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September 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

Behind Terrorism Lies The Affinity With Hopelessness

September 6, 2006

by Ankon Rahman - Canberra Times

Five years on from September 11, last month's British airliner scare involving Western-raised Muslims shows that the world still needs answers to questions about militant Islam. Part of the problem is that one key question has been asked with alarming infrequency: what makes Western-raised Muslims feel so hopeless that they want to kill not only their innocent fellow citizens, but also themselves?

With Islamic resistance movements evidently finding and continuing to search for shortcomings in security measures, it is clear that vigilant security and investigation are not long-term answers to the terrorist threat. Immunity from Islamist terrorism is better achieved by removing the stimulus that provokes it.

The aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks has seen the proliferation of a world view where extremist Islam and "the West" are pitted on opposite sides of an incompatible socio-cultural spectrum. Proponents of this view suggest that extremist Islam is some sinister ethos which embraces "evil" and "terrorists" and defines itself best by its eternal commitment to destroying "freedom" and "the West". But Islamist terrorism is not robustly explained by this inane reference - look instead to the hopelessness that pervades life for the majority of the world's citizens.

The disequilibrium of opportunities in a globe that sees three out of six billion people today, and seven out of eight billion in 25-30 years living on less than $US2 ($A2.60) a day means an enduring hope for a gainful existence is not instilled in people not fortunate enough to benefit from a coincidence of longitude and latitude. Observing that the terrorists themselves hail from Western countries misses the point - you do not have to live in poverty to feel affinity with the poor. It is this affinity with hopelessness that galvanises Western-raised terrorists.

It is something I have seen in my experience of being raised in a Bangladeshi-Muslim household in Australia. Awareness of the profoundly broader opportunities available and frequent parental emphases of personal sacrifices made (in the sense of leaving family, friends and familiar culture, places and language) for your betterment, inject migrants' children with a tremendously close affinity for the hopelessness felt by people living in the countries of their parents' extraction.

If this affinity with hopelessness is the stimulus provoking Islamist terrorism, the restoration of hope - through the eradication of poverty - is the answer.

World leaders already provide heart-warming rhetoric indicating that the alleviation of poverty and the restoration of hope is a global priority. The problem is that their actions fall far short of their words.

Years after altruistic statements like the UN resolution known as the Millennium Development Goals (a commitment to halve global poverty by 2015), the Monterrey Consensus (a commitment to increase aid to 0.7 per cent of Gross National Product) and the WTO Ministerial Declaration adopted at Doha (in part a commitment to increase the effective participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system) are made, palpable achievement is yet to be seen. Nor does it look like it will be reached any time soon.

It seems vestiges of a Said-esque picture, a world that despite breaking the shackles of colonialism still suffers from a belief in the superiority of the white European, continues to corrode the institutions of international governance.

The World Bank estimates that current global military expenditure is in the order of $US1000 billion ($A1300 billion) per annum while development expenditure is in the order of $A65 billion per annum - that is 20 to 1. The comparison betrays the connection between how the world needs to combat terrorism and poverty. To be sure, law enforcement, investigation and strategic military intervention play critical roles. But these are secondary elements to the primary underlying task - the restoration of hope for a gainful existence.

The misnomer of a "war" on terror is an illustration of our inclination towards belligerence rather than to meaningfully address the underlying stimulus of Muslim militancy.

Prime Minister John Howard was right to recently encourage Muslim migrants to learn English in an attempt to better integrate into multicultural Australia - harmony and better understanding are down the path of better communication. But tackling the problem of militant Islam with this initiative in the absence of wider address of global hopelessness is like trying to put out a fire with one hand and stoking it with the other.

If we are to restore hope for the marginalised billions, world leaders need to be more forthright with their constituents about progress toward poverty reducing commitments. Only then will the political momentum be mobilised to deliver the policy environment necessary to elevate the poor. And the time has come for symmetry between outcomes and rhetoric in respect of trade, aid and debt-relief.

Sadly, with last month's collapse of the WTO trade talks and a stalemate reached in the debt-cancellation agenda, the burning hopelessness that warms the incubator of militant Islam still burns strong.


Ankon Rahman is a German-born Australian of Bangladeshi-Muslim extraction. He is a lawyer and a banker and lives in Sydney.



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