There is no reason for terrorism

There is no reason for terrorism
: Oh, I love this. Professors Alan B. Krueger and Jitka Maleckov

  • growler

    Pick up the June issue of The Atlantic. The cover story — “The Logic of Suicide Terrorism” — is not online.
    In it, the author writes: “And contrary to popular belief, the bombers are not drawn from the ranks of the poor but have included two sons of millionaires…Israeli journalist Ronnni Shaked, an expert on the Palestinian terroist group Hamas [told me] ‘All leader of Hamas…are university graduates, some with master’s degrees. This is a movement not of poor, miserable people but of highly educated people who are using (the image of) poverty to make the movement more powerful.'”

  • martin orangerie

    it is curious the root cause crowd doesn’t look at religious fanaticism as a likely wellspring of terrorism

  • I’ve heard this before. Nice to see that the truth about the terrorism in the world will be exposed for what it is: a thought out and culturally supported gorilla war against western civilization. If further study is done, do you believe that the major source of support for this war is not so much because of Islam, but because of class? As in those who have the money?

  • Catherine

    In class one day, I was chastised as one often is for questioning a professor’s assertion. My geography professor, while covering the Middle East region, said that terrorism and fundamentalism springs from poverty. Those who are poor are drawn more to religion. If it were not for 9/11 happening a month before, I probably would have swallowed it. That has been the conventional wisdom, especially when it concerns the Palestinians. However, a light bulb went on and I said, “Wait a minute, if that is true, why did the guys who flew the plane into the towers come from wealthy, European-educated backgrounds?” He became angry and said, “Not all fundamentalists are terrorists, Catherine!” and proceeded to ignore my question or start a discussion. *sigh*
    Thanks for posting the article.

  • balbulican

    You invite readers to “judge the Iraq strategy” in light of the fact that the majority of Sept. 11th attackers came from Saudi Arabia and none came from Iraq? Okay, I’m judging…

  • robrooy

    If by “George Bush” you mean the current, not past, president of the United States, you are wrong. At a recent joint press conference with Philippines Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Bush countered Macapagal’s assertion that poverty was the “root cause” of terrorism. On what basis do you make your claim?

  • Tallguy

    I like your post, but aren’t you being a little inconsistent.
    You say:
    So all this blather about the poor, downtrodden terrorists, all the crap-think asking “why do they hate us?” is irrelevant. It’s worse than irrelevant: It’s offensive; it’s enabling; it’s making excuses for evil deeds and the devils who do them. There is no reason for terrorism.
    and then proceed to try and explain it by saying the root cause is probably tyranny.

  • Captain_Overkill

    Tailguy, Jeff’s not being inconsistent at all. An effective tyranny can exercise a great deal of “thought control” over the population. Thus, the tyrant can use the old but effective “big lie” tactic and fill the hearts of his opponents with hate. The most dramatic example of this is the “occupied territories” in Israel.

  • Tallgy

    I am happy to accept tyrrany is the root cause of terrorism. It seems reasonable, and according to this article, it might be supported by the facts. I don’t disagree with you or Jeff Jarvis there.
    Howver, in the the beginning of the post, Jeff claimed that looking for explanations for terrorism was “enabling.” This follows the line of thinking that terrorism is evil, perpetrated by evil-doers, and no more needs to be said.
    Personally, I think it is important to understand the root cause of terrorism (and just about everything else) and I disagree that looking for root causes is “enabling.” I just wanted to point out that the post is inconsistent by saying it is “enabling” and “irrelevant” to look for root causes and then follow that with an argument of which root cause is the best fit.

  • AST

    Maybe the root cause is too much education, or privilege. Those seem to be common to the 9/11 bombers. My view is that it has more to do with pride, although that too is frequently associated with privilege and education.

