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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

 

The wages of dissatisfaction

by Tom Sullivan

Thomas Piketty told Le Monde he believes inequality is a major motivation for Middle Eastern terrorism and that Western nations share blame for it:

Piketty writes that the Middle East's political and social system has been made fragile by the high concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population. If you look at the region between Egypt and Iran — which includes Syria — you find several oil monarchies controlling between 60 and 70 percent of wealth, while housing just a bit more than 10 percent of the 300 million people living in that area. (Piketty does not specify which countries he's talking about, but judging from a study he co-authored last year on Middle East inequality, it appears he means Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. By his numbers, they accounted for 16 percent of the region's population in 2012 and almost 60 percent of its gross domestic product.)

Piketty's argument that terrorism rooted in inequality is best countered economically has not gained much traction in the U.S., writes Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post. That is in part because measuring inequality in the region is hampered by low-quality economic statistics.

While Piketty's premise sounds reasonable, it might be a bit less than a Grand Unified Theory of Terrorism. Thomas P.M. Barnett's NewRuleSet.Project found that "when a country's per-capita income rises above ~$3,000, war becomes much less likely." War in the classical sense maybe, but what about terrorism? And where does terrorism end and war begin?

A new study from George Washington University finds that U.S. arrest records reveal an incredible "diversity of ages, backgrounds and locations among ISIL's U.S.-based recruits — from the 'keyboard warriors' who share the group's propaganda online to those who actually take up arms in Syria and Iraq." There is "no common profile" in one of the world's richest nations:

The findings, which drew from 7,000 pages of legal documents, reflect ISIL’s call for any disaffected Sunni Muslim or willing convert the world over to join its ranks. But researchers managed to paint a rough picture of who might be vulnerable to ISIL recruitment. According to the data, the average age of those arrested is 26. The vast majority — 86 percent — of recruits are male. About 40 percent are converts to Islam. And, rather than immigrants or refugees, “these are people born and bred here,” Vidino said.

Other trends are harder to pin down, including the threat an individual may pose to the U.S. Most the U.S.-based sympathizers are connected to the group or exposed to its ideology over social media, and the involvement of most pro-ISIL Americans stops there. The data show that only 27 percent of those arrested on ISIL-related charges planned attacks on U.S. soil. And all appear to have been intercepted by law enforcement before they could do any harm.

About 50 percent of those arrested have made the leap to “actual militancy,” traveling or attempting to travel abroad and fight in places such as Syria and Iraq, the study found. A few may even have “reached midlevel leadership positions within the group." However, the total number of Americans seeking to fight for the group has dropped markedly in recent months — an average of two Americans a month since July, compared to nine a month over the preceding year, according to U.S. officials.

That's comforting, but still not much of an explanation for why anyone in a country as rich as ours would choose that path. Inequality is clearly high and rising in the U.S. Barbara Ehrenreich examines the plight of working class whites in the country and sees the demise of economic prospects driving racial animus in the U.S.:

All of this means that the maintenance of white privilege, especially among the least privileged whites, has become more difficult and so, for some, more urgent than ever. Poor whites always had the comfort of knowing that someone was worse off and more despised than they were; racial subjugation was the ground under their feet, the rock they stood upon, even when their own situation was deteriorating.

If the government, especially at the federal level, is no longer as reliable an enforcer of white privilege, then it’s grassroots initiatives by individuals and small groups that are helping to fill the gap — perpetrating the micro-aggressions that roil college campuses, the racial slurs yelled from pickup trucks, or, at a deadly extreme, the shooting up of a black church renowned for its efforts in the Civil Rights era. Dylann Roof, the Charleston killer who did just that, was a jobless high school dropout and reportedly a heavy user of alcohol and opiates. Even without a death sentence hanging over him, Roof was surely headed toward an early demise.

These partial explanations give me a rather Dylan-eque feeling that something larger is going on that we don't yet understand:

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?