The Dangers of Miscalculation in the Middle East Those Fighting Terrorism Must Not Forget That It's Fueled by Oppression and Economic Deprivation

By Marwan Bishara. Marwan Bishara is director of the Jerusalem Council on International Relations. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Dangers of Miscalculation in the Middle East Those Fighting Terrorism Must Not Forget That It's Fueled by Oppression and Economic Deprivation


Marwan Bishara. Marwan Bishara is director of the Jerusalem Council on International Relations., The Christian Science Monitor


World leaders have descended on the Mideast twice in four months. In November, they mourned a slain prime minister and reaffirmed the vitality of the peace process. In March, after four suicide bombings in Israel, they convened a summit to condemn terrorism. They made protocols and set up a multilateral task force. Yet terror continues.

After the latest wave of terrorism in Israel, Lebanon, and Egypt, leaders should be wary of falling into the trap of self-righteousness common in the region. Both terrorists and those fighting them have a rigid ideological arrogance that presumes they know what is best. It would be wrong for the international crusaders to approach the dilemma with equal certitude.

Deeper crisis

They need to show they understand that terrorism is a symptom of a deeper crisis, both in the peace process and in the region in general. While security measures might work temporarily, national and regional political solutions remain indispensable for the long run.

Obviously, no statesman would find it acceptable to wait until political and economic crises are solved before fighting terrorism. But that should not be used as an excuse by Middle Eastern governments that are directly responsible for the misery, oppression, and despair that terrorists draw on for sympathy and even - in the case of the suicide bombers - recruitment.

In addition, these leaders feeling the heat of terrorism today must not forget that many of the masterminds threatening their "New World Order" were superpower proxies in the cold war. Afghanistan for one became a crucible in the 1980s of CIA-trained terrorists, who have made their way into the miserable urban centers of the Arab world. It is also quite clear that in some cases Tehran, which could not resist the temptation to use such groups, has taken up the reins of patronage.

Unlike the cold-war-era international terrorism of jet-set operatives backed by intelligence services, most of today's terrorism is home-grown, and its carriers are locally groomed. Terrorists have relocated from international airports to downtowns such as Cairo, Tel Aviv, Paris, and New York. They are no longer state-sponsored, but rather dispatched from slums, fueled by twin factors of economic deprivation and political oppression. …

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