Thursday, 8 December 2011

Poverty The Root Of All Evil

The recent Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan was an evocative illustration of how the great tragedies of our age stem from economic disparities that are untreatable with military or political misadventures. How the great powers refuse to address inequality, the root cause of the age of terrorism, at any cost.

Has it occurred to the reader that, almost exclusively, every lunatic Islamist terrorist is based in a country that does not have electricity or running water outside it’s capital? Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan are countries that are heart wrenchingly under resourced. They are the disowned second cousins of the international family.

These countries have people that are disenfranchised of every ‘ism’ you can throw a stone out. They are both disenfranchised citizens and consumers. They are the great unwashed who are thrown our crumbs.

In recent times the North effortlessly ignored them. With globalisation we dare not. The world’s people now view their personal situation in a much broader perspective. They look further than the village to assess what is right and what is wrong in their life.

The starving Sudanese farmer, whose crop has failed and whose family is victim to murderous bandits, can be convinced by militant opportunists that his situation is a sinister American sponsored plot. Twenty years ago the farmer would think anyone who made that claim had been hit on the head by a speeding rickshaw.

American Express gold card members are thin on the ground in Northern Sudan but intelligence is not the monopoly of the wealthy. With the penetration of cable television and Internet untold millions are now witness, in streaming video, to just how shamelessly ostracized they are by the players of global business and politics.

This also gives rise to jealousy, imagine underemployed Abdul, watching the hedonistic Kardashians on YouTube, in conjunction with the biting shame of poverty, you will have no dearth of combatants who will be spellbound by the teachings of prophets who envision a just world.

The West was all but consumed by this phenomena. Hitler prayed on the weak and feeble minded in the height of the Great Depression. Promising exactly what any Al Qeada propaganda officer, worth his salt, does today. Order in chaos. Bread for the poor. Expedited justice. A classless society. Above all, belonging. 

Post war, during the sixties, smelly opinionated students everywhere worshipped Che Guevara. The bearded violent revolutionary who did not hesitate to kill and imprison Cubans who detracted from an overwhelmingly radical philosophy.
He is responsible for the execution of hundreds of former regime members who didn’t perfectly fit his fundamentalist mold. Not dissimilar to another bewildered bearded prophet who killed scores of Americans who didn’t enroll in his cockeyed school of Islam.

Both Guevara and Bin Laden had philosophies that nourished themselves on the biting indignity of exploitation. The genesis of inequality. Bin Laden, who was as mad as a March hare, was the modern Guevara.  Same manure different bucket. Both figureheads of organisations that violently overreacted to what they believed was larger state sponsored violence.

Now with globalisation, the West has to contend not with a single strategically relevant population, that is easy pray to a master manipulator, but a matrix of impoverished communities plugged in to a network we all share.  London, Madrid, Bali and New York were horrific scenes of carnage that were born of philosophies nurtured in the backwaters of the world.  Countries that no longer are beyond reach or, as these crimes have evidenced, not beyond us being touched.

The North justifiably labels these crimes as terrorist but how long can they also see them as Jihadist or Communist or any other philosophy? A Somali identifies with Islam, and this is a readily available vehicle, but it is not the driver. As the American revolutionaries easily identified with an inflexible school of Christianity but they were driven by a desperate need to assert their rights that had been so shamelessly defiled by the Crown.

The war on terror, a stillborn idea from the fact you can’t wage battle against an emotion, should be a war against poverty. How many Talibanis could be arsed patrolling the deathly cold Khyber Pass if they could be at home watching football on a two metre wide plasma television, with a goat roasting in an oversized barbeque that looks like a milk factory. Or more seriously, how many Afghan patriots would pursue violence if their children had access to the same health services that Westerners afford their pets?

Giving violent misfits a middle class life would have cost a fraction of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have reportedly cost US Dollars $1,292,164,039,372.  If I’m not wildly off mark that is $1.2 trillion dollars. Thus far, the cost of the war in Afghanistan is $465,056,330,769, which I’m guessing is a lot of textbooks and hospital beds in any borough.

India’s own litany of mutinies is painted over with the same brush. In the Indian Government’s eyes Maoists are terrorists that need to be eliminated.  This is the easiest route as addressing the real problems of acute poverty, that is breeding armies of youth who literally have nothing to lose, is well and truly stuffed into the ‘too hard basket’. Bureaucrats studiously ignoring the numbing fact that hunger is the worst form of terrorism.

How different are the motives for Kashmiri Azadis? Nagas? ULFAS? How much of their revolutionary zeal is driven by ethnic and religious identity? How much of their hatred stems from suffering poverty?  From not having a ticket on the great Indian economic miracle?

With Governments internationally refusing to acknowledge the true motives behind terrorist behaviour how can they win this abstract war? If they want militant organisations to stop mushrooming should they stop keeping the South in the dark and feeding them shit?


  1. Through this article you've hit the nail on the head. I read somewhere Imran Khan arguing the same logic specifically on the war on Taliban and I couldn't agree more. I guess everything is driven by the greed of big corporations - war means higher sales for defence equipment, big defence contracts, access to natural resources (oil from Iraq and supposedly $1 trillion resource goldmine that Afganistan is sitting on -http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/afghanistans-resources-could-make-it-the-richest-mining-region-on-earth-2000507.html ). Whats perplexing is how can the great brains running this world can miss the exact point that you've emphatically made. Well we can only hope!

  2. What a great thing to draw attention to the less 'sexy' side of world politics! It is much more interesting (and possibly less painful)to talk about terrorism or the lack of democracy in other countries than to address the economically exploitative relationship we have with these very countries. I wonder if part of the 'root of all evil' is our own (Western)disconnection from this relationship with the 'other'. The West's continued sense of itself at the centre automatically constitutes everyone else as the other. 'They' are terrorists, 'they' don't have democracy, 'they' are not us and so on. This 'othering' actively erodes our relationship (and obligation) to others. People are far more likely to complain about the quality of a product made in China than to complain about (or even consider) the exploitative conditions in which it was produced. In other words: it's all about me. My question then is this: could it be that the greatest root of all evil is our inability to identify with the other? More specifically: our inability to identify with the suffering of others. Surely this is the illogic of the Ches and the Bin Ladens of this world?

    So yes, you are so right about poverty, but it will only be when your poverty becomes my poverty that change will come.