SEATTLE — Terrorism has been on the rise since 9/11, with an almost fivefold increase in fatalities. Many look to the U.S. state department in the fight against terrorism, yet this is sometimes overemphasized, according to Joseph Brown, assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. The Borgen Project had the chance to speak with Brown about the relationship between foreign aid and the fight against terrorism.
About 70 percent of registered refugees come from the 20 deadliest countries for terrorist attacks, according to ABC Australia. This crisis has mostly been due to the Syrian civil war, from which nearly five million people have fled. U.S. involvement in Syria and across the Middle East has been a catalyst for disruption, chaos and violence, Brown says, and this has been the case for decades.
“The background I think you have to look at September 11 itself not as being a beginning point but being one point. So September 11th came out of a particular process which still continues today. Osama Bin Laden has done us all the favor of writing out a whole lot of detail about why he did what he did, and he has a set of foreign policy grievances which relate to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.”
U.S. engagement in the Middle East is the main reason for radicalization, according to Brown. “Certain groups don’t appreciate that, and certain groups have a kind of religious bent, and they think we’re crusaders.”
“If you go back to the ISIL propaganda, what are some of the grievances? It’s the drone strike, and if you look at the statements of the people carrying out the autonomous ISIL attacks, they have no direct link to ISIL in Syria, they just decide that they want to act out on ISIL’s behalf — the ‘lone jihad people,’ their statements claiming credit for their actions, sometimes will say, ‘I’m doing this because of what you did in Syria.'”
Brown highlights Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of a mass shooting in Orlando in June of 2016, as someone who had independently co-opted the goals of ISIL terrorists on U.S. soil. Mateen told emergency responders over the phone that he was motivated by U.S. foreign policy in Syria.
In the context of these supposed foreign policy grievances here and abroad, Brown believes the “usefulness of development aid may be overstated.” Demographic information about terrorists demonstrates that they are not normally poor or disadvantaged people.
“Bin Laden was a very rich, smart, socially advantaged man, he wasn’t starving. The people who run the groups are not coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, the people who are actually carrying out the attacks are often engineers, they’re not uneducated, poor, hopeless people. So is development aid going to cause fewer people to join terrorist groups? I don’t know but the link isn’t clear.”
While uplifting the impoverished is a critical humanitarian objective, the consequences of U.S. foreign policy decisions in the fight against terrorism cannot be overlooked. Only with a shift in global perceptions of the U.S. as an aggressor will radical groups and ideologies be tempered.
– Marcelo Guadiana