Sunday, September 16, 2007

Is Poverty Alleviation the answer to the War on Terror?

Desmond Tutu thinks so.

The Nobel laureate told CNN, "You can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate -- poverty, disease, ignorance, et cetera."

As we've recently discussed in class, evil may be situational. What better breading ground for hate and stereotypes than in an environment of absolute deprivation and disparity? Would anti-American sentiment be so strong in some parts of the world if they were given equal opportunity in the world economy, had comparable financial resources, or even a better standard of living?

It seems that war is doing a poor job of squelching hatred towards Americans, making it seem less likely that it will continue to make us safe in the future. Should we alternatively try to curb hate by trying to make conditions better in other countries? Is this a realistic goal?


Anonymous said...

I am inclined to agree with Tutu - the elements of poverty, disease, and ignorance are intricately tied to discriminatory practices in the United States, as well as abroad. What troubles me, however, are the elements that cannot be so easily identified, but still play a role in this equation. It seems to me that the general will of big business, and certainly the will of capitalism, operate on a much different trajectory than the War on Terror and, arguably, the steps needed to be taken to alleviate poverty.

Something that interested me in the blog post was the reference to situational evil. Could you consider poverty to be a type of evil? I would say that you could. Poverty, AIDS, and racism are all things that have a black spot cast upon them by society – they are terms used to identify things that stigmatize individuals, and even entire groups. Or, if you were to go as far as St. Augustine, all who do not actively strive toward good, or act in such a way as to alleviate the causes or consequences of poverty (and disease, ignorance, etc.) are evil. The resounding question left over from Tutu’s assertion, then, is who is responsible? Who should be charged with rehabilitating the world’s impoverished peoples? Who must respond to the evil of poverty, the depravity of disease, and the malicious nature of ignorance?

Tutu has presented a complex problem with an oversimplified solution. And, much to the chagrin of those in poverty everywhere, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who is willing, or able, to do any better.

Jen said...

I find Tutu's statement entirely too idealistic and quite frankly, utterly impossible to execute. Humans have been fighting each other over food, money, religion, etc. since mankind came into existence. History is fraught with wars, battles, genocides, etc. because human nature (or the situations humans have faced) has lent itself to violence. We know this. It hasn't changed in the last 8000 years and it isn't likely to change any time soon.

Nikki is entirely correct in her statement that "an environment of absolute deprivation and disparity" is a place for terrorists to breed and persuade others in their anti-American sentiments. However, terror exists even in ideal situations, where people have high standards of living and are well educated. I suppose if you don't consider the VA Tech shootings, Columbine, the Oklahoma City Bombings, etc. to be terrorist activities or have terrorist motives, you might be able to argue Tutu's theory. And although I think its likely that if every single person in the world was well-educated, wealthy enough to survive on a day-to-day basis, and free of disease, the world would be a much better place and terrorism would have LESS of a place in society, I don't think it can ever be completely eliminated. I believe that terrorists will always exist, regardless of their living situations.

Well-educated terrorists notwithstanding, if you follow Tutu's argument to its logical conclusion, you reach a dead end. For in order to eliminate all of the factors that cause violence and terrorism (as Tutu implies would allow the world to win a war on terror), you'd have to unify each and ever religion and make everyone the same skin color... and that's impossible.

I'm not saying that I don't believe its possible to make an impact. I absolutely believe that there are situations where terrorism's grip can be lessened by acts of kindness - but that won't work on the entire world and on every person contained therein. In that respect, I believe Tutu has done both himself and the world a disservice by suggesting an extremely oversimplified solution to a very complex problem.

Anonymous said...

I think Jen has a good point - but I have to disagree with aspects of her argument. Of course, the simple way of looking at the world is that attributes of poverty, disease, and ignorance will ALWAYS be pervasive (meaning: terrorism, AIDS, racism, etc.). However, I believe that unification is not precisely what Tutu is aiming at – he seems to employ more of an educational stance. The best medicine for the “ailments” in question is, at the bare basics, education. Teach a man to fish, so to speak. It wouldn’t mean the end of different races or the combining of all religions into one umbrella-like spiritual doctrine – people need to be educated, they need to learn, simply, the difference between “good” and “evil” (or bad). Education is the first step to truly eradicating things like AIDS and hatred (racism/terrorism) from all societies.

The true problem with Tutu’s theory, I believe, is that it doesn’t account for the primitive nature within human beings – “us vs. them” – that takes a rational individual and directs them to make irrational decisions. As human beings we have instincts that kick in when we are confronted by certain situations – however, it is impossible to list or limit the amount of possible scenarios that may cause us to adopt an obscure view – and it is also difficult to determine HOW to alleviate the stressors that cause terrorism, the AIDS pandemic, and the constant reproduction of racism. For all intents and purposes, Jen is right – Tutu is overly idealistic and far too simple in his claims (at least from what we have been given in the article). But we have to start somewhere.

Jen said...

Well said, Terissa - I see where you're coming from but I am inclined to disagree with you on your claim that people need to be taught the difference between good and evil. I didn't mean to imply that I supported a mass cultural melding (because I don't), but I stand by my point that unless certain cultural barriers are eliminated, all the education in the world cannot help to alleviate the situation. This is what frustrates me about Tutu's argument. I agree that education and fiscal contributions can help to alleviate the AIDS problem or the levels of poverty in developing countries. However, I simply cannot wrap my head around Tutu's theory that alleviating poverty will solve our problems with terrorism. As I see it, the fundamental problem is that different religions (and I use religion as an example because I believe its often the most obvious and divisive difference ) have different sets of morals. Buddhists are pacifists and find that taking a sentinent life under any circumstances is wrong. Christians have fought bloody crusades to instill their religion in others. The two beliefs are, in this situation, irreconcilable. In this sense, I agree with you, Terissa. I think, as you do, that Tutu failed to take the basic human instincts to assume an "us vs. them" attitude into account. Furthermore, I believe that while these barriers exist between societies, the instinct to view the world with an "us vs. them" attitude will remain intact - and terrorism and discord will always find a place to grow when that attitude exists.

Yes, we have to start somewhere... but I don't think that we can kill terrorists with kindness.