Terrorism–Causes and Cures
Emotions and beliefs seem to be at the root of terrorism. Emotions: Frustration, anger, jealousy, fear, revenge. Beliefs: Radical differences of religious beliefs, beliefs that developed foreign powers should not be imposing their political and economic systems on underdeveloped countries; beliefs that the rhetoric and the behavior of western powers do not align; beliefs that certain countries discriminate against certain types of people; beliefs that certain developed countries are arrogant and that their systems really do not command respect in terms of how people are treated, the effectiveness of their political systems, and the outcomes for the underprivileged.
I’m told there has been terrorism since the beginning of mankind, but I certainly wasn’t aware of it, growing up in a small town in North Carolina. I didn’t really pay much attention to it until 9/11. Since then we have seen a steady escalation, with ISIS as the latest manifestation, and a particularly dangerous and troublesome one it is. For the purposes of what I want to say here, there isn’t much distinction between terrorism and war. Excluding wars that appeared to be entirely justified (such as the two World Wars), many of the other wars the world has experienced since WWII have questions of justification. Were we justified to fight in Vietnam? In Iraq? In Afghanistan? In Syria? Could those wars be seen by the citizens of those countries as forms of terrorism brought by developed countries? Whether or not we agree, it seems undeniably true from the local viewpoint. To a large segment of the populations of those countries, we (the US and allied western powers) were apparently seen as intruding. And doing so with great loss of life to both local combatants and also to civilians.
The main “solution” we seem to be pursuing in regard to growing terrorism around the world is to combat it with force. We use vast amounts of intelligence. special forces, drones, etc., to hunt down the perpetrators and kill them. Large organized terrorist groups like Boko Haram or Isis get air power, artillery, and infantry. Force against force. Is that working? Doesn’t seem to be, considering that terrorism is increasing. What can be done? Conservatives say more force, until we thoroughly extinguish the opponents. While force is undeniably necessary to protect, considering the danger to the innocent, it doesn’t address the root causes–mentioned above. If the terrorists feel aggrieved, somehow denied, discriminated against, we need to address these issues. Is it true that somehow our systems (in the US, the UK, France, and elsewhere) discriminate against young men of color? It appears so. How else can one explain the employment rates for young black men in the US vs young white men? I do not believe it is because young men of color do not want to work, lack motivation.
Something is wrong with the “system.” It’s not that such discrimination is legal or condoned by authority. But, it is there, underground, insidious, pervasive. If young men of color don’t get a decent education and don’t find jobs, if they feel trapped in a life of poverty, if they are don’t find their religion and dress accepted, they become vulnerable to jihadist recruiters who persuade them that all of this is the fault of the foreign powers. It’s not their fault that they are stuck in poverty–it’s the foreigner’s fault. It’s the fault of the “infidels” and their governments. And since civilians are being killed by airstrikes in their countries of origin, they may feel justified to kill innocent civilians participating in a marathon in Boston. And now, it appears young women are also drawn to the terrorist cause.
Personally, I don’t find this hard to believe. I don’t find it hard to understand. Not hard to believe that an unintended discrimination exists. Not hard to understand how we are held responsible. After all, we have jobs, cars, money, things. They don’t. And they don’t feel they have a chance to have those things.
Some Conservatives argue that there is vast opportunity. They always can find a small number of underprivileged men of color who have broken out and done well. They read this to mean that everyone can, and thus the lack of opportunity is not the problem. I argue we need to augment our use of force with our use of help. Help with educational opportunity, help with job training, help with counseling and mentoring, help with promoting inter-religious education and tolerance throughout our wealthier classes in our wealthier countries.
The other thing for us to focus on is our own system. Consider the US– does our nation of today really exemplify effective and fair political process (note the weight of money in our system)? Does it really offer opportunity to all–equal opportunity? Do we treat our underprivileged fairly? Does the homelessness on our streets and the populations in our prisons reflect the kinds of values we extol? Are we fair in our dealings with lesser developed nations in our trade and global economic policies? Why has our gini index of inequality now risen to where it was in the robber baron era, early in the 20th century? We are failing in all of these. We don’t look very attractive now, to even the uneducated foreign observer. And yet, we continue to not only promote our system as the one and only system, but we also to try to force it upon others (e.g., China).
A broader sets of expanded policies permitting more immigration from lesser developed to more developed countries would enable reduced global inequality and more global opportunity, but the US and other developed nations of the world are tending to a more nationalist stance. Political parties opposing immigration are gaining strength–in England, in Germany, and in the US.
Of course, there are other issues involved in terrorism–issues such as religious sectarianism, as with some elements of the Shia and Sunni populations in the Middle East. But I argue we have unintentionally caused a lot of it with our arrogance, our intervention in other countries’ issues, our imposition of our values on others, and the failures to exemplify the ideals we try to sell abroad. Force alone only leads to revenge and then to more force. The ISIS fighters are a very young bunch, and they’re going to be around a long time. It is high time that we set about to work on the underpinnings of the problem.