Since 9/11, much of the common causes of the left have had to contend with an increasing amount of indifference or even hostility to their traditional struggles, as people have been more wont to see them as more and more irrelevant in the more vital struggle for security from terrorism. Over the last year, many who were concerned moderately with typically “progressive” causes, such as ending poverty and environmentalism, have turned their attention elsewhere, and many of those people that were indifferent to them have become openly contemptuous or dismissive. This has had the opposite (but by no means surprising) effect on the “true believers” of the left, who have used 9/11 as a reason to cling ever more faithfully to their ideals, and typically to ratchet up the shrillness of their rhetoric a few notches. There are a few who simply discount 9/11 as not important at all, in context of the “greater horrors” that the world faces. I remember seeing a picture of a typical refugee of the radical 60’s, wearing a shirt with the slogan that said something like “Fuck patriotism, I’m busy mourning for a million innocent Iraqis.” After all, what’s 3,000 white collar capitalist stock brokers compared to a million Iraqi children senselessly and brutally murdered by heartless sanctions? This kind of stance only exists on the most hardcore wing of the left: those people who are really unconcerned with actually convincing or winning anyone over to their cause, but who are so religiously committed to their political extremism that their activities seem to play out almost as a fantasy ideology.

However, it’s been a much more common reaction for the true believers to take the events of 9/11 and the global war on terror and insert them as the keystones in their progressive ideology. A casual perusal of the Guardian, the Nation or any other typically left-leaning media outlet will illustrate this. And true to form, the Independent has them all beat in terms of the degree to which it adheres to these principles as a matter of almost pure faith and the sheer absence of any real argumentitive sense.

Terrorism in Moscow and Bali; impending war with Iraq; breakdown in Ireland and Israel: it is easy in the urgency of important events to forget the underlying trends and forces shaping our world. The vast issues of increasing poverty and environmental degradation only rarely ? as at last month’s Earth Summit in Johannesburg ? bubble to the surface of political consciousness . Yet they lie at the heart of many of the gravest crises afflicting the world, and have the potential to cause many more.

Poverty and the environment. You can hear the faint whisper of those who suggested on 9/12 that the fact that Bush didn’t sign the Kyoto Accord was the reason Osama decided to fly some planes into the towers. At the heart of this argument is the same fundamental reasoning that churns on quietly within the mind of any good conspiracy theorist: there are other pernicious forces that really cause these problems, and the fact that they cannot be seen or proved, only hinted at vaguely, is just more evidence for their real deviousness.

The threat of conflict over Iraq ? the most dangerous since the Cuban missile crisis 40 years ago ? is complicated by the world’s need to secure plentiful supplies of cheap oil from the Middle East to fuel our gas-guzzling society. It need not have been like this. A quarter of a century ago the new Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jimmy Carter, tried as President to get his country to save fuel and develop new sources of energy. He called it “the moral equivalent of war” (unfortunately, lacking an Alastair Campbell, he failed to notice that the initial letters spelt the word “meow”, which attracted media ridicule). It fell foul of the vested interests of the US energy industries, as did a rather more half-hearted attempt by President Clinton to impose an energy tax. Had Carter succeeded, and won support, most of the world might not now be desperately trying to restrain the US from plunging headlong into what might well become a third world war.

Forget the fact that the author repeats a popular myth that has been widely discredited from which his entire argument proceeds . Let’s just assume for one hot minute that oil really is the reason for the coming war with Iraq.

Even then, he takes the position of, “Oh, if only we had listened to that geopolitical sage, Jimmy Carter, we would all be driving whisper quit non-combustion cars, living in cities with perfectly clear skies and Saddam Hussein would never have bothered us in the first place.”

Of course, it’s never mentioned exactly what means of generating power we would be using to replace oil, but that’s a minor detail. It’s no matter that there didn’t exist then, and does not exist now, any even remotely credible means of replacing fossil fuels as our primary source of energy. That’s not the point. The point is we weren’t trying hard enough. If only we had followed Carter’s advice we would have… um, well, we would have either discovered very quickly how impossible it was to follow, or we would have had to vastly shrink our economy. One can argue that we shouldn’t go to war over oil (they’d first have to establish however that oil was the reason, something no one is ever able to reliably do, because it’s simply not true), but one cannot say, “Oil, and hence this war, is completely unecessary if you would just put down the fuel pump for a sec and start looking for some alternative energy sources!”

The seemingly uncontrollable spread of terrorism ? from the twin towers to Bali, from Kuwait to Moscow ? is made much more intractable by poverty . It is, of course, over-simple to say that destitution is its direct cause. Most of the 11 September hijackers were middle-class Saudis. The running sore of the Israeli-Palestine conflict provides great motive power. But poverty does provide much of the oxygen in which terrorism thrives. As hard-pressed Third World countries have cut back on providing public services, for example, (often at the insistence of the IMF and World Bank), extremist religious groups have moved in to provide education and health care. This ? and the gross and visible disparities in wealth between rich and poor countries ? has helped to create the supportive population that all terrorism needs if it is to flourish. It has to be said, however, that Mr Bush’s and Mr Blair’s over-reaction in the Afghanistan war also played its part.

A nice bit of fudgery, there. “Extremist religions,” eh? Which ones could those be? Is the author referring to all those radical Christian groups that have fueled terrorism? Or perhaps it’s the spread of Buddism that he means? Even if this model of religion replacing a lack of economic well-being held any truth whatsoever, it glosses over the very pertinent fact that so far, every single one of these “extremist religions” has involved Islam, and in the vast majority of cases, the virulent strain of Wahabbism. The author is being deliberately dishonest by claiming it’s somehow the case that any kind of extremist religion will end up growing wherever there is poverty, because it diverts one’s attention away from the particular facets of certain kinds of Islam that foster terrorism, and describes religious extremism as a general problem. And in order to solve that problem, all we could possibly do is eradicate all religion, and we can’t do that, can we? So the real problem that must be dealt with is, of course poverty .

Furthermore, Al Qeada did not need an impoverished populace supporting it to flourish. All it needed was a sympathetic government, not to mention some cowed Western nations to not act to immediately stamp it out in its cradle. Nor did poverty send destitute Muslim men with no prospects in life into the arms of Osama Bin Laden, as the article itself admits. The paragraph is a very crude and poorly-executed sleight of hand, aimed at distraction away from uncomfortable issues about Islam and Arab culture and towards that old and dear boogeyman of all social ills, poverty. And of course, the article accuses the concpirators of global capitalism as the reason that much of the muslim world is mired in poverty in the first place. Again, seeking to divert attention away from the glaring problems of the culture and certain aspects of the religion.

last update : 19-4-2018

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