What can be done to address the root causes of terrorism in the Middle East?

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Answered by: Kyle, An Expert in the About Terrorism Category
While many individuals in the West are content to write off the causes of terrorism as resting in "Islamic radicals" and their religion, this is viewed by many as a vast distortion of what actually motivates the majority of players in terrorist cells. Understanding those motivations, curiously, can provide an interesting perspective on solving the problems presented by terrorism.

While it may be true that the leaders such as Osama bin Laden are motivated by religious writings (such as those of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated scholar Sayyid Qutb) to declare fatwas on the West, the actual causes of terrorism as we know it have been acknowledged to at least partially originate on a much more opportunistic and utilitarian level. The majority of individuals who carry out bombings and attacks and their motivations are vastly more important to the question of the causes of terrorism, ironically, than those of the individuals actually declaring Jihads and ordering attacks.

Louise Richardson, a prominent scholar on the subject of terrorism, argues quite compellingly that the actual causes of terrorism are not fervor, because without a legion of individuals to direct that fervor through, there would be very little leaders could do in the way of inciting action against the West. A major cause, then, lies in the economic depression of individuals in the Middle East, particularly relative to the opulence of the majority of the West. Individuals who cannot provide for their family or are particularly aware of the comparative income gap between themselves and not just the West but also the higher echelons of their own society (who are often associated with the West) become disaffected with their lives and look for a greater meaning or cause that the religious fanatics are more than willing to provide.

In this way, these disaffected individuals, commonly male youths, become the soldiering forces for terrorist groups because not only do they feel on a psychological level as though they are a part of something greater than themselves, but also they become able to provide for their families and themselves on a greater level due to the financial incentives often provided by these groups, which tend to be financed by some combination of the donations of a few rich zealots and the drug trade (a funding source particularly prominent in Afghanistan).

While the religious incentive provided by serving a Jihad gives individuals reason to prefer terrorist organizations over, say, warlord groups, the primary motivator seems to lie in the poverty and desire to see change and protection of individual interests. Understanding this, we see that simply fighting a war may be a losing proposition for the governments of the West, despite being a necessary one.

Certainly some of these individuals are motivated by ethnic and religious strife as well, and that is undeniable. Some individuals will always be swayed by the writings and arguments in favor of violent Jihad that many moderate wings of Islam declare misinterpretations, and those individuals will require masterful counter-terrorist and terror prevention efforts on a military level to deal with. However, the trends being witnessed on the ground, particularly with the culture of drug cultivation as a method of gaining money and, thus, control, points to the more utilitarian and economic analysis as a major cause that cannot be ignored.

The warlord culture of many rural areas in the Middle East (where warlords will provide protection from other warring groups and terrorists in exchange for money or labor from individuals in a region) only reinforces this thesis by showing how the disaffected poor flock to protection and community groups wherever they can. As such, it makes economic development in the region to break the cycle of poverty that produces fresh recruits equally as if not more important than military actions currently ongoing. Political and economic stability as well as security are all integral parts to shutting down the terrorist threat in the Middle East.

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