TERRORISM SALON: Stephanie Kaplan on the Misplaced Hope of the “Root Causes” Debate

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(Stephanie Kaplan is a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center).
We seem to have reached the consensus that poverty–along with other grievances such as political oppression and cultural alienation–are not reliable indicators of future terrorist activity. Given the prevalence of these conditions throughout the Muslim world, the “root causes” approach overpredicts the level of terrorist activity that we should expect to observe. As Quintan Wiktorowicz notes in Islamic Activism, “[w]hile grievances are ubiquitous, movements are not.” The question remains, then, why almost seven years after 9/11, does the root causes debate still shape the counterterrorism discourse?
From a policy perspective, the approach is a seductive one: if we can identify the causes of terrorism, then we can eradicate the conditions that allow terror to take root. At one time or the other, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have found comfort in this formulation. As Peter mentions, this does not mean that global poverty reduction or similar measures shouldn’t be a goal of U.S. foreign policy, but the expectation that they will reduce terrorism may be misplaced.
— Stephanie Kaplan
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.

Comments

3 comments on “TERRORISM SALON: Stephanie Kaplan on the Misplaced Hope of the “Root Causes” Debate

  1. JohnH says:

    How about making the next discussion on the causes of International Warmongering? What causes the wealthiest of nations to engage in wars of choice? For clues on the psyche of those who manipulate wealthy nations into war, I recommend Jim Lobe’s piece on the neocons:
    http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/?p=164

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  2. Observer says:

    Why do we keep beating around the bush with this “root-cause” business? The MAIN root-cause for terrorism as we know it, is, and has been, the US’s blind support for Israel and its genocidal approach to the Palestinian “problem”.

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  3. JohnH says:

    More ostrich-thinking–“We seem to have reached the consensus that poverty–along with other grievances such as political oppression and cultural alienation–are not reliable indicators of future terrorist activity.”
    In fact, informed observers have not reached that conclusion. It is smug, Western “experts” who have reached that conclusion, largely to convince themselves that they don’t have to do anything about poverty and social injustice.
    Here is a knowledgeable insider who disagrees with the recent commentary here: http://www.bariatwan.com/index.asp?fname=2008\07\07-03\2008-06-28-10-21-20.htm&title=%20Al-Qa’idah%20Has%20Not%20Been%20Defeated,%20and%20Here%20Are%20Our%20Reasons
    “Islamic extremism, with both its Sunni and Shi’i sides, is increasing, contrary to the belief of those who are described as experts in the east and West. Most of the means that have been used to confront this extremism throughout the past seven years, specifically since the events of September the 11th, have been completely counterproductive. They have been counterproductive because they were mainly security measures and failed to correctly analyse the phenomenon and determine the most effective measures to confront it.
    The phenomenon of extremism and its violent and terrorist repercussions came to the surface and became more powerful because of the United States’ foreign policies and humiliating and stupid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Palestine (through Israel).
    We can now say that this phenomenon is expected to make a greater and more serious leap, prompted by a new factor that emerged in the past three years. It is represented by social injustice and an increasing pressure on the crushed poor class that forms an overwhelming majority in most Arab countries. This situation will provide a fertile environment for hard-line organizations, namely Al-Qa’idah, to recruit hundreds of angry and frustrated youths.
    Class hatred is increasing in an alarming rate in the circles of Arab society because of an increasing gap between the rich and poor and the accumulation of thousands of billions in the hands of a small group that represents no more than one per cent of the total population of the Arabs that numbers 400 million.”
    It is a profound mistake to disregard poverty and social injustice. While those conditions may not alone create terrorism, increasing oppression and degradation of living conditions in the midst of narrowlly based, rising prosperity may well create the conditions for rebellion AKA terrorism.

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