Saturday, November 25, 2006

Root Causes

Over and over, in this War on Terror, we hear the glib lefties reprimand the civilized world for ignoring the root causes of terrorism. This, they tell us, exacerbates the problem and makes terrorism harder to fight.

They propose that poverty and oppression are what cause people to strap explosive vests to themselves and get on public buses in Jerusalem. It's the inability of these poor and oppressed to have an effective political voice, so the experts say, that pushes them to extremes.

Douglas Rushkoff opines the same message in the Dec. '06 edition of Discover magazine (p.72). He describes the modern media environment (spanning everything from the mainstream media through the opined rantings of bloggers) as cybernetic, meaning it has the ability to share feedback much more rapidly than before. It is similar to what biologists observe in living systems with massive surface areas like coral reefs or slime molds, which can respond instantly to a need in one isolated sector of the entity. This ability, he suggests, isn't causing anything in and of itself, but is rather showing us new insights into what the origins of certain effects are.

If I understand his point correctly, he is saying that when the blogosphere erupts with outrage over something like tampered photos and exposes the fraud worldwide (to the embarrassment of the mainstream newspapers who had relied on the photos to justify their editorial slants), we witness a wondrous effect of society's core dissatisfaction with the same old biased messages. That dissatisfaction has been around for a long time, and the internet has given many of us the ability finally to speak to it. Take, for example, Kate at When asked why she blogs, she writes:

Until this moment I have been forced to listen while media and politicians alike have told me "what Canadians think". In all that time they never once asked. This is just the voice of an ordinary Canadian yelling back at the radio - "You don't speak for me."

Rushkoff then goes on to suggest what I feel is a bit of a stretch: what we call terrorism is the uncivilized world's dynamic response to what they feel is an injustice. So while Westerners blog to vocalize their opposition to the status quo, the Third World blows up buses for the same reason. Different acts, but same causes.

Never in the history of warfare have we striven to explain the actions of our enemies like we are doing today. Imagine the outcry if some historian tried to explain Hitler's obsession with the Jews. The Nazis, after all, did feel like victims. Karl Stern was a German Jewish psychiatrist who endured the opening years of the Third Reich in Munich. In his book The Pillar of Fire (Image Books, 1951), he relates this tale of a walk he took with his father through the town square during his first visit back to his Bavarian home town, well into Hitler's reign:

[There] was a big showcase, brightly lit, and above it a sign: "The Jews are our misfortune." I knew those showcases. They displayed a weekly paper which was entirely devoted to enlightening the population on the Jewish question. There were detailed stories of, let us say, a Jewish lawyer of Magdeburg who assaulted his non-Jewish secretary; or an orthodox congregation who kept German girls in the cellar of their synagogue for the purpose of commercial prostitution; statistics of the part played by the Jews in the Russian revolution and in the organization of "Wall Street."

If somebody today tried to make this point, he or she would be decried as a bigot and receive condemnations from Jewish organizations around the world. [Don't believe for a second that I am trying to make that point myself!] And rightly so, for even if such a claim were true, it could never justify the actions taken against the Jews in the 1930's and 1940's.

The same principle applies today: even if terrorism is a response to legitimate grievances against the "Great Satan" (and I would suggest that it is more hate-driven than frustration-driven), the responses are completely inappropriate.

Root causes, schmoot schmauses. Terrorism, like firing up the gas chamber, is an unacceptable coping mechanism. That's why we're fighting it.

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