Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Haitian Paradox

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A London conference on climate change has come up with a stunning revelation: Global warming can heighten the risk of terrorism:

Global warming could exacerbate the world's rich-poor divide and help to radicalize populations and fan terrorism in the countries worst affected, security and climate experts said on Wednesday.

"We have to reckon with the human propensity for violence," Sir Crispin Tickell, Britain's former ambassador to the United Nations, told a London conference on "Climate Change: the Global Security Impact."

"Violence within and between communities and between nation states, we must accept, could possibly increase, because the precedents are all around."

He cited Rwanda and Sudan's Darfur region as two examples where drought and overpopulation, relative to scarce resources, had helped to fuel deadly conflicts.

Experts at the conference hosted by the Royal United Services Institute said it was likely that global warming would create huge flows of refugees as people tried to escape areas swamped by rising sea levels or rendered uninhabitable by desertification.

Tickell said terrorists were likely to seek to exploit the tensions created.

"Those who are short of food, those who are short of water, those who can't move to countries where it looks as if everything is marvelous are going to be people who are going to adopt desperate measures to try and make their point."

I'm being sarcastic, of course, when I call this a "stunning revelation." The only thing stunning about it is its obviousness.

Not obvious enough, though, for deep thinkers on the right who would prefer to cling to their irrational hatreds based on religion and ethnicity to explain everything bad that happens in the world:

Some people will resort to anything to avoid looking squarely at the implications of the Islamic jihad ideology. Watch this space for next week's feature, "Chicken Salad Causes Jihad."

"Climate change seen fanning conflict and terrorism," by Mark Trevelyan for Reuters, with thanks to Paul:

LONDON (Reuters) - Global warming could exacerbate the world's rich-poor divide and help to radicalize populations and fan terrorism in the countries worst affected, security and climate experts said on Wednesday.

If poverty causes jihad, why isn't Haiti teeming with suicide bombers?

Sigh. If eating saturated animal fat and rich desserts causes obesity and heart disease, then why is the French rate of heart disease a third less than the American rate, even though the French eat three times as much butter, cream, and cheese than we do?

Poverty does not "cause" terrorism. Poverty does often lead to feelings of humiliation and powerlessness, especially if the larger society demeans and degrades the poor for their condition. Terrorism is a response to humiliation and powerlessness -- and that is especially so in a culture that values personal pride and honor very highly:

The conservatives strain to deny any connection between world poverty and terrorism. That is what their bullying tirades against “blaming America first” are all about. They fear the blame. But they cannot deny that humiliation fostered by poverty and arrogance is a long fuse leading to the suicide bomber.

Take the story of Laura Blumenfeld as an example. A young reporter for the Washington Post, her father, a rabbi, was shot and wounded by a Palestinian militant in Jerusalem in 1986. The assailant simply wanted to kill a Jew, and Laura Blumenfeld’s father was available. At first seeking revenge, Laura Blumenfeld concealed her identity and began a correspondence with the imprisoned Palestinian gunman, finally revealing herself and confronting him in a courtroom. She then came to know his family, ventured into a complicated reconciliation, and wrote a book on her experience. Reflecting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she told the New York Times on April 6, 2002:

I think for them [the Palestinians], humiliation is sometimes more important than the actual offense. Humiliation drives revenge more than anything . . .They feel honor and pride are very important in their culture, and they feel utterly humiliated, whether it’s by roadblocks or just by the sheer wealth and success of society that’s set up right next to them . . . I found that feelings of humiliation and shame fuel revenge more than anything else.

Blumenfeld’s thoughtful analysis distinguishes mere poverty from shame and degradation. Poverty is sometimes bearable if the poor feel respected or hopeful; for example, the Aristide government in Haiti has campaigned on a slogan of “poverty with dignity.” But usually the policies that allow poverty to grow as if it were a natural condition of market economics are accompanied by a rationale that transfers blame from the rich and powerful to the poor and powerless. That shaming inherent in globalization is the triggering source of violence, as shown in numerous studies such as those of James Gilligan at Harvard. The syndrome we can call the will to empire (like Nietzche’s famous will to power) is wrapped into a need to shame others.

Juan Cole observed, in a March 2005 post (via a Kevin Drum post found in a Google search) that most if not all of Middle East terrorism can be traced to foreign military occupation:

The intimate connection between foreign military occupation and terrorism can be seen in Palestine in the 1940s, where the Zionist movement threw up a number of terrorist organizations that engaged in bombings and assassinations on a fair scale. That is, frustrated Zionists not getting their way behaved in ways difficult to distinguish from frustrated Muslim nationalists who didn't get their way.

There was what the French would have called radical Muslim terrorism in Algeria 1954-1962, though the Salafis were junior partners of the largely secular FLN. French colonialists were targeted for heartless bombings and assassinations. This campaign of terror aimed at expelling the French, who had colonized Algeria in 1830 and had kept it ever since, declaring it French soil. The French had usurped the best land and crowded the Algerians into dowdy old medinas or haciendas in the countryside. The nationalists succeeded in gaining Algerian independence in 1962.

Once Sadat let the Muslim Brotherhood out of jail and allowed it to operate freely in the 1970s, to offset the power of the Egyptian Left, it threw up fundamentalist splinter groups like Ayman al-Zawahiri's al-Gihad al-Islami and Sheikh Omar's al-Gamaah al-Islamiyah. They were radicalized when Sadat made a separate peace with Israel in 1978-79 that permitted the Israelis to do as they pleased to the Palestinians. In response, the radical Muslims assassinated Sadat and continued to campaign against his successor, Hosni Mubarak. They saw the Egyptian regime as pharaonic and evil because it had allied with the United States and Israel, thus legitimating the occupation of Muslim land (from their point of view).

