One of the points I argue in the MediaShack Al-Qaeda series is that a distinction should be made between Have vs Have-Not violence in the name of Jihad and purely theologically inspired Jihad. When this distinction is made (which it never is in the US), it becomes clearer that the Al-Qaeda movement is weaker than they are often portrayed. There is a link between economics and “terrorism” as that phrase is understood in the US. Perhaps this becomes clearer if we rephrase this to “there is a link between economics and participation in radical islamist groups that use violence. ”
Its true that the economic link is not at play with Al-Qaeda, whose violence is theologically inspired and all of its key members came from comfortable middle or upper class backgrounds. Nothing was materially wrong with their lives. But for most of the terrorism that occured in the Arab world between the 1970s and the 1990s there is a strong economic relationship. To understand this point, I highly recommend the following Arabic films (available with subtitles):
1) The_Closed_Doors, Egypt, 1999.
2) Yacoubian_Building, Egypt 2006
Both of these films show the path of radicalization taken by two young Egyptian men. At the root of their radiclization was socioeconomics- or conflict over resources. Their path is representative of most of the violence that occured in Egypt between the 1970s and 1990s. Note how in both cases they joined Islamic Group and not Jihad.
3) Star_of_Algiers, Algeria.
An outstanding novel about a young man in the early 1990s and is a must-read for anyone who is interested in radical Islamist terrorism. The book higlights how much of the violence in Algeria needs to be seen as a conflict between Have-nots versus the Haves (ie economics). Interestingly, the prevailing idea in the US CT community is that economics is not a critical factor in Jihadist terrorism. Yes, this is true when dealing with Theologically inspired groups such as Al-Qaeda (at least at the leadership level). But its not the case with most of the groups that used violence during the 1970s-1990s. However, whenever Arab film takes up the topic of terrorism the economic dimension is always paramount. Arabs make the link between economics and terrorism far more than do US scholars.
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