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April 16, 2004


David Duff

Reading Oliver's post above, and remembering his recent weakness for list-making, I would like to suggest another list to which all his commenters can contribute - the most stupid and glib aphorism of the last 100 years. Without giving it too much thought may I start it off with "Property is theft"?


Ooh, a bit of smoke & mirrors there, Oliver.

You repeat (for the millionth time) an undeniable truism - poverty is not the cause of terrorism or religious fundamentalism. Osama is, as you say, an extremely wealthy man and it's certainly true that many terrorists come from well-off backgrounds (see also the infamous (and rubbish) "Weathermen").

However, it is also nonsense to claim that poverty has no effect on terrorist recruits. Poverty undoubtably causes resentment and resentment is what extremist ideologues need to draw recruits to their cause. So, yes, we do need to look at ways of dealing with poverty and therefore stifling the support and manpower that extremist causes feed from. It's perfectly correct to chastise idiots who pretend that poverty is the sole reason for terrorism but to pretend it's simply irrelevant (as some far-right ideologues have pretended is also true of crime) goes against common-sense and pandering to it will weaken the fight against islamist terrorism and religious totalitarianism, not strengthen it.

Steve Kingston

Re David Duff's challenge: I wrote my thesis on feminist movements of the 1970s and can say without hesitation that the worst political aphorism of the century was 'the personal is political'. If you ever hear that said, start running straightaway.


When I read that letter in the Telegraph, my immediate thought was, 'If he's a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, what in God's name are the Junior Lecturers like?'

Glib phrase of the century: 'If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.'


Terrorism is the war of those who claim to speak on behalf of the poor. Sadly they refrain from consulting the poor in advance, taking it for granted that their actions are representative.


The problem with the links drawn by people like Neil Richardson is that they go so glibly from "terrorism caused by poverty" to "poverty caused by foreign policy." They totally neglect the thoroughly corrupt, repressive, authoritarian regimes that hog their countries' resource wealth (usually oil) while creating vast numbers of terrorized people. (Terrorism looks a lot like the exportation of the means used inside all too many of these places.) As Herbert Kitschelt demonstrates in a fantastic recent paper, "Origins of International Terrorism in the Middle East," available on the web at , the creation of these conditions has less (though not nothing) to do with foreign policy -- and its bugbear, colonialism -- towards these countries than with the groteseque disorders within them.


It looks like hte URL for the Kitschelt paper didn't go through, so let me try again, in English: fesportal(dot)fes(dot)de(slash)pls(slash)portal30(slash)docs(slash)FOLDER(slash)IPG(slash)IPG1(single underscore)2004(slash)ARTKITSCHELT(dot)PDF

Canadian Headhunter

Oliver, a rich man can be the tribune of the poor.

Phil Jackson

"a rich man can be the tribune of the poor"

Not in this instance. For it would imply the emotional drive of altruism on the part of The Thug and his followers, and altruists do not fly plane-loads of innocents into tower blocks of innocents.

In fact the good faith of any "rich man" playing the tribune role can be measured by the degree to which he shifts power or, at least, political leverage directly into the hands of those he professes to care about. Such men are remarkably few in history.

"Poverty undoubtably causes resentment and resentment is what extremist ideologues need to draw recruits to their cause"

That poverty causes resentment is a truism - after all, people are hardly likely to celebrate their poverty or even be indifferent to it. However, whether or not the poor externalise their resentfulness and, if so, in which direction ("who’s to blame?") is determined by the dominant ideology of their time and place. That ideology, in turn, is not generated by the poor themselves but springs from the aspirations of some or other elite vying for ascendancy with other elites. It is ideology therefore, not poverty, that is the ‘root cause’ for the West-haters, and even if the poor did not exist it would be unlikely to cause serious impediment: they could easily be invented in some relative or ‘virtual’ form if it was thought necessary.

The terrorist ideologies - together with their self-romanticising martyr complex - must therefore be attacked head on; precisely what the Israeli government is doing now, to tut-tuttings from the GrauniBeebs. Poverty is a real but separate issue; the West can help to eradicate it by prompting the growth of free market capitalism and democratic norms throughout the Middle East. It is important that the Arab nations should learn how to generate their own Margaret Thatchers. Dr Richardson would agree, I’m sure.


Given the frequent parallels between our respective 'Blogs, Oliver, the few visitors to mine might get the idea I am trying to be jester to your scribe. My defence is that I've usually thumped one of our common enemies with a pig's bladder before you've got round to running him through with a pen. This time I'm late to court, and I've, er, brought a quill. Here's another "true and elegant" saying for Rupert Read: "You shall judge a man by his foes as well as by his friends."

Oliver Kamm

Matty - I'm not aware that any serious commentator has ever claimed 'poverty has no effect on terrorist recruits'. I can think of at least one particularly vicious terrorist group whose members (though not leaders) are largely from the poor - Shining Path in Peru - while the IRA is predominantly a movement of the lower-middle and working classes. Support for al-Qaeda is strong among the rural poor in Pakistan. The point is not that no terrorist recruit is ever swayed by poverty, but that, first, there is no causal connection between poverty and terrorism, and secondly, even the correlation between poverty and terrorism is low. There are at least as many terrorist movements that have no connection with poverty at all - the Red Army Fraction in Germany, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka etc. More to the point, there is no terrorist threat to the West from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which are desperately poor.

