Thursday, April 22, 2004

Where's the Street?

During the lead up to the war in Iraq, I kept hearing references to the "Arab Street", the code for Mr. Mohammed Q. Public of the muslim world. Whatever reports we get out of that part of the world are largely unreliable, largely due to the ingrained fear of anything one says being used against them. What occurs to me is that the only terrrorists for which I have heard any great details about, namely the 9/11 19 and the upper echelons of Al-Qaeda, all seem to come from well-heeled, affluent families. Palestinian attackers seem to fulfill the prophesy of the street, but I believe that to be the result of having the enemy in one's face almost constantly. Those who would go across continents to strike at an enemy must be acting on a more abstract, disconnected from the here and now, level. If I recall correctly, all of the 19 were college educated. A cliche about a college education is that it expands your horizons. A person fighting off the pressures of poverty can not look very far beyond his immediate surroundings. If there is an enemy within sight, then that enemy can be targetted. If one has the leisure to pursue an education, then one can contemplate the larger picture and allow that people and places one may never see in person can influence one's life. From this pool are those who will be willing to "fight" in some far off land.

The Arab Street, consisting of those whose lives seldom reach past their neighborhoods, will have it's direct effect on very small scales. As such, it is a valid concern for the CPA. The longer that grievances are allowed to build with an easily identifiable target, the greater the opposition and threat to American troops. That anger, however, would be very difficult to turn to places very far from home. It is much easier to mobilise against a threat in one's own backyard, but much more difficult to go after a target on another continent. Only those who have been trained to think on a global scale can be easily recruited to carry out action on that scale.

Also, the elites who form the cadres of foreign action are more dependant on the street than the street is on them. If rule of law and free markets are successful in improving the prosperity of the Arab Street, then the theoretical lack of will to terrorism will tend to trickle up, either as a reduction of revolutionary fervor in the old guard or as a neuvaux riche class develops and subsumes the old guard.

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