  • Chrees

    In fact, the support for attacks against Israeli targets is higher among those with more than a secondary-school education than among those with only an elementary-school education, and the support is considerably lower among those who are illiterate. The study showed also that support for attacks against Israeli targets is particularly strong among students, merchants, and professionals. Notably, the unemployed are somewhat less likely to support such attacks.
    Hmmmm… actually I’m comparing these findings to the U.S. and a generalization about the “blame America first” crowd. Something about red vs. blue states? Very interesting…

  • lindenen

    This theory doesn’t take into account America’s home grown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph. It seems more likely that fundamentalist religion/ideology combined with the belief in the existence of a tyranny, real or otherwise (we’re not actually going to say Israel really is a tyrant and America took away McVeigh’s civil rights because it’s bs.) Let’s not forget that all terrorists are members of mass pathological movements like with Nazism and communism.

  • lindenen

    It becomes even more interesting when you take into account the goal of many of these movements: the end of civil rights, the end of the separation of church and state in the religiously motivated ones and the church as state (belief in the State as The one authority) in the “secular” movements.

  • linden
  • button

    Anyone still remember the Rajneesh Cult? They tried to take over a town in the Midwest or West. And they tried to conduct germ warfare against the residents of the town with salmonella. They were well-educated and affluent. Many of the people who join these cults seem to be better educated than average and with more discretionary income. And if you look at Mo Atta and many of these guys, it looks similar. Also that Japonese cult that tried to sarin gas people in the subway– same thing.

  • Theresa

    So basically, we are talking about a bunch of rich kids with too much time on their hands? Perhaps the need to kill others is manifested in their upscale homes because daddy doesn’t spend enough time with them? What the hell ever. They are murders, who have perfected the “art” of same by using themselves as the actual weapon. They are not “freedom fighters” as they love to portray themselves, just thugs and murderers who do not deserve anything other than death or incarceration. Governments who support these scum, either through silence or direct support, deserve the same punishment they do. Why do the hate us? As better question would be why do we tolerate them and their state sponsors?

  • balbulican

    I’m not sure the common thread is “tyranny”. It would be stretching things to say that the British government is “tyrannical” in Ireland, but the IRA wrote the book on modern terrorism.
    Is it not more accurate to say that terrorism is the form of warfare practiced by groups with political aims but without access to the war-making tools of a state? It’s difficult to say whether Apartheid would have collapsed without the terrorism practiced by the ANC, or the Northern Ireland peace accord would have been signed without the terrorism practiced by the IRA. These folks may, in fact, be thugs, and they are, by definition, murderers: but they are acting for a reason.

  • murray

    I’m surprised that no-one here has mentioned Paul Berman’s new book, Terror and Liberalism. It’s the best explication of Islamist thought I’ve seen so far. And it’s short!
    Berman makes a powerful case that the Islamist war against the West is another battle in the 90-year struggle against liberalism (free speech, political liberty, open markets, etc.), which he traces back to the disappointment that accompanied WWI. Although the enemies of liberalism have manifested themselves in a variety of ways–Communism and Fascism are the most familiar–Berman argues that they all have critical features in common: “a people of God, whose peaceful and wholesome life had been undermined” by powerful outside forces and insidious inside treachery; a “cleansing” of the wicked by the forces of Good, led by a Superman wielding the “force of History”; all leading to a “purified, unchanging, eternal” society. These movements often begin with legitimate grievances (oppression of the worker, the Versailles Treaty, colonialism), but quickly spin off into bloody madness.
    Berman argues, implicitly, that the (very Western, liberal) search for root causes is itself mistaken, because it assumes that peoples’ behaviours are always rational responses to circumstances; thus, if young Palestinians are blowing themselves up to murder indiscriminately, it must be because their circumstances have driven them to it. People in liberal societies find it hard to accept that entire cultures can fall prey to insane ideologies, and end up worshipping death for its own sake, even after the ample lessons of the 20th century.
    Berman traces Islamist thought back to the early 20th century, and shows how it adopted elements of communist and fascist thought along the way. He quotes the Islamists who say, in effect, that they hate us for what we are, rather than what we’ve done. Open, liberal societies accept that things will constantly be changing, we gently push God into a corner where people can worship him (or not) as they choose, we devise solutions based on what works rather than according to a transcendent text, and we take nothing as unquestionable. That’s why they hate us.
    So if Berman is right, the authors of this study may have gotten it backwards. Tyrannies often give and comfort to terrorist movements for a variety of reasons, including the quelling of internal dissent, as in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Maybe terrorism causes (or enables) tyranny? Just a (half-serious) thought.
    Read Berman! He explains it better!

