Injured innocence combined with repetitive self-congratulation appears to be a common symptom of hysteria following a terrorist attack.
Witness the statements of some leaders of economically powerful countries meeting in Scotland last week when London's tube exploded. Our own Paul Martin opined that anti-poverty measures were likely to prove the best tonic for terrorist threats. A more prosperous and just world, such as G8 leaders were working toward by increasing aid to Africa, "will [create] a much less fertile world for the ideology of hate," he said.
That reveals a contradictory logic: terrorists are hate-crazed fiends and barbarians with whose motivations we have nothing in common, but give them some food and cover some of their debts and they'll become civilized, just like us. Such comments slander social movements of impoverished and dispossessed people. Many leaders of such movements - think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela, just for starters - are associated with peaceful civil disobedience requiring inspired levels of self-discipline and positive energy.
Terrorism is seldom the method of the impoverished. Leaders of the over-powerful and over-privileged, raised with a sense of entitlement that would lead them to revolt if they suffered the indignities of poverty, lump the poor and terrorists together into one bundle of "others" they haven't the foggiest idea about.
Terrorism does not come from the poor peoples of the world, but from frustrated and embittered males of the middle classes. Is it too close for comfort for elite analysts to name them as a dangerous class?
From ultra-conservative U.S. president George W. Bush to feisty lefties like London mayor Ken Livingstone, North American and European leaders depict terrorists as fiends without beliefs or scruples.
How they can be so sure about their motivations and intentions I'm not sure. I doubt if they would say the same about guerrilla fighters of the American Revolution of the 1770s, who refused to come out from behind the trees and fight like men against the redcoats of the British army.
Or the U.S. Southerners who died at the Alamo in the 1840s to add Texas to the pro-slavery states and fend off Mexican armies, or French Resistance fighters of the second world war. Whether they're seen as heroes or villains is open to dispute.
But such warriors respond similarly to the problem known as asymmetry. If life hands you a lemon, turn your weakness into strength by making lemonade. If one side has all the troops, planes and bombs, it does its "shock and awe" mass killings of civilians after declaring war. If the other side has no troops, planes or bombs, it finds other ways to shock and awe.
This is the simple and brutal context in which all warriors make decisions about the most productive weapon of coercion. This helps explain why terrorism has been inflamed recently: the seemingly all-powerful military and economic supremacy of one superpower, the U.S., forces opponents to find other vulnerabilities.
Bombs in subways are an almost inevitable reaction to the U.S., Western and G8 monopoly over the arms industry and conventional methods of mass murder. Such acts confirm the need to wage peace on all fronts as part of the struggle against terrorism. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. So does absolute powerlessness.
Back to Paul Martin and his anti-poverty quick fix. We may not even be able to find out if it works. That's because Western leaders confuse their self-interest with humanitarian purpose in the Third World. Is the G8 cancellation of much African debt really progress?
The book to read is Philip McMichael's Development And Social Change: A Global Perspective. First, he shows that the real debt forgiveness goes back to the 1980s. Taxpayer-supported banking institutions such as the International Monetary Fund took over the debts incurred by private banks that had lent huge sums to a string of African tyrants building ludicrous World Bank-promoted megaprojects. All of these projects, of course, flopped.
The private bankers had their stupid mistakes forgiven in a civilized way by government takeover of their loans (it didn't even take rock concerts to pressure for that change), while poor nations still owed the money. But the debt levels got so bad that they had to be written off to sustain other Western interests. No poor nation could afford to pay down debt interest and invest in schools, health or industrial development; nor were there any funds left for imports from the West.
To boot, good money was being loaned after bad so governments could pay off old debts rather than invest in new projects. That's why there's bankruptcy in the civilized world, a process denied poor countries in Africa until now.
There are two trends to watch for in the aid and trade deals offered by the G8. On aid, watch for U.S. fundamentalists to eat up aid money. A majority of the world's Christians now live in the colonial world, and fundies are investing in that recruitment bonanza. If they continue to be as successful at controlling general U.S. foreign aid as they have been, they'll soon be elbowing out local politicals and controlling the purse strings.
How much will go to genuine anti-poverty and community empowerment projects will be determined on a wing and a prayer.
On trade, read McMichael and his Toronto colleague Harriet Friedmann, on the role slotted for "new agricultural countries' -- many are in Africa--who will buy North American grains and meat with funds gained from selling low-margin flowers and fruit to Europe once the latter gives up protecting its farmers. That's why the open trade promoted at G8 will be a financial disaster for Africa.
Sad but true: we are witnessing a conflict between two groups that slaughter innocents. One side uses explosives, the other armies and debt ledgers. One group gets better play in the Western media. But to classify this as a conflict between civilization and barbarism does not give us the analytic tools we need to move forward.