PM Pick

Terrorism and class struggle

Is Islamic terrorism an expression of class struggle? Or, in other words, is it a consequence of the deprivation that comes from disparities of income and the injustice that derives from systematic exploitation? Is it merely a religious expression of proletarian discontent? In his Capital column in today's WSJ, David Wessel takes a look at the research Princeton economist Alan Krueger has done on the closely related question of terrorism's relationship to poverty levels.

"As a group, terrorists are better educated and from wealthier families than the typical person in the same age group in the societies from which they originate," Mr. Krueger said at the London School of Economics last year in a lecture soon to be published as a book, "What Makes a Terrorist?"

"There is no evidence of a general tendency for impoverished or uneducated people to be more likely to support terrorism or join terrorist organizations than their higher-income, better-educated countrymen," he said. The Sept. 11 attackers were relatively well-off men from a rich country, Saudi Arabia....

"The evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as an important cause of support for terrorism or of participation in terrorist activities," Mr. Krueger asserts. The 9/11 Commission stated flatly: Terrorism is not caused by poverty.

So what is the cause? Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. "When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed," he says, "malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics."

This line of inquiry reminded me of some of the issues at stake in Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. (I expended so much mental energy trying to extract coherent ideas from that dense thicket of opaque abstraction that I'll grasp at any occasion to make reference to it now.) Looking at the Marxist tenet that the working class has a unique interest in socialism, they argue that politics may not necessarily spring from economic interests -- that the politics and the ideology supporting them may develop independently, that they are contingent and constructed ad hoc by discursive practices at any given moment. (In some ways this is an elaborate way of making Frank Luntz's or George Lakoff's point about framing. Carefully crafted language can shape the debate surrounding issues in ways that influence people regardless of what their economic interests dictates they should believe.) Hence demagogues or interloping intellectuals can attempt to contrive a unified movement around basically any idea that generates a reaction, that seems to address sources of discontent, which themselves may be recharacterized in various ways by a skilled rhetorician.

If politics, when separated via language and identity-construction issues from economic grievances, indicates the possibility of the "radical democracy" Mouffe and Laclau theorize, then terrorism detached from economic misery may not be an symptom of the lack of democratic values, as Krueger and Wessel suggest in the article, but may instead be a twisted expression of them, a misguided belief that the "people's will" is being implemented directly rather than through institutional change, whether it be revolutionary or incremental. The idea that politics is merely a matter of discourse, of momentary tactics of garnering attention and magnetizing eyeballs, opens it to the conceivable possibility that it can be shifted dramatically not by building up awareness of class struggle, formalizing class unity, intensifying the contradictions inherent in the relations of production and so on -- working with a theorized praxis backed by a historical analysis -- but instead through sudden irrational interventions, terrorist acts designed to assign a different valence to governing notions in circulation. Such a theory of "radical democracy" may make desperate acts seem credible and efficacious. If you rule out subjects in history and plausibel ends such subject may have, then terrorism -- a means with no achievable end -- seems a reasonable political practice.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.