  • I agree with the notion that terrorism does not spring from poverty, but I must also say that tyranny isn’t a particularly convincing reason either.
    To see what I’m getting at, consider that the majority of the world’s poorest people live in two regions of the world, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. India, at least, is a democracy, but most African countries are at best “democracies” in name only. Nevertheless, when has anyone ever heard of a terrorist from Sub-Saharan Africa?
    Then there is the Pew survey of worldwide opinion to consider – one of the few countries in which muslims have a favorable opinion of the United States, and that to the same degree as their christian co-citizens, is a poor African country, namely Nigeria (approx. 66% favorable, if I recall correctly). Nigerian democracy is shaky at best, muslims and christians have deadly clashes almost daily, and yet there is still more goodwill there towards the U.S. than in all Western countries other than Britain and Israel. How can any of this be explained by poverty or terrorism?
    Jeff, since you come from a liberal background, I realise that you’d like to think the best of another people, even if said people would love to do you and your fellow citizens in, but I’m afraid the facts lead elsewhere – the root cause of terrorism is culture, in particular middle eastern culture; the truth is that middle eastern terrorism predates the rise of political Islam to prominence – just think of the 1929 riots inspired by Hajj Amin al-Husseini, or Black September at the Munich Olympics. Even where non-middle-eastern peoples are engaged in terrorism today, there is prominent middle-eastern (usually Arab) involvement, from the agitating right through to the implementation.

  • balbulican

    “Nevertheless, when has anyone ever heard of a terrorist from Sub-Saharan Africa?” Ummm…the ANC? How would you characterize their actions during Apartheid?
    “the root cause of terrorism is culture, in particular middle eastern culture” Ummm…the IRA? Shining Path? The FLQ? Shall I go on?
    As I said above, terrorism is warfare practiced by groups with political aims but without access to the war-making tools of a state.

  • linden

    murray, if you’ve read Berman, you’ll also know that he attributes the Middle Eastern terrorists ideology to a mass pathological movement like Nazism and communism.

  • linden

    Middle Eastern culture does not cause terrorism. How do you explain the other terrorist groups in China, South America, Mexico, Ireland, Chechnya, etc. etc.

  • “Ummm…the ANC? How would you characterize their actions during Apartheid?”
    Only an extreme right-wingnut would characterize the ANC as being anything like any of the numerous Arab terrorist organizations in existence. Name one incident in which the ANC intentionally targeted and killed large numbers of white civilians. Go ahead, I’m waiting …
    “Ummm…the IRA? Shining Path? The FLQ? Shall I go on?”
    The IRA took care during its’ campaign to avoid mass civilian casualties, especially in the later part of the 1980s. They usually called the police ahead of time to let them know where a device had been planted. Sinn Fein are a lot of things, but they were smart enough to know that killing lots of civilians wouldn’t help their cause?
    “As I said above, terrorism is warfare practiced by groups with political aims but without access to the war-making tools of a state.”
    I don’t buy that argument. I think its’ a sorry excuse for murdering civilians. It is one thing for irregulars to attack the soldiers of an occupying or oppressing power, and quite another to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, or to walk into nightclubs strapped with explosives and massacre scores of teenagers.
    Let’s face it – when it comes to suicide terrorism, and to the intentional targeting of civilians with the aim in mind of killing as many of them as possible, Arabs pretty much have a monopoly.

  • balbulican

    Abiola, just for clarification, I’m one of the resident lefties, not one of the right-wingers. My point is that any definition of “terrorist” you can propose will include the IRA, Shining Path, the Front Du Liberation de Quebec, ANC, and other non-Arab organizations. Give it a try.
    “Name one incident in which the ANC intentionally targeted and killed large numbers of white civilians.” So “terrorism”, in your lexicon, requires that the victims be “white”?
    I suggest to you that bombs placed in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Derry, Belfast and hundreds of other pubs and subways (not to mention the torture and murder of suspected informants) is terrorism. It’s nice that sometimes they informed the police first. It’s nice that sometimes fewer people died than might otherwise have been the case. But it’s terrorism, and it’s murder.
    “I don’t buy that argument. I think its’ a sorry excuse for murdering civilians. It is one thing for irregulars to attack the soldiers of an occupying or oppressing power, and quite another to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, or to walk into nightclubs strapped with explosives and massacre scores of teenagers.”
    I fail to see the distinction between blowing up a Manchester pub with a car bomb and blowing up an Israeli disco with dynamite. “Irregulars”? Does that mean “civilians not part of the state’s armed forces who attack other civilians for political ends”? And the distinction between that and a “terrorist” would be…?

