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A Perverted Interpretation Of History Part Two

The Bush administration, trying to craft a policy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans in attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., defined the problem of radical militancy both too widely and too superficially.
by Paolo Liebl Von Schirach
Washington (UPI) Mar 6, 2009
Poverty is a contributing factor, not the cause of fanaticism. Poverty is not at the root of fundamentalist ideologies. While hopelessness, a consequence of poverty, may be a strong factor facilitating recruitment for radical causes, poverty in and of itself cannot explain why people are converted to extreme ideologies.

Broadly speaking, the appeal of millenarian fundamentalism, religious -- Christian at the time of Europe's bloody religious wars, Islamist today -- or non-religious -- Leninism, fascism, Nazism -- is primarily rooted in a perverted interpretation of history.

It is contrived by those who do not want to accept responsibility for societal and economic failures. They therefore "invent" historic interpretations whereby the current plight is all due to enemies, domestic and foreign. Hence the imperative to engage in radical action, including terrorism, against them, so that the good order of things can be restored or created, as the case may be.

The most basic common denominator of many radical ideologies is the belief that a glorious past came to an end because of treason and evil plots concocted by enemies, external and internal. And the message is often the same: "The path to reinstate glory or to get us into the promised land has to begin with the destruction of the enemies."

Being totally flawed, these ideas cannot have real staying power in the long run. The problem is, however, that in the short run -- and even in the medium term -- they can find enough converts and muster enough resources to cause intolerable damage. We know that the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the economic capital of India, were carried out by only a handful of trained operatives. And all the chaos they succeeded in inflicting was negligible compared with what could happen if a nuclear weapon had fallen into their hands, or that of some comparable extreme terrorist group.

All this is generally well known. We know that crackpot ideologies have flourished in societies unable to constructively embrace modernity -- be it Italy at the end of World War I or Iran in the late 1970s. But we have no real long-term strategy or remedy capable of disabling the powerful attraction of fundamentalism for those seeking guidance to a clear path out of backwardness.

The Bush administration, trying to craft a policy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans in attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., defined the problem of radical militancy both too widely and too superficially.

(Part 3: How definitions of Islamist extremism drive operational policy and procurement decisions)

(Paolo Liebl von Schirach is the editor of, a regular contributor to Swiss radio and an international economic development expert.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Analysis: Lahore terror target not cricket
Kolkata, India (UPI) Mar 5, 2009
Fears have been looming for years that terrorists one day would attack cricket, South Asia's most popular international sport. It finally happened Tuesday, when gunmen ambushed a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan. But experts say the motives run deeper than an attack on cricket, and the implications of the attack are far greater.

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