Presentation on Extreme Poverty and Terrorism by Dr. Joseph Wronka, Professor of Social Work, Springfield College and Representative for IASSW at the Side Event on Terrorism sponsored by the Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism. Analysis of the Human Aspects of Terrorism. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Homepage: www.humanrightsculture.org
It was the great American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, while warning us of a growing military industrial complex counseled us also to come to the realization that every bomb made is theft from the poor. But, that is only a half truth I think because nowadays with depleted uranium being used, let alone the fallout from agent orange, among other things there are continuing reports of major deformities, children being born with two heads, four legs etc. in countries like Iraq where an estimated 500,000 were killed recently in the occupation there. And if the US, my country, produces roughly 49% of the world’s armaments can it not be said that it is the greatest thief echoing also the words of Martin Luther King that it was the most violent country in the world.
My basic point then is that when we speak of terrorism we ought to keep in mind the words of St. Augustin, who, in his City of God said that if you take over a ship, you are a pirate, but take over a fleet, and you are an admiral. … or as Bob Dylan said “steal a little you are a thief: steal a lot you are a king.” Thus, while indeed 9/11 was a horrific act with close to an estimated 4,000 killed mercilessly, so, too it can easily be argued that the War on Terror in response to it which continues to this day is of a horrific nature.
If bombs, bombs and more bombs then is not the answer, which creates an ongoing cycle of violence and counter violence, what then shall we do, to borrow a scriptural phrase from the Christian gospel of St. Matthew. My argument that I will now expound upon is that whenever there is violence, there is a problem that is not being addressed and that understanding and abetting, if not eradicating the root causes of that problem can put an end to terrorism as broadly defined above. But understanding does not mean forgiveness, as Hannah Arendt stated, author of Eichmann in Jerusalem, the Nazi responsible for the killing of at least one million innocents and originator of that pithy phrase, the “banality of evil.” Perpetrators need to be brought to justice and of course the victims need to be helped, a major focus of this side event.
My argument then is that if we are to “fight,” terrorism through direct non-violent action, we need to look at the problem both proactively and reactively, struggling to deal with both causes and symptoms simultaneously. Yes, social justice is struggle. Thus, metaphorically speaking, while we must help those drowning downstream in a river, we must also look upstream and put out the fire of the burning ship that is causing people to jump off the ship in the first place.
The words of Eric Fromm, the great psychoanalyst/psychologist I think sum up the problem upstream in a nutshell. “Unlived life” he said, let me repeat “Unlived life” he said “leaves to destruction.” When people are frustrated, it leaves them to act out to be aggressive. This is where I believe poverty and extreme poverty, play a major role, which limit a person and let me add his or her family’s capacity to grow and develop. The poor are often also marginalized from society and have difficulty partaking in community building and is not making a positive contribution to the world part and parcel of the human condition?
So what we are talking about very simply is jobs for all, employment, what all the governments here have committed themselves to, for full employment is enshrined in the UN Charter, which has the status of international treaty and thus must be implemented. But when I am talking about jobs, I am not talking about marketing and selling products that nobody needs, such as working at Walmart.
Indeed, roughly one and one half trillion dollars per year are spent in marketing that is the creation of artificial need. But I am speaking here of jobs that are and let me here quote the words of the US Delegation to the drafting committee UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, jobs that are “socially useful… contribute to the development of the human personality… are at reasonable wages and increase purchasing power.” But today there is a so called youth bulge globally with the children of the children of the baby boomers conceived soon after the ravages of World War II making competition for socially useful work at reasonable wages extremely, extremely competitive, if not, non existent. Such frustration thus can lead to self-immolation, such as the burning of 26 year old Mohammed Bouazizzi of Tunisia, which at that time had a 30% unemployment rate.
We are speaking here of course of unbridled if not what is called savage capitalism which as that evil man, Karl Marx said would lead to progressive pauperization and in the US 1% owns roughly 60% of all the wealth and this chasm is growing each day within and among countries as he said in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, where he also stated in essence that poverty was at the root of war, terrorism, pestilence, famine, Guinea worm, and HIV victims thus of this kind of global terrorism. And indeed globally there are 500 billionaires that is .0000008% of the population who own roughly 3.7 trillion dollars, whereas primarily in the so-called Global South consisting of roughly two million people, their piece of the pie is 1.7 billion dollars. Isn’t that frustrating? Doesn’t it get you angry? Don’t you want to do something about it?
Now, let me quote Osama Bin Laden shortly before he commandeered 9/11. He has lost millions apparently in the stock market shortly before that act of terrorism and asked about that he said very quizzically simply “Where did all that money go”? I think that it was no coincidence that the twin towers were demolished a symbol of unbridled capitalism, an economic system, let me add that is directly inconsistent with the Islamic notion of riba, that money from money is considered a sin and zakat, which means giving help to the needy whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. It goes without saying that he was also concerned with the mistreatment of Palestinians.
OK, so the ship is still burning and extreme poverty and militarism still growing. Perhaps maybe we should also begin dialogue about allegiance to humanity and world citizenship as Joseph Rotblatt former Nobel Peace Prize winner urged. After all, why spend trillions of dollars keeping lines on the map?
Anyway, let’s go beyond all that. Let me tell you a story of perhaps a typical person further downstream who is at risk for joining a terrorist group. I recently returned from Pakistan and spoke with a young man who was recruited by ISIS. His family was very poor and he said he was offered thousands of dollars and even status as some kind of commander to become a member and was consistently “bombarded” with quotes from the Koran that claimed to advocate violence. Fortunately, he had run this all by his father a devout Muslim who quoted from Sura that “Verily we honor every human being” and that “One cannot call him or herself a believer if he does to his brother what he finds hateful to himself.” So, he did not join and that was his story. But how many more do join that do not have such a family support. And, in these days in which literature strongly suggests that many of our youth, the poor and even those who are poor in other ways like living alone in loveless affluence, particularly men, though indeed women are also vulnerable, often withdraw from their families beginning in their early adolescence going to what has been called “guyland,” where they play video games all day, endlessly watch hours of television, surf the Internet endlessly. It is as if they are silently crying out to belong to a group, any group and a terrorist group or cults also on the agenda of this group to defend victims of terrorism even would do just fine.
So all the way downstream then are the victims of terrorism, the wounded and dead bodies so to speak that need to be pulled from the river. We are speaking here of the Malalas of the world, shot directly in the face by a member of the Taliban. Why? Because she was an advocate of girls and women`s rights. But we are also speaking about the close to an estimated 1000 innocents killed in drone attacks in Pakistan alone including an estimated 200 children. Imagine shrapnel, chards of glass, nails even bursting in the air directly into one’s face, genitals if I may, legs ripped from one’s body. Surely, the media can and should play role in appealing to the human condition which I think is often moved towards compassion and altruism when viewing atrocities. But, whereas I often recall scenes of Malala’s disfigured face and in the hospital, I have never once seen at least in the American media an innocent victim of a drone attack.
So, those are some of my thoughts on dealing with the causes and effects of terrorism. Let me conclude with the words of Frederick Nietzsche who said: In fighting monsters, be weary that you do not become a monster yourself.