  • “I fail to see the distinction between blowing up a Manchester pub with a car bomb and blowing up an Israeli disco with dynamite.”
    How’s about this – one’s been alerted to the police to enable the evacuation of the premises, while the other regards it as a success to maximize the number of people killed.
    You can choose to bracket both actions under the rubric of “terrorism” if you wish, but there’s clearly a difference in quality between them, and it most certainly stems from cultural differnces.
    Sinn Fein may not value British lives any more than Hamas does those of Israelis, but it knows that its’ sympathizers in Ireland and the USA don’t want to be associated with mass murderers. What is more, the more people it kills, the less likely the British will ever agree to a political settelement. As such, it isn’t in Sinn Fein’s interest to kill British citizens indiscriminately.
    With Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Al-Qaeda and literally dozens of other Arab terrorit organizations, by contrast, no life, not even that of the terrorist, is held inviolable, and not even for political purposes. The more men, women and children killed, the better, and there is no point in holding back from the worst extremes as there is no intention of negotiating anything in any case. When have you ever heard the IRA calling for the extermination of all protestants, in the manner that these Arab organizations routinely chant “Death to Israel!”
    To think these sorts of murderous outfits anything along the same lines as the IRA (whom I dislike intensely, having lived through my share of bomb scares in London) or the ANC is akin to calling both a 2,000 dumb bomb and a 10-megaton warhead “explosive devices”: sure they are, but the quantitative difference between is such that it takes on a qualitative character of its’ own.
    There is no way of explaining the prevalence of suicide terrorism in the middle east, unlike anywhere else in the world, with the exception of Imperial Japan, other than by reference to culture. We must assume that Arabs are like the rest of us, born with an innate instinct for self-preservation which cannot be overcome other than by massive exertions, usually from the outside. If Arab culture did not celebrate suicide bombers as “martyrs”, if Al-Jazeerah and the rest of the Arab press did not glorify their deeds, if influential Arabs like the former Saudi Ambassador to Britain did not celebrate their actions as the noblest form of self-sacrifice, young men and women with their whole lives ahead of them would not be volunteering to strap on suicide belts to go kill toddlers and pregnant women. It takes the support of an entire culture enable such aberrant behavior, and that is the culture that reigns in the middle east today.

  • murray

    Yes, I mentioned fascism and communism as ideological brethren to Islamism in my original post. Berman’s point, though–and I think it’s a good one, for explanatory purposes–is that all these movements are reactions to and rejections of liberal societies. What follows from this, I guess, is that liberalism will always have to deal with (and ultimately defeat) extreme rejectionist movements, at least until the whole world is made up of open societies. And I’m not holding my breath for that.

  • balbulican

    Abiola, your point seems to be that Arabs practice suicide terrorism, as opposed to plain or garden variety terrorism. If that distinction matters to you…well, whatever. So do the Japanese and Sri Lankan Tamils.
    The victims of the Enniskillen bombing (no phone call, no warning) are just as dead as the victims in Tel Aviv’s Dolphin Disco.

  • John Irving

    I have to agree with balbulican here. Terrorism is terrorism, no matter where it originates.

  • CS Lewis wrote that, contrary to popular opinion, it’s the educated people who are most subject to propaganda…that the uneducated people assume most of what’s in the newspaper is lies anyhow, and just turn to the sports section. He was speaking about British people, but maybe the same principle applies here.
    Indeed, I wonder how much of the current wave of terrorism is due to leaders who attended American and European universities and in these places became familiar with trendy theories that justify violence…

  • balbulican

    I don’t think “seek to understand the causes of” is quite synonymous with “justify”.