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Monday, October 20, 2003

"If poverty were a prime cause of terrorism, we would see a lot more of it in poor countries"

Not a bad piece in the Washington Post, by columnist Colbert I. King - The Gordian Knot of Middle East Terrorism. The legend behind the ancient knot was that the man who could untie it was destined to rule the entire world, then Asia; Alexander simply slashed the knot with his sword. Okay, so it's hard to make peace in the Middle East. This column gives no answer, but it does us a service by passing on information from the research of Jessica Stern; the quote I used to headline this post is hers. Stern has excellent credentials and spent years interviewing terrorists. She is clear: poverty does not cause terrorists to blow themselves up.

However, King leaves us hanging after he says that Stern thinks the Bush administration's policy in the Middle East is a "profound error" because it deeply humiliates Muslims. No word on what she thinks might work. The point must be that we all should buy Stern's new book, Terror in the name of G-d: Why Religious Militants Kill.

Moving on, Amazon (at the book link) offers a review which does unveil Stern's counter-stratgey:
For all the material damage terrorist acts cause, Stern argues, we should understand religious militance as a form of psychological warfare, calculated to bolster the faithful and strike "spiritual dread" in the unbelievers; the most effective counterstrategy is thus not violence but nonviolent techniques such as psychological counterwarfare and the reaffimation of our own values.
Even given this, it seems to me that Bush's approach is not all that bad. It has some plausible similarities to that of Alexander the Great, it does reaffirm our own values, and if only he would go ahead and slash the knot, he might reap some bounty in the psychological counterwarfare department as well.

As an interesting aside, read about Alexander the Great's treasure being found in Kabul earlier this year - in the New Zealand Herald.