The south Lebanon Shiite groups, Amal and Hizbullah, turned to radical Muslim terrorism mainly after the 1982 Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of South Lebanon, which is largely Shiite.

The radical Muslim terrorism of Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards grew in part out of American hegemony over Iran, which was expressed most forcefully by the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew the last freely elected parliament of that country.

Likewise, Hamas (the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood) turned to terrorism in large part out of desperation at the squalid circumstances and economic and political hopelessness of the Israeli military occupation of Gaza.

The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s was among the biggest generators of radical Muslim terrorism in modern history. The US abetted this phenomenon, giving billions to the radical Muslim ideologues at the top of Pakistani military intelligence (Inter-Services Intelligence), which in turn doled the money out to men like Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, a member of the Afghanistan Muslim Brotherhood (Jami'at-i Islami) who used to throw vials of acid at the faces of unveiled girls in the Kabul of the 1970s. The US also twisted the arm of the Saudi government to match its contributions to the Mujahidin. Saudi Intelligence Minister Turki al-Faisal was in charge of recruiting Arab volunteers to fight alongside the Mujahidin, and he brought in young Usamah bin Laden as a fundraiser. The CIA training camps that imparted specialized tradecraft to the Mujahidin inevitably also ended up training, at least at second hand, the Arab volunteers, who learned about forming covert cells, practicing how to blow things up, etc. The "Afghan Arabs" fanned back to their homelands, to Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, carrying with them the ethos that Ronald Reagan had inspired them with, which held that they should take up arms against atheist Westerners who attempted to occupy Muslim lands.

To this litany of Occupations that produce radical Muslim terrorism, Chechnya and Kashmir can be added.

In contrast, authoritarian governments like that of Iraq and Syria, while they might use terror for their own purposes from time to time, did not produce large-scale indepdendent terrorist organizations that struck itnernational targets. Authoritarian governments also proved adept at effectively crushing terrorist groups, as can be seen in Algeria and Egypt. It was only in failed states such as Afghanistan that they could flourish, not in authoritarian ones.

So it is the combination of Western occupation and weak states that produced the conditions for radical Muslim terrorism.
I'm all for democratization in the Middle East, as a good in its own right. But I don't believe that authoritarian governance produced most episodes of terrorism in the last 60 years in the region. Terrorism was a weapon of the weak wielded against what these radical Muslims saw as a menacing foreign occupation. To erase that fact is to commit a basic error in historical understanding. It is why the US military occupation of Iraq is actually a negative for any "war on terror." Nor do I believe that democratization, even if it is possible, is going to end terrorism in and of itself.

You want to end terrorism? End unjust military occupations. By all means have Syria conduct an orderly withdrawal from Lebanon if that is what the Lebanese public wants. But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria, as well. The Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must be ended. The Russian scorched earth policy in Chechnya needs to stop. Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop. The US needs to conduct an orderly and complete withdrawal from Iraq. And when all these military occupations end, there is some hope for a vast decrease in terrorism. People need a sense of autonomy and dignity, and occupation produces helplessness and humiliation. Humiliation is what causes terrorism.


Joan said...

Hi Kathy!

Does it matter? I can't think of any circumstances where people live in dire poverty and feel dignified, powerful and in charge of their own destiny.

On a side topic, I think it must be stated that there virtually no difference between the "liberals" and the "right" on environmental issues. Neither side is willing to cut their consumption. As long as we have families with more than one car, , have big houses, have worldwide vacations, and plan to spend their retirement in Provence and Tuscany, this issue is dead in the water. Oprah Winfrey once said about the topic of AIDS in Africa that it is stupid to hold more conferences to determine WHAT the problem is. We already KNOW what the problem is, the sole issue now is what are we planning on doing about it. I would say the same is true of global warming.

Take Care

Kathy said...

"Does it matter?"

Yes, it does.

"On a side topic, I think it must be stated that there virtually no difference between the "liberals" and the "right" on environmental issues. Neither side is willing to cut their consumption. As long as we have families with more than one car, , have big houses, have worldwide vacations, and plan to spend their retirement in Provence and Tuscany, this issue is dead in the water."

Having more than one car is often a necessity in a country where public transportation, even in many urban areas, is inadequate or nonexistent. In my view, it's more the kind of car you have than that you have one.

As for the big houses, worldwide vacations, and plans to retire in Provence and Tuscany, you obviously move in very different circles than I do. I'd be lying if I said I didn't know *anyone* who fit that description, but it's definitely not the norm in my world. Most people I know are living from paycheck to paycheck and struggling to keep their heads above water.

Speaking for myself, I have one small, fuel-efficient car; I vacation in my living room; and my retirement plans are that I'll be working until I die. I can't imagine having the financial means to retire, and I am not the only one by a long shot.

Joan said...

Hey Kathy!

I am certianly not a poor person, I have been very blessed in life. I do not have to worry about retirement if things continue as they have been, although I am sure I will not be seeing many exotic places. That is not a complaint by the way, I have too many blessings to complain.

But the point still remains. People in urban areas will not even CONSIDER public transportation if they have access to a car, and I must admit I am as guilty as anyone else.

Both in Canada and in the USA there has been a widening gap between the income of the rich and the ever dwindling middle class and in most urban places it is not unusual to see those "monster homes". Monster homes have taken over my street. When I moved in, it was a pleasant street of bungalows, right now my entire house could fit into a quarter of these huge homes that have sprouted up around me.

Most of my neighbours are doctors, lawyers, corporate executives and so on, and they use air transportation regularly for both vacations and work.

The point remains that there is simpy no will in North America to cut our consumption and we will have to cut our consumption dramatically if we are to do anything real about the environment. I think this is the real issue. The discussion about global warming has to begin at this point, because we already know what have to do.

Take Care