2002 December 19 Thursday
Collin May on Root Causes of Terrorism

Reflecting on the latest Lord of the Rights movie Two Towers Collin May finds problems with root causes explanation for terrorism.

For my part, this speaks to an issue that has become increasingly prevalent in the face of terrorist attacks around the world today. It is often said that we have to look at the root causes of terror to determine why people turn to such desperate measures as blowing themselves apart in a crowded bus. Inevitably, the root cause in question is poverty caused by the greedy western world, and just as inevitably, you can be sure that wherever someone is talking about the mighty root cause, you’ll find an expert with a Ph.D. nodding smugly in agreement.

Unfortunately for our scholarly friends, there is a problem with root causes. Root causes assume something that is rarely mentioned. Root causes assume that humans can escape their moral obligations by standing outside the normal world. It assumes humans can abstract themselves from reality and go romping through history looking for the all-powerful distant cause that will explain each and every aspect of our current situation. Then, having discerned the historical secret, the wily scholar can, with a gentle wave of his hand, dismiss all those silly concerns about morality, responsibility and honor, while providing the road map for solving all our social ills. That this approach, which is really none other than the methodology of the social sciences, is simplistic in the extreme, reducing human decisions to little more than unthinking reactions to a single dominant stimulus, means little to its proponents. They accept all this because the root cause provides an immediate and simplistic explanation to impress the gullible and justify the foolish.

Regardless of what has happened in our historical past we are each still responsible for making moral decisions. There is no "get out of moral obligations for free" card which is handed out to those who can weave together the most tragic-sounding story of historical wrongs done to our ancestors.

The root cause explanation doesn't make sense for other reasons, not least of which is that the terrorists are coming from the more affluent Muslim nations and from the middle and upper classes of those nations. These people have not experienced the real poverty of places such as Bangladesh. Their claims of victimhood are not credible. The modernizing Islamic countries are the ones that are experiencing the greatest increase in radical Islamist sentiment in part because modernization causes changes and bring influences that threaten Islam's central role in society. Historical grievances and current poverty are not the main causes of the rise of anti-Western radical Islam.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 19 12:38 PM  Cultural Wars Western


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