Dr. Ali S. Awadh Asseri
(Former Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon)
PROBLEM WITH GENERALIZATIONS
In so far as the root causes of terrorism, or the conditions that give rise to it, are concerned, the generalized explanations rend to identify poverty, the lack of democracy or history as prominent factors causing terrorist violence. However, a closer look at the ground reality reveals that this is not always the case. Africa is mostly poverty ridden and politically authoritarian and the Western world is rich and democratic , yet the latter has seen more terrorism than the former. As for the historical justification, South Asia had not seen any terrorist campaign until the 1970s. Since then, the region has been gripped by an unending wave of terrorist violence. In the 1950s and 1960s, 1960s, terrorism was more visible in Latin America in the wake of the communist-socialist revolutionary guerrilla struggles, and parts of Asia and Africa were undergoing anti-colonial ethno-nationalist struggles. Now, it is no more the case. The Middle-East, on the other hand, has seen somewhat a consistent pattern of non-state terrorist violence. So, it depends from situation-to-situation, and time-to-time, which country or which region comes under terrorist threat. The root cause of terrorism, therefore, have to be issue-, situation- and time-specific.
But then, again, we cannot ignore poverty as an important root cause of terrorism. Take, for instance, the case of the madrassa. Most authors, while rejecting the argument that some individuals are born terrorists, or that something is inherently wrong with their mental state, point out that an important cause of terrorism is the sort of learning process that students enrolled in madrassas undergo. The students are brainwashed through consistent exposure to ‘hate literature’, and the end product is a robot-like person ready to undertake any act, including that of suicide bombing. First of all, such arguments cannot be generalized to the extent of castigating the entire madrassa culture in Islamic history, which, in fact, laid the basic of higher learning in Europe and the consequent Western renaissance. Even if the above argument has some rational basis in the case of a handful of madrassas generating extremism and terrorism by deviant individuals and organizations, the story will still be incomplete if the emphasis remains only on the madrassa environment. It is only the children of the poor, for whom the state fails to provide educational facilities, or who cannot afford to educate their children in normal schools, who get enrolled in these madrassas which are philanthropist institutions based on funding by Islamic charities.
In retrospect, the heart of the matter is poverty, especially as regards instances of extremist and terrorist activities implicating some madrassas. However, broadly speaking, for a large number of people in the world, the deprivation of the basic necessities of life, the lack of education and recourse to opportunities for ensuring an honourable sustenance for themselves and their dependants is the fuel that ignites the fires of extremism and violence. There is a dire need for removing the gross inequities that exist in the world. Steps must be envisaged to ensure that all people of the world enjoy their inalienable rights and have free access to opportunities to progress in life without any discrimination on the basis of faith, class, colour or creed.
(To be Continued)
 See my interview: Sajjad Malik, ‘Afghan, Iraq wars have fuelled terrorism, violence: Asseri,’Daily Times, 5 May 2008