The incessant, divisive vitriol from Cheney-Rove-Bush Republicanism has convinced many that the mere use of the term "root cause" is equivalent to snivelling, pandering—treasonous even—defeatism and weakness. But the conversation will have to go on until things get better.
Oppression... or even the perception of it, that is the root cause of our problems. Unpopular in the extreme to talk about, it is hard for many to acknowledge and harder still for affluent white Americans to understand, but let me try to explain it.
In the days shortly after 9/11, two black men called a local radio station and independently expressed the same sentiment, one that lays bare the feeling deep at the heart of the Arab revolution now upon us. It is a sentiment ugly to many, but the callers were forthright and courageous to voice it even in relative anonymity: they said they could understand how the terrorists did what they did. They were quickly dismissed by even the moderate moderators as frivolous, incendiary statements.
Yet they were anything but frivolous. Their point was that they understood how maddening it is to be oppressed, and how deep is the hatred it breeds. There’s a common denominator here with the phenomenon of the O.J. Simpson trial in which his guilt seemed secondary to the power struggle. For supporters of both OJ and the terrorists, immediate justice was immaterial… their symbolic victories gave the big, bullying US a black eye and a greater justice was served at the expense of even innocent lives—the same logic we now use in Iraq.
We are not imperialist. Through our success, staggering natural resources, and the course of 20th century history—events forced us to be dominant—we simply influence, control, and now police the world. Nor do we seek to oppress… our oil policies in the Middle East have simply resulted in as much. The sheiks and Saddams of the world might be the executioners, but the American industrial behemoth is the oppressor, the wizard behind the curtain, to whom we think the world should pay no attention.
I didn’t invent this notion that it boils down to our policies, I am simply suggesting the precise target, in focusing on oppression. Newsweek explained brilliantly “Why They Hate Us,” (Oct. 15, 2002): our oil thirst has been quenched by striking deals with oppressive tyrants. And the Thomas Freidmans and Trudy Rubins of the press have made quite clear that anti-modern thinking, poverty, and our own diplomatic bungling have put impoverished young Arab men over the tipping point.
I seek root causes because I believe that long-term problems can only be remedied by striking at the proper target. Targeting terrorism alone cannot and will not rid the world of, well, terrorism. Though there certainly are some outright evil-doers on the loose, most of the terrorism we are seeing is simply the last resort of desperate people. Perhaps if you or I were down to our last resort, we would write a pamphlet or live a life of quiet desperation. Perhaps not.
But we should not fear the terrorists, for our enemies can only kill us. We, on the other hand, the industrialized nations with our ever-increasing fossil fuel combustion habit, can leave the world fit for only insects within 50 years; many Americans talk about, acknowledge, and understand this. It is time for our leadership to, as well. And to address the root cause of terrorism, our next battle must be to use our influence, not our fists, to modernize—if not democratize—the strangling sheikdoms that we have nurtured.