In the wake of another gun violence in the United States… The attackers have been identified and among other things that came up in their profile, they were said to be moslems. You need to see this husband and wife. Handsome man, beautiful woman. 28 and 27 years old respectively. The man was employed.
Of course, investigations would continue and there have been hints that this may be tagged a terror attack, given the level of preparedness displayed by the attackers. Etc, etc…
I’m not concerned about this because it’s the US. This thing is happening in most places in the world. Some people, for whatever reason, just get guns and explosives and make other people mourn. We have to ask questions and we have to do serious probing.
I find the argument a bit shallow that people take this dangerous path because they are poor, illiterate and politically marginalized, or because they have mental illnesses.
When we say things like that, we also make policies and spend billions trying to
Broaden political participation,
And Improve standards of living,
Invest in comprehensive medical campaigns, etc…
So are these things in fact reducing incidents of terrorism?
Given the trends, it doesn’t look like terrorism or gun violence (blamed on mental illness) is on the decline. What we see are more attacks, more casualties, more suspicions and more tensions.
And that’s why I’m questioning this popular narrative of how poverty links up with terrorism.
Have you seen the weapons and vehicles some of these people use? SUVs and expensive armored vehicles. Their weapons are sophisticated and definitely expensive. They seem to have enough money (or what do you think?) to attract thousands of people to join their cause.
So are poverty and political marginalization and mental illness at work here?
What made thousands of US-EU citizens to sneak into Syria to fight for the IS, a group now classified as a global terror threat? When we look at the profile of people who joined in from western nations, we find little base to hold the poverty, political marginalization and mental illness connection.
Perhaps the reason why this narrative has thrived and gained world wide dogma status is because terrorism has had much of its modern history in poor and badly governed countries. When we think of al Qaeda, al Shabab, Boko Haram, IS, the Red Army, etc, we think of poor and illiterate people under bad/poorly run governments. We have a created a mental picture that these things are the cause or incubators of these brutal acts of violence.
But that narrative doesn’t hold up well in the face of western nations whose citizens aren’t poor, illiterate or mentally ill, but still traveled to Syria and elsewhere to fight. Some of those people have returned and become threats to their States of origin.
Perhaps it’s time to review how these people are recruited and how they are convinced into doing what they do. What ideology do they run on? What is their hope? What does victory look like for them and what does defeat look like for them?
I should bring up the case of the Cold War. That’s a clear cut example of how ideologies fuelled murderous and deeply destabilizing conflicts all over the world. Then, they were called ‘proxy wars’. The US and the USSR couldn’t face off in a direct confrontation without risking the destruction of the world. So they settled for smaller skirmishes, lobbying, manipulating, and scheming other smaller actors into doing the fighting for them. Perhaps it was a easier battle to win because the world knew those who were pulling the strings… In 1989 the world was confident that that Cold War had ended.
Today, we have a new Cold War. There is an ideology out there that drives these acts of violence and makes it sensible to those funding and carrying them out. The question now is, ‘What exactly is that ideology and who are those pulling the strings this time around?’
Nearly every conflict in human history can be traced to the competing powers of the day. Perhaps we can have a clearer understanding of what is going on by investigating what the most powerful and militarily active States in the world are saying and doing about this problem. I’m talking about the US-EU bloc (which includes but is not limited to the US, Britain, Germany, and France), Russia, and the Gulf States in the Middle East.
Western powers have military bases all over the world. They are rich enough to place their embassies in those various places to oversee their interests and monitor what’s going on in the international space. This gives them an edge to influence outcomes and trends, subtly or overtly. This a well exposed trait of major powers. It was on display during the Cold War. And recently, we were reminded by Edward Snowden’s action that this behavior is still very much around.
So what are these powers saying? In the case of terrorism, western nations officially blame ‘radical and extreme jihadis’ while ostensibly exonerating ‘moderate moslems’. Well, I don’t think they make that distinction because they understand the religion itself but because they have important ties with Gulf States which are ‘coincidentally’, Islamic States and energy powers. So as a matter of interests, there must be a distinction between extreme jihadis and moderate moslems. Then of course, these Islamic states would be portrayed as being moderate or else that puts the West in a tight spot. How do you fight global terrorists (radicalized/extreme jihadis) while maintaining relations with their ‘patron’ States?
So what do these powers do when these extreme jihadis strike in distant places or on western soil? (Now this is important). They often respond by advising the suffering country to be more democratic, politically inclusive, and liberalize their markets. Then they negotiate foreign military support and arms sales. If the US-EU bloc doesn’t live up to its promises, then the afflicted state turns to Russia or China…or South Africa for help.
Some how, terrorism feeds a global political cycle and keeps one side of the international community militarily dependent on the other side… And these crises have been used as reasons to advance western styled governance and market structures.
Western styled? OK, that may be an understatement. We can neither divorce the BRICS States from what is going on, nor the Arab League.
I think we have a far more complex Cold War going on. How does it end? With the emergence of a new world order.
Perhaps the new world order is being engineered to be marked by the collapse of (___?). Take note that the initial Cold War was won was by engineering the USSR’s disintegration. And soon after, the occurrences of ‘proxy’ wars which had seemed impossible to resolve, also ceased.
From this angle of viewing things, I say terrorists are proxies and war pawns.
They are too weak compared to the organized state to win. That’s a fact. But their actions can be useful as backdrop for policy making, alliance formations, and gaining in-roads into other countries, where it might have been impossible. Their actions can also be used to trigger ‘imperial overstretch’. After the 9/11 attack, the US smashed its way into Afghanistan and Iraq and into what became a global affair that guzzled billions of dollars. At a point, the United States realized just how much of a leakage this war had become and had to back track and bring its troops home. In 2008/2009, the US economy suffered a severe recession. There were real fears that this was a financial crisis that could knock the wind out the country. Indeed, since that time, the US has been trying its best not overstretch itself militarily, therefore missing in action even in cases where everyone thought it was just to fight. Chemical weapons deployment in Syria refers.
In the same period, British military defense has also been a source of concern to NATO as it was observed that its military spending was dropping and its battle readiness was sloppy compared to other strong members in the alliance. The US and Britain were greatly involved in the global war on terror after 9/11.
Whether these countries have fully recovered from their earlier adventures remains to be seen. Continued terror attacks however gives them very little space to cut back on defense spendings and global engagement.
Who stands to benefit from this sort of overstretch? Russia? Gulf States? Anyway, the US-EU bloc has tried to spread the high costs by upgrading their share of the global oil market, placing Russia and the Gulf States under great pressure as well.
How will this end?
We need a dynamic version of the non allied movement. In this case, these states would do their best to keep out extremist ideologies that fuel terror attacks, and educate it’s people not to become pawns of major power tussles. (Think of the G20).
We need to develop a tracking system to find and root out the sources of such ideologies at home. We also need to protect our economy from the down swing of the international market. We have to keep people engaged with state building, wealth creation, and provide smart social safety nets. It’s time we audit what our local religions teach and hold them responsible for the outcomes of their teachings.
It is also good that we reappraise our engagement with major powers and understand that international politics is still heavily influenced by zero-sum thinking. Let’s keep our ‘friends’ close and our ‘enemies’ closer…
As for gun violence and mental illness… I think if it’s that simple a connection, then the government should make sure mentally ill people don’t mingle with guns. And why do people want to have guns? Because they don’t feel safe enough, or don’t trust their security agencies enough. I’m taking a wild guess that gun ownership in the US has risen to record levels since 2001, compared with previous decades. So fix what kind of people get guns, conduct seasonal mental evaluation and trainings, and beef up security. Hopefully, that solves the problem.