Poverty Isn’t the Root Cause of Jihadist Terrorism. Here’s What Is.
by Waller Newell
What is the best way for America to combat terrorism?
That question is bound to loom large as we enter the next presidential race.
Yet a coherent answer has not yet emerged because there is confusion over exactly what terrorism is.
In my essay “Understanding Tyranny and Terror: From the French Revolution to Modern Islamism“ (*) , I argue that terrorists must be understood as motivated by a utopian vision that seeks to impose, by force, a monolithic collective in which all individual liberties are erased.
This is nothing new, and first began with the Jacobin Terror of 1793 and continued through Bolshevism, Nazism, Maoism, and the Khmer Rouge.
Today it can be seen within the international Jihad.
Poverty and lack of opportunity are not the “root causes” of terrorism.
In fact, many terrorists come from affluent backgrounds or already live in liberal democracies with their widespread opportunities.
Rather, terrorists are revolutionaries inspired by the vision of a coming collectivist paradise that will annihilate the allegedly corrupt, materialistic West.
The most important lesson to keep in mind is that terrorists are tyrants in waiting.
Three kinds of tyranny have emerged throughout history and still exist today.
The oldest and still the most widespread are garden-variety kleptocracies, in which a single ruler exploits an entire society as if it were his private property (think Bashar al-Assad).
The second kind is the tyrant as reformer—men like Julius Caesar, or Napoleon, who seek glory through benefiting their peoples.
The third type I call millenarian.
This type began with the Jacobin Terror of the French Revolution in 1793, and its goal was to impose a blueprint according to which all privilege and alienation would be eradicated by a totalitarian monolith.
Initially, the French Revolution aimed to extend political liberty and limited government to France, in line with the American Revolution.
But it was eventually hijacked by the Jacobins, who wanted to return to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Golden Age of pure collective equality without private possessions or individual self-interest.
This was the first millenarian tyranny, a club begun by Robespierre and later to include Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and today’s Jihadists.
While these millenarian revolutions have varied, they share broad structural features that are found today in Jihadist terrorism.
(*) Understanding Tyranny and Terror: From the French Revolution to Modern Islamism
By Waller R. Newell, PhD
All millenarian revolutionary movements have a common set of genocidal aims. They all envision a return to “the Year One,” a grimly repressive collectivist utopia in which individual freedom is obliterated in the name of the commune.
Whereas past tyrannies killed people for challenging their power through uprisings at home or military opposition from without, millenarian
tyrannies commit genocide collectively against entire classes and races.
Millenarian revolution is inevitably imperialistic, for it must culminate in war to spread the blessings of the future to all by force—a trend that has been consistent from the Jacobins to ISIS.
The passion for justice born of righteous anger, with its call for the wholesale destruction and reconstruction of existence, is at the psychological core of
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