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Monday, July 26, 2004

Battle Causes of Terrorism - Iron Blogger Democrat - Opening Statement

In my previous Battle, Battle: School Vouchers, I had the unenviable task of battling right after the first-ever loss by a fellow Iron Blogger. Today, I begin another unenviable task, that of Battling after the, er, unpleasantness of last week.

I suppose that means I have to use the silencer on the can of whoopass I'm about to open.

--

If you type "causes of terrorism" into Google, you get nearly 26,000 hits (when Google isn't being waylaid by a virus, that is), each with its own answer to the kinds of questions broadly posed by the Chairman. But I can sum it up for you in one word: desperation.

Of course, what makes you desperate is probably very different from what makes me desperate. And while I could get very desperate and never strap myself to explosives and take a bus, you maybe could. What provides that crucial last step, that causes people to cross over from hanging on in quiet desperation to full-blown terrorism?

Whether the terror is foreign or domestic, religious or political, small-scale or large-scale, the reasons behind it are remarkably similar. And it begins with, as I said, desperation.

Study after study after study has been done about domestic terror--the hate groups that seem never to go away in this country, the militias, the Timothy McVeigh types. And it's clear that these groups all capitalize on the festering desperation of those who join. As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes about children falling in with racist groups, everything from violence in video games to "zero-tolerance" policies to the death of the "American Dream" may be contributing to children's sense of unease,
[b]ut the upsurge in one of its main manifestations--white supremacy--has inspired a theory developed by sociologists like Pamela Perry and Randy Blazak.

In Perry's 2002 book, Shades of White, she chronicled the racial attitudes of white kids at two contemporary California high schools--one predominantly white, one minority white. She found what Blazak calls "anomie"--French sociologist Emile Durkheim's term for the sense of confusion brought on by rapid social change. [. . .] Hate groups have tailored their recruitment pitches to these frustrated white kids. [. . .]

"Most parents, most teachers don't pretend to have easy answers," notes Ward. "Hate groups do. Hate music does. Hate sites do. The racist Skinhead down the street does, too."
"Whoa, Jay, hang on," you might be thinking. "We're not talking about white kids wearing Confederate flag t-shirts." But aren't we? When hate group kids--or, as they age, hate group adults--attack people or property, their goal is terror. They may not plan destruction on the scale of 9/11 (which actually even exceeded al Qaeda's expectations), but they are still in the terror business. When Timothy McVeigh parked the rental truck under the windows of the Murrah building's daycare center, he was also planning terror. So isn't the pitch the Aryan Nations made to McVeigh relevant here--and, perhaps more importantly, the desperation McVeigh felt that left him susceptible to their brainwashing?

Again, further afield, but related, is something that I get drilled into me pretty often as a high school teacher in an urban area--why children join gangs. In a city that offers nothing but despair--high poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, crime, unemployment--a gang offers kids who feel abandoned a sense of hope. Like the hate groups' appeal to white teenagers facing rapid social change, the leaders of a gang offer their recruits a way to make sense of their world. "I know what you're going through," the implicit message goes, "and I've found my way out through this gang. You, too, can be a part of our in-group." Add to it the promises of wealth and fame--and the fact that it seems a stepping stone on the path to success as a rap artist--and you've got a powerful fantasy to escape into from desperate straits. And while most gang members don't go roving in packs at night looking for innocents (in fact, victims of gang violence are often gang members themselves), you can't deny that gangs spread terror in much the same way that hate groups do.

"But Jay," you're still thinking, "how does that get Mohammed Atta into the cockpit of a plane bound for infamy?" Well, think, for example, about the Lackawanna Six. They went to Afghanistan for al Qaeda training, though they committed no terrorist acts and most even left the training early. But they were recruited with the same techniques gangs and hate groups use:
When people here try to explain the allure of Kamal Derwish, they say the young people seemed to be looking for clarity.

"Everybody of ethnic background wants to know, 'Who the hell am I?' " said Moses Galab, the brother of one of the men who went to Afghanistan.

But if some young people felt that the answer lay in a return to Islam, they found the Islam practiced by the older generation at the white, single-story mosque on Wilkesbarre Avenue to be wanting.

The elders "pretty much are uneducated," Mr. Galab said. "They came here, got into their work. They had no time to learn or to teach us. If you asked any of them if they knew 20 prophets, they wouldn't know."

Kamal Derwish [the al Qaeda recruiter] seemed to offer something more.
In fact, Derwish himself fits the pattern of desperation I talked about earlier: His father lost his job in a mill, they were forced to move back to the Middle East to live in poverty, where Derwish fell in with fundamentalist extremists. He returned to Buffalo to find his old neighborhood ripe for the picking--poor, confused, and young. In the end, of course, the Lackawana Six never went through with anything; they lacked the hopelessness that would lead them--even the most pious and fundamentalist of them--to throw everything away, including their lives. Dervish, on the other hand (there's a joke in here about being the son of a mill worker, but I'm short on space as it is), had nothing to give up to join the al Qaeda cause.

Imagine how much easier it must be to recruit from the madrassas which take the most destitute, oppressed, and downtrodden and fill them with hate for the West than it is to recruit in even the poorest areas of Buffalo, NY.

I would also point you to this FlashPoint commentary that reads, in fact, like a study of hate group or gang recruitment.

Finally, I should say that desperation without the terror networks desperate people join just doesn't lead to much terror. Timothy McVeigh, though convicted for doing the deed basically by himself, probably had accomplices far and wide who helped him. Indeed, a desperate man acting alone often only hurts himself--remember Daniel V. Jones alone on the 105 in L.A.?

Before I go, I will say that it's also important to note what does not cause terrorism. Religion by itself does not cause terror, even fundamentalism. Religion, like racial identity, merely provides a convenient metaphor for expressing desperation. Poverty in and of itself also does not cause terrorism; nor does the oppression of a people necessarily lead to terrorism, though the oppressed (the IRA, for example) often engage in terror.

What I have said to this point, I think, is surely uncontroversial. In fact, I have this nagging fear that I will post this and then read an almost identical Opening Statement from the Challenger in this Battle. Where we differ, I'm sure, is in how to deal with and prevent terrorism; but, as that was not specifically within the scope of the Chairman's questions, and this is the longest Opening Statement I've ever written already, I will leave that for later, if we get to it at all.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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