "in transition" (like Iraq) are more prone to terrorisim than countries (like Iraq, pre-war) with authoritarian regimes. (Duh.) Ergo, we were liable to increase the amount of terrorism by invading Iraq and deposing Saddam. (Duh.)

Similarly, by the evidence presented here, as we decrease civil liberties in America, we can expect an increase in domestic terrorism.
posted by lodurr at 9:42 AM on November 9, 2004

Oh, and BTW: As far as I can tell or recall, the "terrorism is caused by poverty" "meme" is a complete straw man. As I sit here and think about it, I can't think of ever having heard it more than a few times. And I don't recall ever reading anyone who's taken seriously by a lot of people treat poverty as a primary cause of terrorism.

Yes, people talk about poverty and terrorism at the same time -- e.g., w.r.t. the rise of Hamas. But to focus on the "poverty" aspect of those discourses is to completely miss their main point: It's not money that's lacking, it's hope. Poverty of hope -- or rather, making people come to an understanding that they are not supposed to have hope -- is the surest way to breed terror. That's what was done in Gaza: Generations (it's plural by now) have been trained not to not have hope -- but to the idea that the Israelis don't want them to have hope. That's the key.
posted by lodurr at 9:48 AM on November 9, 2004

I don't have any understanding of how this would support a "right wing" position.

it doesn't. but if I were a supporter of Iraq Attaq, at this point, I'd be desperate to find anything to support at least parts of the ever-shifting Bush doctrine, too.
"regime change", no, "remove wmd's", hmmm, no, "mushroom cloud". er, no again, "let's spread democracy". if you read InstaCracker et al, they're spinning this to try to vindicate the neocon position. good luck.

of course if the study is right, as you point out, America is massively less safe after Satan-Saddam's removal. and the Patriot Act made her even less safe. if the study is right. but the Bushites aren't really consistent. they're happy to gloat and cry "sore loser". Iraq is under martial law, Iraq burns, but it doesn't matter, they only care about Bush's (51-49) win.
posted by matteo at 9:57 AM on November 9, 2004

It's true that extremist political views are common among the well-educated bourgeoisie of the Middle East. But it's dangerous to use this as the basis for analysis or strategy, because this is just one side of a paradox — the same demographic knows and loves American culture (especially movies) the best, and their desire to have an open and vibrant society also runs deep. It's easy to understand this unhealthy mix: the people who (if their societies and economies were less unfree) are the readiest to break out and Westernize their countries are the same ones who are most discouraged by seeing those aspirations hamstrung (by corruption, cronyism, isolation, etc.). When educated Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Jordanians look wistfully at Iran's revolution, I think it's the popular element that moves them most. The desire to "Islamicize" their own country's life & laws is shallower — but it seems obvious (especially when ruled by nasty regimes opposed by radical Islamic movements), and it's in danger of crystallizing, which should concern us gravely.

This is why a real hearts and minds campaign could be very effective. What if we tried engagement, in the cause of political and economic reforms? What if we used our muscle to bring about the inevitable two-state solution between Israel and Palestine? The educated classes of the Middle East are also the ones whose consciousness of the West's past colonial exploitation of the region runs deepest & rawest. In the eyes of some very honor-obsessed people, the West has shown its bad faith repeatedly, and progress in peace negotiations would do more to repair that than anything else.

There are a lot of people out there who support Hamas, etc., but are by nature very uncomfortable with the radical Islamists. Without a broken economy and the plight of the Palestinians on their TV's, they won't resign themselves to a devil's bargain.
posted by Zurishaddai at 10:17 AM on November 9, 2004

... a real hearts and minds campaign ....

Sorry, but Americans don't understand anything except the "win", and there's no "win", there -- at least, not one that can be conceptualized as someone else losing.
posted by lodurr at 10:28 AM on November 9, 2004

There may not be a link between extremists and poverty - but a link between extremists and the lack of state-provided public goods is well documented.
posted by ruelle at 4:36 AM on November 10, 2004

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