Sunday, August 19, 2007

Terrorism is so bourgeois

While catching up on last week's RSS feeds, I ran across a round robin of reaction to
Barack Obama's August 1st speech on terrorism and national security at the Washington Post. All of the reactions were interesting, but Peter Bergen's commentary stopped me dead in my tracks.
Peter Bergen, author of "The Osama bin Laden I Know: [An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader]" [on Obama's approach to terrorism]:

Overall it was a very strong speech. Here is a minor criticism: While there is no doubt that conflict zones can breed terrorism, the 9/11 plot was actually planned in Hamburg. The idea that weak and [failing states] are causes of terrorism is wrong.

There is in fact overwhelming academic literature that demonstrates the reverse is true. Terrorism is a sort of bourgeois endeavor.

On a related point, the idea that madrassas are a big problem for violence against the United States is also wrong. Madrassas lead to problems regionally, and are a big problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not in terms of terrorism against the United States. |Obama on Terrorism:The Experts Weigh In - WaPo|
Zounds! If that's a minor quibble, I'd hate to see a telling critique from Mr. Bergen.

If Peter Bergen is right, then the entire premise of U.S. foreign policy for the last seven years is dead wrong.

If terrorism is undertaken primarily by privileged youth, we should be looking for terrorists in the Saudi Arabia and Paris, not Afghanistan and Yemen.

Some evidence to support Bergen's assertion is the following:

Several studies of individuals have failed to find any direct connection between education, poverty, and the propensity to participate in terrorism (Russell and Miller, 1983; Hudson, 1999; Krueger and Maleckova, 2003; Berrebi, 2003, Atran, 2003). If anything, those who participate in terrorism tend to come from the ranks of the better off in society.

Poverty theorists could respond that at least on the micro level, well-to-do citizens become terrorists out of public spiritedness for their impoverished fellow citizens, and they are chosen by organizations to perform these tasks due to their reliability and skill. Consider the anecdotal findings of Nasra Hassan (2001), for example. |Kto Kogo?: A Cross-Country Study of the Origins and Targets of Terrorism - NBER|

Perhaps this is Bush's masterplan, to reduce Iraq and Afghanistan to the stone age so that no one in those societies will have the leisure to contemplate how wronged they have been as they struggle to eke out a meager living.

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