By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
There is always a narrative about “fueling” terrorism.
1950s-1960s Why is there terrorism
“Colonialism fuels terrorism”
1970s Why is there terrorism?
“Israel is fueling terrorism by suppressing Palestinians and its occupation of Arab and Islamic lands”
1980s Why is there terrorism?
“US policy in Iran fueled the revolution that then became extreme and caused terrorism, and US support of Mujahidin in Afghanistan caused terrorism”
Early 1990s Why is there terrorism?
“US-supported regimes and secular dictators and lack of democracy fuel terror by suppressing the demands of the people”
Late 1990s and 9/11 Why is there terrorism?
“US bases in the Kingdom on the land of the two holy sites defiles Islam and fuels terrorism and US role in Afghanistan created blowback, as well as US support for Israel.”
2002 Why is there terrorism?
“Poverty and discrimination cause terrorism as well as dictatorship in the Arab world”
2003 Why is there terrorism?
“The US and allied invasion of Iraq fueled extremism”
2014 Why is there terrorism
“Assad’s crackdown on demands for democracy and Maliki’s disenfranchisement of Sunni Arabs in Iraq fuels terrorism”
May I propose an alternative theory of how extremism is fueled.
Extremism is primarily fueled by hateful and intolerant societies that produce large numbers of ignorant and bigoted people who are willing dupes, fellow travelers, useful idiots, and some of whome are actual extremists. Within such a society there are also those on its margins, even outsiders, who seek to convert to zealotry because it provides an easy answer and there are psychopaths and sociopaths who seek an excuse to murder others.
Into this society comes voices who exploit the existing bigotry, ignorance and intolerance and encourages people to become extremist terrorists. They exploit the existing and non-existing grievances of the people through preaching and other forms of propaganda using the most modern medium and religion as a cover or rubric to bring in the public. Very small numbers of people join with the extremists, but even a very small number (.01%) of society willing to commit mass murder can wreak havoc.
The extremist group perpetuates not only lies and propaganda (such as claiming religious books were burned in order to encourage a crowd to murder), but invents new “grievances” every year as a new “reason” for people to kill others. Much as the KKK or Nazis had their “reasons” and they were “fueled” by often imagined suffering, these extremist groups prey on the same need of people to hate the other and blame others for their problem.
So one year they will say “poverty made me kill” and the next year they will say “racism in Europe made me do it” and then “Trump made me do it,” but the reality is that nothing made them extremist except for themselves, extremism isn’t “fueled,” it often fuels itself.
Most dictatorships full of poor discriminated against people don’t create masses of terrorists, in fact most places produce zero extremism. Extremism requires mobilization. Of course it has excuses as to what mobilizes it, but there is always a reason. When Saddam Hussein was in charge he committed genocide and terror against Shia and Kurds, and when he lost power others stepped into his place as “resistance” and killed Shia and Kurds. They always had their reason, whether in charge or not. Just like the KKK when it was in charge (in the form of white supremacy before 1865) it terrorized black people and when it was marginalized it terrorized them, and always had an excuse as to why.
Be wary of the self-fulfilling prophecy of “fueling terror,” its the easy way to excuse hatred and mass murder.
Of course one can reduce the number of people to whome a radicalization appeal may be interesting, but it will always be there.