9/11 Words To Live By (REVISITED)
Yesterday, on the eve of the ninth anniversary of 9/11, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report, "Assessing The Terrorist Threat" (Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman). The report is deeply disturbing in more ways than one.
The threat from Al-Qaeda is not diminishing but changing form. An "embryonic terrorist radicalization and recruitment infrastructure" now exists on American soil (page 17). Al-Qaeda is recruiting more Americans to perform terrorist attacks.
"What do we do," Bergen and Hoffman ask, "when the terrorists are like us? When they conform to the archetypal American immigrant success story?" Have terrorists "discovered our Achilles’ heel in that we currently have no strategy to counter the type of threat posed by homegrown terrorists and other radicalized recruits?" (30)
Like us: words to live by... So, what do we do, and does the report do it?
Bergen and Hoffman take stock of common ideas about the source of terrorism. "Comforting theories about poverty, lack of education, and lack of opportunity have long figured prominently in explanations for the eruption of terrorism. Indeed, in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, this debate over the 'root causes' of terrorism acquired new relevance and greater urgency. A succession of global leaders seemed to fasten on poverty, illiteracy, and lack of education as the sources of world-wide terrorism and insurgency."
Bergen and Hoffman then refute those "comforting theories" this way: "But the historical and contemporary empirical evidence fails to support such sweeping claims -- with Faisal Shahzad [the Times Square bomber] himself the latest example. Shahzad had a degree in computing and an MBA." (15)
The report seems to be building toward a major conclusion; indeed, it proceeds to build even higher: "As the terrorism expert Walter Laqueur explained seven years ago, for terrorists to survive, much less thrive, in today’s globalized, technologically savvy and interconnected world, they have to be 'educated, have some technical competence and be able to move without attracting attention in alien societies. In brief, such a person will have to have an education that cannot be found among the poor in Pakistani or Egyptian villages or Palestinian refugee camps, only among relatively well-off town folk.'"
Educated; not poor; not disadvantaged; relatively well-off; not remarkable -- like us: Bergen and Hoffman, are you saying that homegrown terrorists tend to be middle class? Sounds like it. That conclusion is one step away…
Here it comes -- but then again, no. Bergen and Hoffman jump the track: "Nor do the would-be jihadists fit any particular ethnic profile." (16) Evidence and common sense were heading straight toward the middle class origin of Western terrorists, but that conclusion cannot be admitted. So, the authors left us in a lurch. The conclusion remains, but in the mind alone -- an afterthought read between the lines. The elephant in the room.
Bergen and Hoffman cannot directly deny the middle class status of terrorists, so they do it indirectly. They declare of U.S.-based terrorists: "Indeed, these jihadists do not fit any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile." (1) Curiously, their appendix presents data on the ethnicity of the American terrorists, but no data whatsoever on their economic, educational, or social status. We are left in the lurch -- again.
Many of the homegrown terrorists Bergen and Hoffman mention are discussed in this blog (see below). Their middle class status is undeniable. I challenge Bergen and Hoffman to present data to the contrary -- to refute quantitatively the very thing they assert qualitatively: like us.
Bergen and Hoffman conclude: "It is fundamentally troubling, given this collection of new threats and new adversaries directly targeting America, that there remains no federal government agency or department specifically charged with identifying radicalization and interdicting the recruitment of U.S. citizens or residents for terrorism…America is thus vulnerable to a threat that is not only diversifying, but arguably intensifying." (29)
Fundamentally troubling, indeed. Identifying radicalization, I submit, will never be achieved without understanding middle class rebellion. For it is that rebellion which is behind what the report claims to be the only common denominator of American terrorists: "hatred." (31)
Tragically, that understanding is blocked by ideological processes analyzed in "The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion." Those processes find their culmination in the official watchword guiding the Bergen/Hoffman report: do not ask a question if you do not want to know the answer.
That watchword has a devastating consequence:
as the report suggests, America's Achilles heel has been discovered. It is our middle class.
Like Us. Words to live by. And to die by.
NOTES (October 27, 2010)
1. The middle class origin of terrorists is well documented. Two examples:
Dr. Marc Sageman concluded from his sample of over 100 terrorists: “Members of the global Salafi jihad were generally middle-class, educated young men from caring and religious families, who grew up with strong positive values of religion, spirituality and concern for their communities.” Marc Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2004, p. 96.
For readers looking for a rigorous quantitative study of terrorism, Alan B. Krueger’s What Makes A Terrorist: Economics and The Roots of Terrorism is a basic text. Krueger’s data led him to conclude: (1) Terrorists “tend to be middle class or upper middle class….” (2) Although “the world’s attention is currently focused on Islamic terrorist organizations, they are by no means the source of terrorism. No religion has a monopoly on terrorism.” (3) “Low education, poverty, and other economic conditions” are not significantly correlated with terrorism. Alan B. Krueger, What Makes A Terrorist: Economics and The Roots of Terrorism, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2007, pp. 77, 81, 89.
Aristotle’s 2,000-year-old perceptions and judgments prevail today throughout the Western world.
Aristotle wrote that … the middle class “forms the mean” and “moderation and the mean are always best.” Being moderate, those who occupy the middle “are the most ready to listen to reason.” Aristotle, "The Politics of Aristotle," translated and edited by Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, New York, 1962, pp. 181, 186. (Book IV, Chapters XI, XII).
Aristotle’s contention that the middle class is reasonable and moderate, a neutral and stabilizing arbitrator, is highly probative. The resulting, iconic status he awarded that class is readily recognizable …
However, if Aristotle's view is correct, it is not entirely or exclusively correct.
The middle class is always best. A totem, if there ever was one. Well, wherever there is a totem, you will find a taboo.