Jihad Against Jihad
Published on Tuesday, October 2, 2001
Jihad Against Jihad
by David Sirota
 
In our imminent war in the Middle East, it might be wise for our leaders to step back and study the pages of history. After Germany was destroyed in World War I, the world allowed that country to wallow in squalor, providing the perfect environment for Nazism to fester and grow into a monster. When we finally beat this new monster in World War II, our leaders understood that in order to permanently prevent another inter-continental conflict we would have to address the desperate economic situations that created the war environment in the first place. America responded with the Marshall Plan that sent billions in economic aid abroad, and the result has been one of the strongest alliances between two continents in modern history.

Now, instead of fighting fascism, we are fighting terrorism, but the lesson the Marshall Plan taught us about how to create a lasting solution should be the same. In our new war, we must not only pursue the terrorists who perpetrated the September 11th attack, but also aggressively attack international poverty that provides the breeding ground for terrorism in the first place.

Historically, humans tend to confront only the immediate threat - the intruder, the enemy - and not underlying motivations. In science, this is called a fundamental attribution error. It is as if a doctor tried to cure a painful cancer by giving the patient a painkiller instead of removing the tumor. War, violence and religious fundamentalism are merely the symptom. The true disease is poverty, oppression and hopelessness that allow these evils to fester. The more desperate a population, the more susceptible it is to embracing extremism and becoming a trouble spot. Terrorist demagogues like Osama bin Laden may mask their goals in religious themes - but the reason their rhetoric finds such a captive audience is because they are preaching an us-versus-them message to a population looking for something – anything – to cling to. The September 11th disaster was merely the latest success in their populist campaign.

But now we live in an age where suicidal barbarians can kill thousands at a time, right on our own soil. The threat is now so great, that need something other than our normal strategy of “containment.” We must finally address the real problem of international poverty that has helped transform anti-Americanism sentiment into the monstrous deeds of September 11th. That means reversing our recent decrease in foreign aid and investing capital abroad not only to strengthen our own economy and corporate assets, but to strengthen the host country's economy and standard of living as well (Israel, Taiwan, and South Korea are just a few successes). That means countering the image of American opulence spread by the media with a serious commitment to making sure that there is as little squalor throughout the globe as possible. In short, that means embarking on a groundbreaking campaign to finally engage impoverished areas of the world that we have until now largely ignored.

To be sure, we must bring the perpetrators of the September 11th massacre to justice. Their crimes are unspeakable and they pose a serious security threat to our nation. Additionally, though, we must seize this moment to begin addressing how to end terrorism now - and forever. Whereas before, internationalism may have been altruism, it is now clearly in our own self-interest to prevent more countries from falling into the same type of squalor that has galvanized extremism in parts of the Middle East. In the heightened stakes of a nuclear age, we need not only a jihad against terrorism, but a jihad against the roots of jihad itself.

David Sirota is a freelance writer and veteran Democratic campaign aide. The views expressed here are his own.

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