Monday, November 12, 2007

Who supports jihad?

Andrew Sullivan notes that a recent study shows that among Arabs, the richer you are, the more likely you are to support jihad.

One could probably spin these numbers lots of ways. But there is much anecdotal evidence that the usual line that "poverty breeds terrorism" is not really true. Bin Laden is [was?] a billionaire and we do not see much terrorism in Sub Saharan Africa.

Sullivan believes the problem is religious ideology. While I have little doubt that is part of the problem, I believe the larger part of the problem is simply the authoritarian nature of those governments. In Western societies, those who are wealthier or better educated are more influential politically. They can give money, host talk shows lobbing soft ball questions toward favored candidates, establish think tanks and run for office. (As an aside, I think that is one of the reasons Hollywood is so far left of the rest of the country -- they have money and glamor but generally are locked out of political influence.)

But if you are a wealthy or educated Saudi you probably find yourself locked out of government. There is no parliament to run for and any think tank will be censored. So you turn to religion and jihadism.

If this sounds far fetched, think back to European history. The Glorious Revolution, while portrayed as a religious and liberal revolution, was in any ways the revolt of the "squirarchy" who felt left out of the governing class by an increasingly authoritarian James II. The French Revolution began as an attempt of the urban middle classes and wealthy to take control of the French government (and it rapidly spun out of control). Even our own revolution was the result of the local elites wanting to control the colonies' destiny, not some far distant parliament.

I know most Americans have given up on democracy as a panacea for the problems of the Middle East (Sullivan seems to), but liberalization of the political structures in the Arab world is needed to stop jihadism. If wealthy and educated Arabs are in parliament or able to have influence in civil society, then maybe they will be less inclined to support bomb throwers.


Rodak said...

"we do not see much terrorism in Sub Saharan Africa."

This, I assume, is your little jest?

Do de name Rwanda ring a bell? What we don't see much of is reportage concerning sub-Saharan Africa, or interest therein when we get it.

Rodak said...

"Sullivan believe the problem is religious ideology."

Jihad is, of course, a theological (not an ideological) concept. Although, it must be admitted that there is little separation between theology and ideology in a Muslim theocracy.
In point of fact, some of the most radical Jihadists emanate from Egypt, which is a police state. And it has been the role of the U.S. to support the dictators and the royal families of the Middle East, because stability is our prime objective over there. We don't want a Middle Class to develop and take control of the oil business, thereby spreading its revenues out among the entire populace, rather than just paying off a tiny oligarchy, while we in the West pocket the rest. And we don't want democracies to arise in the Middle East for similar reasons. Al-Qaeda would like nothing better than to get at, and wipe out, the Saudi royals--whom we protect.

Anthony said...

Rwanda was essentially a civil war that turned into a slaughter. It was countrymen killing other countrymen, not religiously inspired terror against foreigners.

Anthony said...

As for Egypt, the Saudis and authoritarianism, I mostly agree with you. I think a big issue is not economic but a feeling of political powerlessness.

Rodak said...

"It was countrymen killing other countrymen, not religiously inspired terror against foreigners."

Terrorism is attacks on civilian populations whether made by individuals like Timothy McVeigh, or by regular military personnel, or by some kind of militia, or guerrilla band. Much, perhaps most, terrorism is not international.
Religion need not have anything to do with it.