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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

Verschiedenes in Deutsch

Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

by Michael Radu

April 23, 2002

Michael Radu, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign
Policy Research Institute, where he directs its Center on
Terrorism and Political Violence. See his previous E-Note
"The Problem of Londonistan: Europe, Human Rights, and
Terrorists" at


by Michael Radu

Socioeconomic grievances, or so some assert, explain (though
they do not justify) terrorism in general and Islamic
terrorism in particular -- the factors Al Gore famously
called this February "another axis of evil in the world:
poverty and ignorance; disease and environmental disorder;
corruption and political oppression," all of which lead to
terrorism. But do they?

It is hubris to attempt to explain terrorism in general, let
alone in its many different forms across time and place. The
following observations are therefore intended only to
refocus the debate, not to "explain" terrorism.

The desire to identify "root causes" and so be able to
correct them is natural. Root causes "have" to be there -
at least in the American mind. There must be an explanation
for the inexplicable: why a teenaged Palestinian girl would
blow herself up in an attempt to kill as many Jews as
possible, or privileged young men of the Arab world plot to
kill themselves while murdering thousands of American
civilians. But much as the frequently asked question this
fall, "Why do they hate us?" had flawed premises and yielded
flawed answers, framing the question as "What are the root
causes of terrorism?" leads too easily to looking at the
usual suspects: "poverty," "injustice," "exploitation," and
"frustration." Like the man in the parable who looks for his
lost keys under the streetlight instead of where he lost
them because "the lights better," its easier to look in
these familiar areas than to face and address the real

Those who hold to "poverty as the root cause" do so even
though the data does not fit their model. Even leaving aside
multimillionaire Osama bin Laden, the backgrounds of the
September 11 killers indicates that they were without
exception scions of privilege: all were either affluent
Saudis and Egyptians, citizens of the wealthy Gulf
statelets, or rich sons of Lebanon, trained in and familiar
with the ways of the West -- not exactly the victims of
poverty in Muslim dictatorships. Many poor Egyptians,
Moroccans, and Palestinians may support terrorists, but they
do not -- and cannot -- provide them with recruits. In fact,
Al Qaeda has no use for illiterate peasants. They cannot
participate in World Trade Center-like attacks, unable as
they are to make themselves inconspicuous in the West and
lacking the education and training terrorist operatives

Indeed, ever since the Russian intellectuals "invented"
modern terrorism in the 19th century, revolutionary violence
-- terrorism is just one form of it -- has been a virtual
monopoly of the relatively privileged. Terrorists have been
middle class, often upper class, and always educated, but
never poor. The South American Tupamaros and Montoneros of
the 1970s were all middle class, starting as cafe Jacobins
and graduating into urban terrorism, as were their followers
among the German Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red
Brigades, Frances Action Directe, the Sandinista leadership
in Nicaragua and, before it, Fidel Castros Cuban
revolutionaries. Considering the composition of many of the
antiglobalist groups today, it is a safe bet that middle
class, prosperous, and self-righteous as they are, they will
soon provide the recruits of a new wave of terrorism in the
West -- as we may already be seeing in the revival of
Italys Red Brigades.

To say that economic conditions are not the root cause of
terrorism is not to say that the there are no conditions
that correlate strongly to political violence and terrorism.
There are phenomena we should be concerned about in this
regard, it is just that they are far less obvious than
poverty and much more complex to address.

Environmentalist extremists, their animal rights friends,
anti-international corporation militants, anti-genetically
modified plants fanatics a la Jose Bove -- the worlds best
known vandal -- none of them poor or underprivileged, have
already demonstrated a propensity for violence and should be
expected to do so in more deadly and organized manners in
the future.

That is where the Osamas of the world meet the Western
rejectionists of what the West is all about: rationality,
individual as opposed to collective rights and interests,
secularism, and capitalism. True enough, there is little
common ideological ground among French Trotskyite Arlette
Laguiller (who, with colleagues, has reached 10 percent in
the polls in the first round of Frances presidential
elections) and Marxist-cum-separatist groups like the
Turkish PKK, the Basque ETA, the Sri Lankan LTTE, and the
Irish Republican Army. But they share a common enemy. That
enemy is the Western culture of democracy (which is
correctly declared un-Islamic by all ideologues of Islamic
terrorism), capitalism (hated in a very ecumenical way by
Marxists of all stripes and Islamists), and individualism
(opposed by Marxist totalitarians dreaming of Marxs
stateless communist Utopia, as well as by Islamic believers
in a new Caliphate to lead the community of Muslims

But, we are told, the Islamic states are poor and
undemocratic, which justifies rebellion against their
tyrannical rulers. Why is that so, and what can be done
about it by Muslims and others? Perhaps most Muslim
countries are undemocratic because they are Muslim. When
given an electoral choice in 1992 in the first and last
democratic elections in the Arab world, most Algerians
preferred the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) over the secular
(and corrupt) ruling socialist party -- although perfectly
aware that FISs ideology meant not just "one man, one vote"
but "one man, one vote, one time." Which raises a very
uncomfortable question for both conservatives in the U.S.,
who routinely blast the lack of democracy in the Arab world,
and the human rights fundamentalists such as Amnesty
International on the left, who support absolute democracy
and at the same time condemn the Islamist disregard of all
freedoms, as in Iran.

The apologists of Marxism and Islamism also need to answer
another basic question. Did such regimes as, say, Iran,
Afghanistan under the Taliban, or the late regimes in
Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union actually make the life
of ordinary citizens better, or worse? And why would
"democracy" be better in Saudi Arabia morally,
ideologically, and practically, where the chances of an
Islamist getting elected are at least as great as in
Algeria? Does it make sense for the European Union to
condemn Turkey for proscribing (constitutionally, one might
add) Islamist parties? Does Brussels really believe that an
Islamic-governed Turkey is better than the current, secular
Turkey, a NATO ally?

The poor in Muslim states may be the popular base of
terrorist support, but they have neither the money nor the
votes (who votes doesnt count, who counts them does, in
Stalins immortal words) the privileged do. Ultimately,
Islamic terrorism, just as its Marxist or secessionist
version in the West and Latin America was, is a matter of
power -- who has it and how to get it -- not of poverty.
Accepting this as a fundamental aspect of terrorism does not
suggest any immediate solutions, but can direct further
study toward better explanations of terrorism and theories
with some potential predictive value.

You may forward this email as you like provided that you
send it in its entirety and attribute it to the Foreign
Policy Research Institute. If you post it on a mailing
list, please contact FPRI with the name, location, purpose,
and number of recipients of the mailing list.

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