Sunday, January 21, 2007

Lind and Bergen

An excellent piece, via NewAmerica, on pride and humiliation as cause to terrorism.

Lind and Bergen quote politicians and thinkers from both right and left (incl'd the President) that poverty is the root cause of terrorism.

Contrary to that thesis, they assert:

But it is a mistake to treat human beings as profit-maximizing rationalists who can be persuaded to put aside their differences in order to collaborate on a common project of promoting global prosperity. Individuals and communities often have incompatible secular or religious visions of the good society. And, for better or worse, human beings are social animals, deeply concerned about rank and status, both as individuals and as members of communities. Ambition and humiliation, personal and collective, inspire more political conflict than economic deprivation. In short, if our goal is to understand the conditions that give terrorist movements popular appeal and to understand how virulent ideologies spread from madmen and isolated sects to mass movements, our emphasis must be on subjective perceptions of national, religious, and ethnic humiliation, rather than on the humiliation, genuine as it may be, which is associated with poverty.
Terrorists are often from the educated classes.

Looking more broadly, consider the work of former CIA case officer -- and now forensic psychiatrist-Marc Sageman. After studying the backgrounds of 172 al Qaeda members and associates for his 2004 book Understanding Terror Networks, he concluded that this was not a group of feckless, unemployed no-hopers. In his sample of jihadist terrorists, two-thirds had gone to college; they were generally professionals; their average age was 26; three-fourths were married; and many had children.
Rather than poverty what is the cause? Their answer: humiliation.

The central role of communal humiliation in inspiring terrorism is the key finding of University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape’s study of suicide bombers, Dying to Win. According to Pape, two factors have linked Tamil, Palestinian, Chechen, and al Qaeda suicide bombers. First, they are members of communities that feel humiliated by genuine or perceived occupation (like the perceived occupation of the sacred territory of Saudi Arabia by virtue of the presence of U.S. bases, in the eyes of bin Laden and his allies). Second, suicide bombers seek to change the policies of democratic occupying powers like Israel and the United States by influencing their public opinion -- in a sense making the occupying power suffer the same level of humiliation they have felt.
What then to do?

The first priority, therefore, of an anti-radical strategy must be defending the people, territories, and interests of the United States and other targeted regimes against terrorist attacks...While bin Laden and his allies must simply be defeated, their appeal to potential new recruits can be limited by policies that reduce feelings of collective humiliation in the Arab and Muslim worlds...In addition, major Muslim nations that are sources of jihadist recruits must change too. If there were more open societies in the Muslim world, there might be more political space for Islamists who reject terrorism when out of power and who, if they gained power, would abide by the norms of the international system. This would likely reduce the appeal of al Qaeda as an alternative to conventional political participation.
Then the conclusion:

Reducing poverty in the Middle East and around the world is a laudable goal in itself, for humanitarian reasons. But it would be a mistake to treat prosperity as a universal solvent that can deprive jihadists like bin Laden of allies and sympathizers in populations that feel humiliated by foreign domination or frozen out of politics. Ultimately, both foreign occupation and domestic autocracy are political problems that must find political, not economic, solutions. The campaign against jihadism and the campaign against global poverty are both justified. But they are not the same war.


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