Thursday, January 07, 2010

On the cusp   posted by Razib @ 1/07/2010 11:33:00 AM

Lots of talk about how the "underwear bomber" was from a wealthy and cosmopolitan background in the media. Like the poverty = crime meme, the poverty & backwardness = terrorism meme is still floating around, though the evidence of the past decade of the prominence of affluent and well-educated individuals in international terrorist networks is eroding that expectation's dominance a great deal. One thing though that I noted was that many Nigerians are claiming that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalized in Londonistan. Though Nigeria has had a great deal of Muslim-Christian violence over the past few decades, the main reasons can be easily attributed to local dynamics (internal migration, Hausa chauvinism, etc.). I think there is a difference between a movement such as ETA, which has clear and distinct aims, and more quixotic groups which were basically nihilistic in their outcomes (if not aims), such as the Red Army Faction. The Salafist international terrorism movement resembles the latter more than the former in terms of the practical outcomes of their actions.

The importance of diaspora communities and mobile cosmopolitans in international terrorism makes me wonder as to the relevance of Peter Turchin's thesis that civilizational boundaries are critical in shaping between-group dynamics. Among "right thinking people" the Clash of Civilizations narrative is dismissed, but there are many non-right thinking people for whom it is alive and essential, even if they wouldn't put that particular name to it (i.e., usually it is for them one of civilization vs. barbarism, Christianity vs. heathenism, the Abode of Islam vs. the Abode of War). And the civilizational chasm may be most alive precisely for those people who live on the boundaries between the two. The popularity of nationalist political movements in areas of Europe with large immigrant populations attests to the generality of this insight.

Update: Just noticed that Haroon Moghal makes similar observations:
The first point: radicalism is most likely to emerge from zones of overlap. By this I mean the people, places or other contexts where Western and Islamic perspectives come together in negative contrast. Say, the African Muslim student who travels to Europe to study, finding himself alienated by the lifestyle around him, the hateful comments about Islam in the public discourse and the undeniable pain of war and poverty in so many Muslim lands. Or the British Muslim who's angry at his government's foreign policy and tired of not being considered part of his country. (No wonder the pining for future Caliphates: it's somewhere one's passport might imply belonging.)


A materialist bias would like us to believe that human flourishing negates the baser aspects of the self, an assumption undermined by someone such as Saddam Hussein, who despite his wealth was still a predator upon his people. People who are deeply mired in poverty can be attracted to extremist causes, and can and do commit acts of terror. But the founding leaders of al-Qaeda, and those who would attack us within Western territories, are generally well-educated and well-off citizens from the non-West, persons who are themselves zones of overlap. We hear the struggle in Abdulmutallab's words. It's not that poverty doesn't move them, but more correctly it is an interpretation of poverty that radicalizes (and is itself radical).

(via JohnPI)

Addendum: Just a note, the intersection between cultures/civilizations can play out synthetically or through confrontation. The two Jewish rebellions against Roman rule were ultimately futile, and forced a reconstruction of Jewish identity into a more pacific form. On the other hand, one could model Christianity as a synthesis of Jewish and Greco-Roman culture which was eminently successful in its own right.