Friday, November 12, 2004

Totalitarianism-terror link proven

From the Harvard Gazette:
A John F. Kennedy School of Government researcher has cast doubt on the widely held belief that terrorism stems from poverty, finding instead that terrorist violence is related to a nation's level of political freedom.

Associate Professor of Public Policy Alberto Abadie examined data on terrorism and variables such as wealth, political freedom, geography, and ethnic fractionalization for nations that have been targets of terrorist attacks.


"In the past, we heard people refer to the strong link between terrorism and poverty, but in fact when you look at the data, it's not there. This is true not only for events of international terrorism, as previous studies have shown, but perhaps more surprisingly also for the overall level of terrorism, both of domestic and of foreign origin," Abadie said.

Instead, Abadie detected a peculiar relationship between the levels of political freedom a nation affords and the severity of terrorism. Though terrorism declined among nations with high levels of political freedom, it was the intermediate nations that seemed most vulnerable.
Well, that’s what I’ve been saying all along. Totalitarianism, with its suppression of political freedom, can cause terrorism as a natural response. Thus, in the war on terror, we are at war with the terrorist-spawning totalitarian mechanisms of the Middle East, embodied both in the theocratic elements of Islam itself (manifested politically in Iran and Taliban-era Afghanistan) and in traditional dictatorships (the poster-child being Saddam-era Baathist Iraq).

I don’t see how this is a “peculiar relationship.” According to the textbook definition of terrorism (actually, my Comparative Politics textbook) political terror acts “have been used to articulate interests in some societies. The use of terrorism typically reflects the desire of some group to change the rules of the political game.” So, obviously, societies in which the rules of the game make it impossible for people to articulate interests in other ways (such as through a vote) make terrorism the only option. Nonviolent means of change, such as protests and strikes, are just not viable options in your typical Middle East totalitarian state, with ubiquitous secret police and widespread use of torture.

In the Middle East, the adding of radical Islam to the mix has led to the rise of a particularly dangerous form of terrorism, global in scope and apocalyptic in scale. The exhortations inherent in Islam to die for Allah have led to the creation of the suicide bomber, the most potent form of terrorism.

It is not clear to what extent the current war on terror might have to do with Islam itself, but it is clear that totalitarianism is playing a key role in the creation of new terrorists and in the justification of the ideologies of terror as the only possible avenue for social change.


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