Your analogy with thinking about the causes of crime is question-begging, because it's precisely one of the questions that Krueger & Maleckova raise whether terrorism is in fact analogous to crime. They argue, from the empirical evidence, that terrorism is in fact less like crimes against property, where an economic motive can reasonably be inferred, than it is like political activism, which is much more commonly practised by the educated and affluent.

Canadian Headhunter

>the good faith of any "rich man" playing the tribune role can be measured by the degree to which he shifts power or political leverage directly into the hands of those he professes to care about. Such men are remarkably few in history

Mass democracy is a fairly recent invention. Usually, experts don't think that the poor and uneducated can run their own affairs. That's why they need leaders and activists from the upper classes. We might think this leads to corruption of the cause, but not in principle.

Eric Hoffer said that activists are often well-to-do people whose ambitions are blocked so they adopt some needy group as an alternate means to power. (He included Herzl among them).

Even so, it doesn't mean that they are not dedicated to their "charges". For instance, people might become doctors to have good jobs but that doesn't mean they have no sense of responsibility toward their patients.


Concerning the (presumed) connection between poverty and terrorism, where does that leave ETA, whose members hail from one of the richest parts of Spain?


The same Dr Rupert Read, giving UEA as his address, writes this to the letters page of last Saturday's Financial Times (17 April):
"...Violence is violence. Why is the murder of hundreds of women and children by gangs of American soldiers in Falluja or the murder of Rachel Corrie (an unarmed American peace activist)in Palestine morally superior to the murder of hundreds of Spaniards by an al-Qaeda cell or the murder of an Italian mercenary held hostage by a gang of Iraqi militiamen?
If Bin Laden is a terrorist, then so is Sharon. The main differences between them are that Sharon has been far more militarily successful, and that he has even more blood on his hands across the years. The 'war on terror' is a deeply dangerous vacuity that George Orwell would well understand".
Evidently, Dr Read is a deeply dangerous vacuity but it's a shame the FT gives space to opinions so inane that even the students at UEA must find them embarrassing.

John Turnbull

Whenever the causes of (Islamist) terrorism are discussed here, there seems to be an unwillingness to examine role of the US (and the UK) in helping to create the conditions in which fundamentalism thrives.

Today's Asia Times summarises fifty years of US meddling in the Middle East:


"The primary reason for September 11 is the product of US policy and actions in the Middle East since the end of World War II - a policy based on exercising control over the world's greatest known reserves of petroleum. This has led Washington to continuously intervene in the region to support backward feudal monarchies and repressive, undemocratic regimes at the expense of social and political progress. The three secondary reasons involve the Afghan civil war (1978-1995), the first US-Iraq war (1990-2003), and one-sided US support for Israel (mainly 1967-2004)."

P.S. This is emphatically NOT an argument that the US 'deserved' September 11th


I suppose nothing internal to these regimes matters at all to you? Is the whole world merely a creation of the US? And who's to blame for making the US or "the west" what it is? I've come to think of this as a form of pathological narcissism in political analysis: the whole world is just an extension of the US/west/Israel.

John Turnbull

Surely the real narcissism lies in believing that whatever action the west takes is always for the most benign of reasons?


I'm pretty sure the most repressive Arab regimes were Soviet-backed and modeled on the USSR.
Also, the US fed Nasser's Egypt for a few years without getting anything in return. It must be remembered that selfishness leads to some pretty generous policies some of the time.


A correction: In an earlier version of a post of mine linked to from this site, I confused Rupert Read with another politico at Balliol in the 80s. Just for the record: Rupert Read was never Balliol JCR President and I should be more careful with my use of Google.


"f you contend that war is terrorism then you are eliding the distinction between the indiscriminate violence (as between military and civilian targets) characteristic of terrorism and the limited warfare, attempting to avoid civilian casualties, practised in Iraq by Coalition forces. You can argue that that distinction is otiose anyway (though that’s not a view I hold), but to avoid mentioning it altogether is to overlook one of the most influential principles in moral reflection on warfare in western philosophy, namely the Thomist principle of double effect. Targeting civilians in warfare is morally wrong, but warfare that causes civilian deaths is not necessarily wrong where those deaths are an unintended and secondary consequence of an attack on a military target. Whether it is or not depends on other criteria applied in particular cases..."

Here's a particular case: The US Military drops two bunkerbusters on a restaurant in Baghdad in the presumption that Saddam is in the house. Fourteen people are killed. Saddam isn't one of them. He wasn't there, as we now know.

I assume you would say that if Saddam were using the people in the room as a shield, the people were fair game, so to speak (see Ralph Peters, Frances Kamm). Am I correct in my assumption?

The first part of my question is, is there an ethical limit to how many (presumed?) innocents can be killed in the pursuit of this legitimate military target?

The second part of my question is, if Saddam was not in the room, is the killing of these people a crime?

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