Missing the Point

by Nathan Hamm on 4/7/2004 · 5 comments

Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister, Sadyk Safayev, says there’s no link between the terrorist attacks and poverty.

“To think what happened had been exclusively been prompted by social and economic problems would be nothing other than a very simplified approach,” the Interfax news agency quoted Safayev as saying April 4. “Extremism and terrorism are not generated by poverty, just as wealth does not provide immunity from them.”

Oddly enough, he’s entirely correct while also being utterly wrong. I’m equally dismissive of the idea that poverty is a cause of terrorism, but it’s not clear what Safayev means by “social and economic problems.”

You don’t see terror springing from the soil (very often) of wealthy, happy populations. You do see it coming out of the soil of places where the state salts the earth with its policies. And I entirely believe this to be the case in Uzbekistan. The “social and economic problems” faced by Uzbeks are very much the result of government policies.

The horrendous policies of the Uzbek government results in both poverty and terror.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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haroon moghul April 7, 2004 at 10:44 pm

hmm. i’m not sure how much i agree. terrorism doesn’t spring from wealthy, happy societies? well, israel is a wealthy society, and i can name several hundred million people who doubt very much that what her wealthy young soldiers engage in is moral activism.

furthermore, poverty doesn’t have to create terrorism: there are many poor communities in pakistan that live contentedly and simply. what drives wealthy individuals to commit acts of terrorism? forget individuals, societies too: America’s sanctions on Iraq, for example. America’s acceptance of propaganda on Iraq, which justifies acts of state terrorism…

Nathan April 7, 2004 at 11:01 pm

Israel’s young soldiers also don’t, for the most part, particularly want to be doing what they are doing and certainly, again for the most part, want to strike fear into the hearts of others. You’re basically making the claim that all violence is terror, and I think the qualitative differences of the varieties of violence allow for distinctions to be made. I know that the chasm of difference between the intentions of one who hides a bomb on a train and one who bombs bunkers from a plane are very different. Neither act may be moral, but they certainly aren’t morally equivalent. In my book, trying to equate the two is trying to validate the acts of those whose sole intent is to murder civilians.

I entirely agree that poverty doesn’t have to create terrorism. In fact, I was trying to make the point that it will probably only lead to terrorism in the places where the poverty is created by state policies. It is a lack of economic and political opportunity that makes the ground ripe for fanaticism.

And, my friend, don’t call those sanctions America’s. They were as much Pakistan’s and the rest of the world’s as well. The people who acted like they had to be lifted were making enough money scamming the oil-for-food program to make sure that would never actually happen.

buermann April 8, 2004 at 1:39 pm

It would probably be more accurate to characterize him as claiming that all indiscriminate violence against civillian populations is terror. Whether or not it’s intentional vs. merely predictable might change the shading somewhat, but Israel has killed far more Palestinian civs than visa-versa, and the day to day conditions imposed in the territories is brutal. The young people in the IDF that really don’t want to be doing this become refuseniks.

“scamming the oil-for-food program”

See this, that OFF scam was nothing compared to illegal trade with the regime that the US and its partners ignored, or for that matter the amount of damage dealt to the Iraqi economy. $92 dollars per capita total, over 3 years, is pretty insignificant.

And those sanctions were America’s more than anybody elses, the sanctions committee was manipulated by America more than anybody else, the pressure to keep up the sanctions was from America, which unilaterally had them conditional on regime change. The individuals skimming off extra booty from the OFF program would have been able to do more business if there had been unsanctioned, unrestricted trade – I don’t know how this brings you to the conclusion that they either could or would prevent an end to the sanctions regime, which was crumbling before the war anyway. And it was a UNSC to lift sanctions – one veto and they stay – Pakistan had no say in the matter: recall all those contracts Russia, Germany and France were resisting the war over (cue war lobby shouting No oil for peace!)? They would have loved to have had unfettered access.

haroon April 14, 2004 at 6:15 am

“those sanctions were as much pakistan’s”

excuse me. those sanctions were the government’s, not pakistan’s. and furthermore, you presume that bombing targets from a plane is morally better than blowing up a bus. how do you know the bomber is not intentionally trying to kill civilians? That is just a presumption, the presumption being that a white soldier (an israeli or an american) has somehow a greater moral consciousness

i am not so sure that israeli and american troops are immune to killing innocents, and deliberately so. the bombing of iraq in 1991 was all-out terrorism. it was demanded, and led by, a wealthy, democratic and officially secular state. wealth does not insulate from terrorism. furthermore, how is violence different from terrorism? dropping a 500 lb bomb or firing a missile from a helicopter can be seen as *more* terrorizing, because it cannot be stopped, nor do they — the victims — have any meaningful way of even pretending to stop it…

Nathan April 14, 2004 at 6:45 am

“how do you know the bomber is not intentionally trying to kill civilians?”

Because I trust Lt. Earl Martin when he told me that he, my grandfather, and the rest of the crew on their bomber, didn’t have that intention. I also know that because I know my people. There are some real bastards among us, and I don’t doubt that some of our soldiers fall well short of the honor our military tries to instill. The difference is that we act with a clear political, strategic, or tactical objective. Any of my people who do revel in the death of innocents or destruction for its own sake are sick. I don’t run into them too often though.

You don’t have to believe me about intentions, and I don’t think you intend to, but that’s the crux here. The US military, at least, has taken great pains over the last decade to move to precision munitions. 1991 was still a mess. I would call the systematic rape, pillage, and looting of Kuwait terrorism before I called the bombing campaign that though. Mistakes are still made and our enemies draw fire towards civilians (by, for example, using schools and mosques as defense installations). The difference is that when an innocent person is hurt by our hand, most Americans are saddened by it (and, just to throw in their, our military is obligated to offer medical treatment to them).

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