Disparities of Wealth Are Seen as Fuel for Terrorism

You can write off the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 as the crazed act of a fanatical gang hell-bent on causing mayhem at any cost. Or you can try to understand the attacks’ root causes by taking a closer look at the world whose fragile ecology of power they upset.

You can write off the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 as the crazed act of a fanatical gang hell-bent on causing mayhem at any cost. Or you can try to understand the attacks’ root causes by taking a closer look at the world whose fragile ecology of power they upset.

The new IHT/Pew poll suggests that much of the world views the attacks as a symptom of increasingly bitter polarization between haves and have-nots. The danger for America is that its overwhelming power is feeding resentment – in the same countries that also feel they are missing out on the spoils of economic progress.

Marwan Bishara, an Israeli Arab commentator who teaches international relations at the American University in Paris, sees an “asymmetric threat from terrorists” growing out of “the incredible quantitative difference of force and of riches between North and South.”

“When people feel so inferior militarily and economically, they adopt asymmetric means – not the usual means – to achieve what they want,” added Mr. Bishara, who coincidentally was preparing a class on asymmetric warfare when the hijacked planes struck on Sept. 11.

“In this case it was a balance of terror – and of anger, of desperation. People commit suicide attacks because they have nothing to lose and because they want to cause as much damage to the enemy as they can. It’s a culture of defeat. This is the feeling of humiliation in the South – it’s not just poverty, it’s the defeat, it’s feeling inferior.”

The IHT/Pew survey of elite opinion in 24 countries also points to significant splits between Americans and non-Americans – on U.S. unilateralism in the war, on widening the war to other countries, on limiting immigration. Most significantly, a majority of non-Americans see U.S. policies as a principal cause of the Sept. 11 attacks – but Americans do not.

A “very significant thing for Americans,” said Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution, “is the realization that our view of ourselves is not widely shared.”

“Americans are in general totally convinced of our own essential goodness – that we are the most democratic, most liberal, most just people in the world and that we assume everybody else sees it the same way,” he said.

“We are not very good at putting ourselves in the shoes of others, and therefore we don’t necessarily understand that people don’t share the view of us that we have ourselves – and I think that’s a major problem for our foreign policy.”

Malini Parthasarathy, an Indian commentator, gives as an example the American reaction to the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament last week.

“The White House spokesman said that both India and Pakistan should not act in a way that would jeopardize the ongoing war on terror. That was an example of this arrogance, this U.S. assumption that its objectives take priority over everyone else’s,” said Ms. Parthasarathy, who edits The Hindu, a national newspaper.

“The way the United States has described or perceived” the New Delhi situation, she said, “is definitely going to be resented in India and probably will cause more militancy and more hawkishness among the Hindu right.”

In a prescient article in The Economist back in April, the English economist Robert Wade wrote of a threat posed by those whom economic modernization has left behind. “The result is a lot of unemployed and angry young people, to whom new information technologies have given the means to threaten the stability of the societies they live in and even to threaten social stability in countries of the wealthy zone.”

Mr. Wade was careful to point out that there is no direct causal connection between deprivation and terrorism, but said that in terms of probabilities, there was a link.

“It’s a matter of conditions providing the nurturing environment in which ideas of terrorism, for example, take root. They can then be crystallized out by people like Osama bin Laden. They may not be crystallized out, and they may not take the form of hitting at the United States, as distinct from hitting at their own rulers.”

Poverty does not help, though – nor, said Mr. Wade, does the fact that while the West has been trumpeting the virtues of globalization, the gap between rich and poor has actually been widening.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wade said, “the U.S. aid budget has been declining very substantially over the ’80s and ’90s. So the United States is seen on the one hand as this great looming superpower rigging the world system in its own interests, and on the other hand it’s doing very little by way of aid.”

According to Mr. Bishara, “If we just take a look at the last year, there’s a general feeling around the world that America tends to pull out from important forums where disadvantaged people try to voice their claims and try to come to agreement with America and with the West.”

He cited the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the anti-racism conference in Durban, the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and U.S. conduct at the United Nations Security Council, “where it tends to veto decisions that are adopted by all other countries.”

He added: “There’s a general sense that America is pulling out and that the world is left with only American military hegemony and not American partnership.”

Mr. Bishara said the global village had two choices in the long term: “Either we live together as a neighborhood where even if there are poor and rich, everyone feels that they have a stake, or we have a system of apartheid, where the rich will be always scared or anguished because of the poor and the poor’s demands and the poor’s anger.”

“We need to know what our objectives are – what our universal values are, the values of the neighborhood that we are trying to protect and advance, in a global world. What is it that we all have in common? We need to advance the importance of the human being, of human life, and of social and economic security.”

The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman could have been anticipating the poll results when he wrote last week, “The world’s perception of America and its values matters even more now. It will be changed only by what Americans do – at home and abroad.”

“If anything has been learned from Sept. 11,” he added, “it is that if you don’t visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you.”

Author: Andrew Johnston

News Service: International Herald Tribune

URL: http://commondreams.org/views01/1220-09.htm

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