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Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2002 / 4 Adar, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism -- SPEAKING this week before the Council on Foreign Relations, former vice-president Al Gore just couldn't leave well enough alone. While endorsing President Bush' identification of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," he asserted that this axis was born of "poverty and ignorance; disease and environmental disorder; corruption and political oppression." If we don't set about doing something about all this around the world, Mr. Gore said, we will only "rekindle the war we are now hoping to snuff out."

If only it were that simple. Terrorism doesn't arise out of need and discomfort. Terrorism is a manifestation of the pleasure some find in hatred.

Ideas are often formed by theory unsupported by fact, so consider the "needs as seed" idea applied to history. If poverty were the magic ingredient to making terrorists, America's inner cities and public housing would be teeming with rising young generals with plans to blow up churches and schoolyards. Instead, our inner cities are havens for black-on-black violence, burglary and assault.

If material need makes terrorists, why did America's crime rate decline by one-third in the wake of the Great Depression? If ignorance is the cause, why isn't there a Hizbollah for high school dropouts? If corruption and political oppression are the keys, why do those who oppose communism in China protest until they are arrested to rot in jail, instead of blowing up innocents on the streets of Beijing to bring attention to their cause?

Terror isn't about throwing off oppression, and it never has been. Terror is about the obscene joy to be had in creating chaos.

The countries cited as the "axis of evil" prove the point as well. North Korea is hardly a terrorist state because of circumstantial deficiencies. According to the CIA World Factbook, 99 percent of North Korea's population can read and write-so much for ignorance. The average life expectancy is 71 years-so much for death and disease. Fair enough, some may say, but it's the government that supports terror, not the oppressed citizens-but it is here that "need as seed" looks even more preposterous. Kim Chong-il, North Korea's "dear leader," counts among his wealth such baubles as a 20,000-volume videotape library, and is said to indulge a prodigious thirst for cognac. Leaders of other terrorist states and organizations have similar stories; Osama bin Laden's vast resources are a matter of public record.

Oppression breeds revolution, which is military action between sides that are both armed. Terror is an attack on civilians, and its perpetrators have little respect for the traditional rules of war that limit civilian exposure. Soldiers fight other soldiers to expel enemies or assert possession; terrorists act against unsuspecting civilians in order to create fear.

Terrorists enjoy it. Members of the eco-terror group "Earth First" here in the U.S. advise members how to string wire across forests to decapitate motorcycle riders, and advocate the spiking of trees to injure and kill loggers. They could work to change environmental policy through other means, but to a terrorist, nothing compares to the thrill of the kill. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda may occasionally make dubious citations of the Koran and the Hadith to explain why they flew commercial airliners into office buildings, but the bottom line is that it brought the leaders of these groups great joy.

Too many here in America wishfully imagine terrorists as ignorant unwashed vagabonds who, for want of a book and a hot meal, would be napping through community college somewhere. By their own words, we know that terrorists imagine Americans as infidels beyond salvation; cheap cordwood for their glorious fire. It is not a lack of knowledge that causes the violence and fear we are suffering, nor is it "poverty and ignorance; disease and environmental disorder; corruption and political oppression." It is a lack of desire for knowledge-a willful ignorance in service of hatred. This itself is the definition of evil. The truth would undermine the terrorists' cover for violence, so the truth becomes too much trouble.

Evil is a fundamental element of the world and it can rarely be rehabilitated; hence this war to contain, corner, and kill it. Hence also the occasionally simple language from the President about an "axis of evil." The problem is just what he said, and not an axis of, say, hungry children and oppressed peoples. Hungry children want food and oppressed people want liberty, but terrorists hide behind the rubric of need to cover their true motivation: violence brings them pleasure.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
12/18/01: Politics and Holidays
12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
09/13/01: Bleeding time
09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long