MADISON, Wisconsin- Extreme poverty leaves economies weak and vulnerable when it strips citizens of their options. In the West, it is hard to imagine a life devoid of choices and of decision-making, but for the world’s poor there is much of a less gray area.
Desperate people do desperate things. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “You can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate — poverty, disease, ignorance.”
The poor themselves are not dangerous, but their desperation makes them vulnerable to powerful bullies, and people cannot blame the poor when the bullies are the first to answer the cry for help.
Jake Harriman is a former Platoon Commander in both the United States Infantry and a special operations unit of the Marines, who resigned when he decided that he could better fight the war on terrorism by joining the fight against extreme poverty. In his new work, he has found the tactic of terrorist organizations usually is not to instill fear in their host country, but to provide it with options:
“It is love that compels a father to say yes to the extremist that shows up at his hut, promising food and education for his children if he will only sacrifice his life by attacking people he knows nothing about, living across the ocean. …What would you do if your child had not eaten in days, or if your daughter had to walk five hours every day to find clean water – only to be raped on the way there? How far would you go in a world where you could not meet the basic needs of those you hold dearest to you?”
Harriman’s blunt sketch of the realities for those living in extreme poverty demonstrates how easy it is for opportunistic groups to funnel a population’s needs towards their own biased project. The Taliban builds madrassas to provide free education in Pakistan and Afghanistan; Hamas operates social, welfare, cultural and educational programs for the Palestinian people; Hezbollah runs schools, hospitals, and agricultural programs in Lebanon.
Hunting down members of an organization is much like mowing down a plant; unless the source is demolished, there is nothing to prevent the plant’s regrowth. As former U.S. Secretary of State General Colin Powell stated, “We cannot just stop with a single terrorist or a single terrorist organization; we have to go and root out the whole system. We have to go after poverty.”
Battling terrorism without eradicating the soil where it plants its seeds is a short-sighted and forever-temporary fix. What good is a classroom if there are no teachers? What good are new roads if anyone who travels them gets raped and beaten? What good is a condom if women want to get pregnant because the survival rate of their living children is low? Similarly, what good is it to kill a terrorists if his only initiative is to care for his family?
– Lydia Caswell