October 11, 2008
Terrorism as a Career OptionBy Douglas Stone
Among the greatest underrated factors energizing the tides of history is boredom. Boredom and peer pressure and the love of personal power and wealth, and all the other mundane and often ugly personal drives that have a force that can exceed the most profound political or religious beliefs -- and for that reason have often built or broken empires.
It was partly boredom that urged young men onto ships to explore the New World and later prompted them to join wagon trains to settle the West. In the early days of the Civil War, peer pressure worked on state legislatures to prod many former Union stalwarts to embrace the Confederacy. And in our own time, in the 1960s, rioting in the ghettos and among students was often motivated by nothing more than a testosterone-fueled sense of power and a desire to loot and destroy.
In the Middle East today, it is often boredom and peer pressure, and -- among the leaders especially -- the desire for sheer power and wealth, that entices young men into radical politics. Many of the top Palestinian "militants," for example, may cloak these motivations in politics or religion, but ultimately they are little more than gangsters whose venality conveniently coincides with the prevailing public orthodoxies.
Pssst! Wanna job? You're in the occupied West Bank or Gaza; there's massive, entrenched unemployment; you're young and not particularly educated. What do you do?
How about a "job" that may after a few years yield a substantial bank account and serious power; in fact, the power of life or death. Joining a terrorist outfit is not only somewhat expected, but you can take care of your family and cousins and friends, and have women swooning in their nijabs and men shaking in their Nikes.
One of the largely unremarked facts of life in the Palestinian territories is that the life of a "militant" often isn't such a bad deal, and there's reason to believe that some of the ongoing troubles in that benighted place are due to the simple fact that for the sociopathic personality being a militant can be a great job opportunity.
A number of the terrorist leaders are men in their 40s without skills or the prospects of decent employment. What's the appeal of a clerk's job in the local equivalent of a 7-11 when you can have money and power and be in service to a nationalist political cause that makes you the toast of the Arab world and left wing salons from Paris to London to, yes, even New York.
Great job being a freedom fighter, if you can get it -- and keep it. This is often true for the leaders, of course, but it can also be true for mid-level operatives. There is no doubt that for some there is a real belief in the cause, but for many it is merely a job.
The same way of thinking that allows one to eschew democracy, lord it over one's fellows or simply to kill political opponents, is the same mentality that allows a former "idealist" simply to begin killing and stealing -- and prevents him from embracing peace.
Money. Power. Fame or popularity. These are the rewards that go to those who keep the pot boiling. Keep it boiling or agree to a settlement that will yield peace and increased prosperity for your people but to the now-aging militants might only mean the drudgery of performing the mundane duties of a real politician in a poor backwater.
Just follow the money. The billions of Dollars, Pounds, Marks and now Euros handed over to the various Palestinian groups are never fully accounted for. Yasser Arafat is widely considered to have stashed away hundreds of millions of dollars in Europe, maybe even billions. And top followers acquired villas, fancy cars and their own plump bank accounts. Other funds, amounting to billions, continue to be disbursed by Fatah's followers as living expenses -- or as a "salary" for one meaningless "job" or another -- but amount only to payment for loyalty to the leaders.
And now there are now reports that Hamas -- which won at the polls at least partly in reaction to Fatah's corruption -- is joining their erstwhile rivals in stealing from their compatriots.
What precisely does this recommend as to how to fight and overcome these "liberation movement" mafias?
Perhaps most important, they should be exposed for what they are. Making clear the gangster nature of many of these "liberation movements" should communicate to their allies among the left intelligentsia in the West, or their enablers among their less ideological and bloodthirsty countrymen, that these people are not committed to the best interests of their people. They do not deserve support or understanding.
At very least, disbursements of cash should be severely restricted or cut off to the various Palestinian NGOs, Fatah and the Palestinian government. No more blank checks. Any aid should be in-kind and only provided under the most strict oversight by the nations providing it, not by the UN or Palestinian NGOs. And the aid should consist of little more than the basics of food and fuel -- and that only in the extraordinarily unlikely circumstances that ordinary Palestinians were facing a true crisis.
Finally, their economy should be forced to stand on its own two feet. Perhaps second only to the Lebanese in the Middle East, the Palestinians have a history of success in business and trade, and even if the territories never become Switzerland, they are capable of supporting themselves and of providing jobs to many more of their young men than they do today.
Some among the Palestinian leaders and their followers have an interest in the betterment of their compatriots. The only hope for peace will come when the gangsters who thrive in war are gone and replaced by those who have a moral horizon that extends beyond the mundane and ugly personal drives that have so twisted a culture and betrayed a people.
If and only if these figures are allowed to come to the fore in the Middle East, the tides of history may yet be moved by our better natures, and the Palestinians may finally find accommodation with Israel and the larger world.
Douglas Stone is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C