The Causes of Terror
There are (at least) three kinds of causes of radical Islamic terrorism:
i. Worldview: The Religious Rationale
ii. Social and Political Conditions: Cultures of Despair
iii. Means: The Enabling Conditions
The Bush administration has discussed only the third: The means that enable attacks to be carried out. These include: leadership (e.g., bin Laden), host countries, training facilities and bases, financial backing, cell organization, information networks, and so on. These do not include the first and second on the list.
i. Worldview: Religious Rationale
The question that keeps being asked in the media is, "Why do they hate us so much?" It is important at the outset to separate out moderate to liberal Islam from radical Islamic fundamentalists, who do not represent most Muslims.
Radical Islamic fundamentalists hate our culture. They have a worldview that is incompatible with the way that Americans-and other westerners-live their lives. One part of this world view concerns women, who are to hide their bodies, have no right to property, and so on. Western sexuality, mores, music, and women's equality all violate their values, and the worldwide ubiquity of American cultural products, like movies and music, offends them. A second part concerns theocracy: they believe that governments should be run according to strict Islamic law
by clerics. A third concerns holy sites, like those in Jerusalem, which they believe should be under Islamic political and military control. A fourth concerns the commercial and military incursions by Westerners on Islamic soil, which they liken to the invasion of the hated crusaders. The way they see it, our culture spits in the face of theirs. A fifth concerns jihad-a holy war to protect and defend the faith. A sixth is the idea of a martyr, a man willing to sacrifice himself for the cause. His reward is eternal glory-an eternity in heaven surrounded by willing young virgins. In some cases, there is a promise that his family will be taken care of by the community.
ii. Social and Political Conditions
: Cultures of Despair
Most Islamic would-be martyrs not only share these beliefs but have also grown up in a culture of despair: they have nothing to lose. Eliminate such poverty and you eliminate the breeding ground for terrorists. When the Bush administration speaks of eliminating terror
, it does not appear to be talking about eliminating cultures of despair and the social conditions that lead one to want to give up one's life to martyrdom.
Princeton Lyman of the Aspen Institute has made an important proposal-that the worldwide anti-terrorist coalition address the causal real-world conditions as well. Country by country, the conditions (both material and political) leading to despair need to be addressed, with a worldwide commitment to ending them. It should be done because it is a necessary part of addressing the causes of terrorism-and because it is right! The coalition being formed should be made into a long-term global institution for this purpose.
What about the first cause-the radical Islamic worldview itself. Military action won't change it. Social action won't change it. Worldviews live in the minds of people. How can one change those minds-and if not present minds, then future minds? The West cannot! Those minds can only be changed by moderate and liberal Muslims-clerics, teachers, elders, respected community members. There is no shortage of them. I do not know how well they are organized, but the world needs them to be well-organized and effective. It is vital that moderate and liberal Muslims form a unified voice against hate and, with it, terror. Remember that "taliban" means "students." Those that teach hate in Islamic schools must be replaced-and we in the West cannot replace them. This can only be done by an organized, moderate, nonviolent Islam. The West can make the suggestion, but we alone are powerless to carry it out. We depend on the goodwill and courage of moderate Islamic leaders. To gain it, we must show our goodwill by beginning in a serious way to address the social and political conditions that lead to despair.
But a conservative government, thinking of the enemy as evil, will not take the primary causes seriously. They will only go after the enabling causes. But unless the primary causes are addressed, terrorists will continue to be spawned.