Monday, April 04, 2005

Root causes take a dive - again 

Further to my post yesterday about the Sensitive Old Age Guy Al Zarqawi and the fact that his deprived upbringing makes him an odd one out among the middle-to-upper class boys club that is Al Qaeda, today I read this:

"The typical recruit to al-Qaeda is Western-educated and has a wealthy, professional background, according to a new study.

"The analysis of 500 members of Osama bin Laden's organisation has turned Western experts' presumptions about al-Qa'ida upside down.

"Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist who conducted the study, said he assumed it would find that most recruits were poor and ill-educated. 'The common stereotype is that terrorism is a product of poor, desperate, naive, single young men from Third World countries, vulnerable to brainwashing and recruitment into terror,' he said.

"However, his study showed 75per cent of the al-Qaeda members were from upper-middle-class homes and that many were married with children; 60 were college-educated, often in Europe or the US.

"Some, such as British-born terrorist Omar Sheikh, were educated at fee-paying schools before heading for Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya...

"Dr Sageman said most of the terrorists came from a small number of wealthy Arab countries, from immigrant communities in the West or from Southeast Asia. Few were from poor Islamic countries such as Afghanistan...

"He said most grew up in caring families concerned about their communities. The men in Dr Sageman's sample joined al-Qaeda at an average age of 26. About half grew up as religious children, but only 13 - mostly from Southeast Asia - attended Islamic schools."
Turned Western experts' presumptions upside down? The common stereotype? I mean, honestly! Anyone who has any idea about terrorism, particularly of the Islamofascist variety, has always known that certainly its leadership and many, if not most, of its operatives come from within the social, economic and educational elite of the Muslim (primarily Arab) world. But it says something about the "experts" - obviously the only group of people on this planet who held that "common stereotype" - that their ideological commitment to finding trendy and predictable "root causes" of terrorism has always trumped any actual solid evidence to the contrary. Kudos to Sageman, I guess, that he had the guts to admit that what he initially "assumed" was totally wrong.

The problem is hardly new. Poor people rarely become revolutionaries because they are far too busy trying to survive to engage in political pursuits. Historically, it has always been the relatively well-off and the well educated who constituted a vanguard of any revolutionary and/or terrorist movement, from the French Revolution and 19th century revolutionary socialism to Bolshevism, Red Brigades-style terrorism, and Palestinian terrorism. Proletariat - as opposed to lumpen-proletariat - doesn't even provide all that many good foot soldiers for the revolution - the involvement of working men and women in (mis)adventures such as the French Revolution, the Paris Commune or the Bolshevik Revolution (or Coup d'Etat) was, after all, quite limited. Overthrowing existing order is and has always been an elite pursuit.

Thus the argument about the "root causes" of terrorism and political violence (poverty, etc.) is wishful thinking in a sense that it's not those who have most reasons (as someone could argue) to lash out that so. It is fair to say that outrage at perceived societal injustices among the more "sensitive" of those who don't actually personally experience them can motivate such people to become revolutionaries or terrorists - and thus making poverty indirectly a root cause of violence - but such people with a sincere interest in others are a minority. Most revolutionaries and terrorists are narcissist for whom "the people" are merely an excuse and a prop in an never-ending drama of self-actualization.

In case of Islamofascists, the "root causes" argument (poverty = terrorism) is further complicated by the fact that eradication of poverty simply is nowhere to be found on the list of Al Qaeda's aims. Quite the opposite, since the objective is the restoration of the Muslim world to the golden age of the 8th century purity, in Bin Laden's book poverty is a virtue, at least in the sense it denotes the absence of the Western-style materialism, consumerism and individualism.

The terrorists' objectives are political and religious, not socio-economic. Ending - or reducing - poverty is a laudable pursuit in itself, but it will do little to end Islamofascist violence. Terrorism doesn't prosper in two types of societies: those most autocratic and those most free. In the former, because it is violently suppressed by the full force of the state; in the latter, because most people have a stake in preserving the existing social order. The beautiful thing about the "democratic revolution" in the Middle East and elsewhere is that it aims to expand that stake from a minority to a majority of the people.


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