Tuesday, December 07, 2004

"Root causes" make a comeback 

Tony Blair and Pervez Musharraf agree on the need to root out the root causes:

"The leaders of Britain and Pakistan agreed that the world could not defeat terrorism by force alone, and that it must move quickly to remove its 'root causes' such as poverty and political grievances...

"Though Musharraf backed 'fighting terrorism head-on militarily,' he said there needed to be a 'strategic long-term' approach that included the resolution of political disputes and ending poverty and illiteracy. 'I'm very sure that the situation in the world now is ripe for resolution of these political disputes,' he said."
By all means, resolve the political disputes such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the Kashmiri question, because it makes good sense to finally resolve these issues, even if just for the sake of the long-suffering people who have to live there, if not for the sake of world stability and peace or the assuage our Western consciences. But it will not solve the problem of Islamist terrorism, whose vision is total and all-encompassing and therefore not in danger of ever running out fresh specific grievances once the old ones disappear.

The Islamist rage is supported by the twin pillars of deep-seated resentment and totalitarian vision. There is the general sense of shame and humiliation that an once powerful Islamic world is now dominated by the infidels, politically, militarily, economically, and culturally. The second and connected issue is the desire to re-create a theocratic Caliphate that will first encompass and subsequently expand the Islamic world. The West has to be fought because its vision is totally incompatible with the Islamist one - in this context the Great Satan essentially means the Great Seducer, and thus ultimately a spiritual threat. Its democracy, liberalism, and materialism will always lead good people astray from the one true path; hence for the fundamentalist Umma to survive and thrive the temptation has to be permanently eliminated - either by the annihilation or, preferably, the ultimate conversion of the infidel world.

The question of poverty and illiteracy as root causes of terrorism is a red herring. Haitians don't fly planes into American skyscrapers, they sail on leaky boats so that their children can one day work in them; Namibians don't strap themselves with explosives and detonate in restaurants or embassies. The jihadi elite, like every revolutionary vanguard, is drawn from among the better educated and the more materially comfortable sections of the Islamic society. Sadly, in many cases it's the schools and universities that are the breeding grounds of Islamist terrorism, not dirt-poor mountain villages.

So when leaders like Blair and Musharaff talk about eliminating root causes of terrorism, what they really should mean is eliminating root causes for some of the support that terrorism enjoys. It is certainly an arguable proposition that resolving some of the long-running political disputes might lower the temperature of the Islamic world; it is just as certainly not true that it will eliminate terrorism.

Terrorism will be with us for a long time to come - certainly for as long as men keep entertaining their totalitarian visions while at the same time enyoying limited support for and equally limited means of implementing them.


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