Fighting a Cultural Battle

As this is written, rescue workers are still separating the bodies from the bamboo after the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Bali. A couple of weeks ago, some Kuwaitis found a way onto a super-secure Persian Gulf island and started shooting at U.S. Marines. Who knows what's happened by the time you read this. While our government is chasing oil-pipe dreams in Iraq and Central Asia, the al Qaeda network still poses an imminent threat to the land and people of the United States. It's a threat that no missile shield will repel. It needs to be met with preventive police work, including perhaps the prudent use of force. But those things by themselves won't be enough. This is also a cultural battle, and on that front radical Islam (which is, for now, enmeshed with violence) seems to touch a real and unmet need, at least among a certain segment of young men around the world. This has also been evident in recent months as cells of American al Qaeda operatives (or sympathizers, or wannabes) were uncovered in Lackawanna, New York, and Portland, Oregon.

It's long been orthodoxy among Third World sympathizers (this one included) that terrorism has its roots in the desperation of poor and marginalized people who decide that their grievances won't be heard any other way. And as long as it was applied to situations of an oppressed, indigenous people fighting the overwhelming power of a Western (or Western-backed) occupier, the doctrine held up. This anti-imperialist orthodoxy didn't excuse violence against civilians, but it did help explain it.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2003
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