“The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty.” --Bono
“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.” – Pope Francis
In 1939, John Steinbeck published the Grapes of Wrath – his elegy to the dispossessed farmers of the Great Depression. Buried in that tome are what have become known as The Three Cries of History. He said:
“And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.”
This should sound eerily familiar – if not prescient – in the 21st century. We are living in times of unprecedented wealth. But the gap between our rich and our poor has never been so great, either. Nearly 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25/day. Another 2 ½ billion live on less than $2.50. That’s half of humanity.
In this gap, terrorism festers – also on an unprecedented scale.
In 2014, after a meeting with the Vatican, John Kerry stated, “We have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.”
In the wake of the Paris attacks this weekend, there is likely to be much sabre rattling about the War on Terror. Canada’s new Prime Minister will be assaulted for his pre-existing stance on removing troops from Syria and resettling 25 000 refugees. This will not be a popular decision. But despite evidence to the contrary, we do not elect our leaders to be popular. We elect them to lead.
According to Forbes Magazine, in 2011, the War on Terror had cost American taxpayers 1.7 trillion dollars since 2001. Other left-leaning academics have pegged the price tag as high as 5 trillion. However, in The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs – Director of the Harvard Earth Institute – calculated the cost of eliminating extreme poverty at $175 billion over 20 years. This figure is roughly equal to .7% of the OECD’s gross domestic product. That’s less than a penny from every dollar in the world’s thirty richest nations. Even at the most conservative estimates, one nation alone (the United States) spent this amount in the first decade of its War on Terror.
Imagine for a moment that this money had been spent on building schools, creating jobs, improving access to clean water, and feeding the hungry. What would the world look like today? Alas, imagine is all we can do.
One thing is for sure, however, armed conflict, destabilization, and civil unrest only strengthen the conditions for terrorism. The National Bureau of Economic Research found an even greater correlation between these conditions and terror, than it did with poverty (Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism). It is not a secret – even if not widely heralded in the media – that ISIS/ISIL was fostered and even aided by American intervention. Barack Obama defended his decision to support what he originally considered “moderate rebels” by “non-lethal” means. This support transformed ISIS/ISIL, which had previously been a bit player in the region, into the force for global terror that it is today.
It is one thing to foster terror through inaction. It is another to “spread compost on the weeds.”
We have only to ask ourselves, “Is the world a safer place today than it was in 2001?” If the answer is no, than the War on Terror is a failure.
The truth is, terrorism is the twisted offspring of inequality. Bombing treats only the symptom. To stop terrorism, we must attack it at the source. Build schools, build hospitals, build democracies. Anything else is an absurd game of Whack-A-Mole – strike terrorism once, and it will show its ugly head again elsewhere in little time.
Al qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS/ISIL… whack, whack, whack…
Our thoughts can be nowhere else but with the Parisians at this moment in history. #ViveLaFrance