PT: Powerlessness, not Poverty / Zakaria on US Torture

For today's Politics Thursday:

1) Powerlessness, not poverty causes terror - As attractive as the idea sounds, attacking poverty alone won't address the root causes of terror. If so, wouldn't poverty-riven Africa, and not the relatively wealthy Mideast, be the world's locus of terror?

Helping people to freedom might lower terror. Have a look at an October 2004 by the John F. Kennedy School of Government. This report suggests that:

...terrorist risk is not significantly higher for poorer countries, once the effects of other country-specific characteristics such as the level of political freedom are taken into account. Political freedom is shown to explain terrorism, but it does so in a non-monotonic way: countries in some intermediate range of political freedom are shown to be more prone to terrorism than countries with high levels of political freedom or countries with highly authoritarian regimes.

Those who take this report as support for the Administration's policy of smashing unfriendly yet non-US-threat regimes through manufactured, so-called preventive wars might want to read this report from Freedom House before they chime in. The authors of "How Freedom is Won" report (bold mine):

This Freedom House study analyzes 67 transitions from authoritarian rule that have occurred since 1972, the beginning of what political scientists call the "Third Wave" of democratization. The study examines four key characteristics of each transition -- the societal forces driving it, the strength of nonviolent civic resistance, the level of violence, and the sources of that violence -- to determine how successful transitions to democracy are achieved. In large measure, the study finds that transitions generated by nonviolent civic coalitions lead to far better results for freedom than top-down transitions initiated by elites. The findings suggest that policy makers should offer support to nascent civic resistance movements in order to foster democratic change.

Obviously, I'm hoping that we'll fight terror by encouraging freedom, not by supporting highly authoritarian regimes – as we currently do in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. We should also remember there are many ways of supporting freedom short of invasion.

2) Zakaria on US Torture - Newsweek writer Fareed Zakaria has a sensible column on this Administration's determination to keep the freedom to conduct interrogations under conditions most people recognize as torture. He notes the very tangible ill effects our “forward leaningâ€Â� practices have had on our own troops:

This is a case of more than just bad public relations. Ask any soldier in Iraq when the general population really turned against the United States and he will say, "Abu Ghraib." A few months before the scandal broke, Coalition Provisional Authority polls showed Iraqi support for the occupation at 63 percent. A month after Abu Ghraib, the number was 9 percent. Polls showed that 71 percent of Iraqis were surprised by the revelations. Most telling, 61 percent of Iraqis polled believed that no one would be punished for the torture at Abu Ghraib. Of the 29 percent who said they believed someone would be punished, 52 percent said that such punishment would extend only to "the little people."

America washes its dirty linen in public. When scandals such as this one hit, they do sully America's image in the world. But what usually also gets broadcast around the world is the vivid reality that the United States forces accountability and punishes wrongdoing, even at the highest levels. Initially, people the world over thought Americans were crazy during Watergate, but they came to respect a rule of law so strong that even a president could not break it. But today, what angers friends of America abroad is not that abuses like those at Abu Ghraib happened. Some lapses are probably an inevitable consequence of war, terrorism and insurgencies. What angers them is that no one beyond a few "little people" have been punished, the system has not been overhauled, and even now, after all that has happened, the White House is spending time, effort and precious political capital in a strange, stubborn and surely futile quest to preserve the option to torture.

There you have it. More evidence that the President's insistence on being free from traditional Christian values, international treaties, and our own laws in our treatment of detainees isn't just immoral, it's ineffective! The sooner Congress realizes this and passes the McCain amendment intact with no exceptions and closes our secret prisons, the better off our country and our troops will be.

Update - I just found an article from the Sojourner's magazine e-mail called Who would Jesus Torture? that I think makes some good points:

Admittedly, Christians of good faith part paths when political conflict leads us to consider what constitutes a just and righteous war - or if any war can be just. Though we may not consent on the means, we do consent on the need to confront the spread of evil in the world. Yet we can all affirm scripture when it says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17, 21). When we confront evil with its own means, those means mark our own character.

In that regard, the practice of torture so fully embraces evil it dehumanizes both the torturer and its victim. No just cause can be won if it relies on torture to succeed. Democracy and freedom cannot result from a war fueled by torture, which is why so many Americans were shocked and angered by the disturbing incidents that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

All the more so, Christians must oppose torture under any circumstances. Consider this: Who would Jesus torture? I cannot imagine Jesus finding a single "exemption" that would justify such an abuse of any individual made in God's image.

I realize that the President has said we do not torture. But how can he reconcile that statement with him and the Vice-President lobbying to either kill the McCain amendment or allowing the Intelligence Community interrogation methods banned as "torture like" for the military?


The first section of your post reminds me of a conversation I had with a neighbor of mine who is from Ireland. He was recounting an event he attended in the US about a (then) recent peace agreement in Northern Ireland. The event was attended by a number of prominent politicians, including Ted Kennedy, and they were very excited about the most recent accord. When someone asked why the dignitaries thought this accord would last when the violence had continued for so long, someone (I don't remember whether it was Kennedy or not) replied that the difference was that there was a strong enough middle class in Northern Ireland that most of the population now had a vested self-interest in maintaining peace. Sure enough, the peace accord has pretty much held.

While poverty and powerlessness are different, I think they often go hand in hand. I think part of the problem in the Middle East is that in many places the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people, and there are a number of poor people who feel powerless to change their lives. These are the people most likely to support terrorist activities: they have nothing to loose and terrorism may give them some sense of power or control that they can not get anywhere else.

I think the October 2004 study you link to misses this point (unless I did not read closely enough) by using GDP to measure a countries wealth or poverty. I would be interested in seeing a study that looked at the correlation between wealth distribution and terrorism. Without any data, I would hypothosize that greater inequality would probably correspond to greater unrest and increases in terrorism. I would hypothesize that income disparity correlates with powerlessness as well.

I think the October 2004 study you link to misses this point (unless I did not read closely enough) by using GDP to measure a countries wealth or poverty. I would be interested in seeing a study that looked at the correlation between wealth distribution and terrorism.

That's an interesting thought. I don't believe the authors addressed income inequality and it'd be interesting to see the study you propose.However, I think the US would not fit that pattern either. I believe (though I haven't looked up recently) that the US has the highest income inequality in the industrialized world, yet we have low rates of home-grown terrorism. I suppose if you called gun fatalities terrorism, we might fit your hypothesis.Again, intriguing thought. Also, I believe it is important to fight poverty for many other reasons. Just because it might not be a main cause of terrorism is no excuse for us 6% of the world population to hang onto 40% of the world's wealth while millions die each year from hunger and thirst.

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