This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of my book The Myth of the Muslim Tide.
Claim: Terrorism is a natural and inevitable extension of fundamentalist Islamic faith.
It’s not merely that there’s a global jihad lurking within this religion, but that the religion itself is a political project—and, in fact, an imperial project—in a way that modern Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are not. Furthermore, this particular religion is historically a somewhat bloodthirsty faith in which whatever’s your bag violence-wise can almost certainly be justified.
- Mark Steyn
Apologists would tell us that militant Islam is a distortion of Islam, but that is not true; it emerges out of the religion, constituting a radically new interpretation. It adapts an age-old faith to the political requirements of our day.
- Daniel Pipes
Jihadist terrorists are religious believers: that much is undeniable. They invoke Allah and the Koran, they denounce their targets for being unholy, they speak of a divine calling and a scriptural obligation to avenge the “crusader” and the “infidel.”
This leads to a widespread belief that al Qaeda and its offspring must be religious movements—which carries the frightening implication that any devout Muslim could potentially become a jihadist. Therefore, if a large percentage of Muslims are literalist believers, and they all are required to embrace the same violent and vengeful passages in the Koran with equal intensity, what is to stop any of your devout Muslim neighbours from strapping on an explosive belt? This logic has led to one of the core ideas behind the popularity of the Muslim-tide movement: the idea that Muslims are all at least tangentially party to a war of conquest, and that the devout and the violent are part of the same larger cause.
This, however, is one area where a decade of counterterrorism research, the analysis of volumes of extremist literature and dialogue, and interviews with thousands of current and former jihadists and terror-cell members by large groups of scholars have produced two unambiguous conclusions. First, it is not generally devout or fundamentalist Muslims who become terrorists. Second, terrorists are driven by political belief, not by religious faith. The Muslims who support violence and terrorism are not the Muslims who are the most religious or fundamentalist in their views; in fact, the two rarely have anything to do with one another, and the latter are usually opposed to the former.
Perhaps the most detailed and comprehensive profile of Islamic recruits to terrorism was conducted in 2008 by the British intelligence agency MI5, whose behavioural science unit performed in-depth case studies on “several hundred individuals known to be involved in, or closely associated with, violent extremist activity,” including jihadist fundraisers and would-be suicide bombers. The conclusion is that Muslim terrorists in the West “are a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism.” As in other countries, they tend to be either converts or second-generation, native-born children of legal immigrants.
Significantly, extremist Muslim clerics generally have no role in the indoctrination or recruitment of these jihadists. “Far from being Islamist fundamentalists,” the report concludes, “most are religious novices.” Very few have been raised in strongly religious households; in fact, MI5 concludes, “there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization.”
Some recruits, the agency notes, “are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes.” But they don’t appear to be mentally unstable, lone-wolf characters; in fact, a majority of those over 30 have steady relationships, and most have children. They also tend to be well educated and employed, albeit typically in low-income jobs. Rather than intense monastic religious devotees, they tend to be non-faithful individuals who are drawn to radical peer groups for political or personal, but not religious, reasons. The study concluded that four factors were leading to terrorist radicalization: “trauma,” such as the death of a loved one (10% of terror suspects had experienced this); immigration without family members (a third of extremists had “migrated to Britain alone” as students or labourers); “criminal activity” (two-thirds had criminal records); and “prison” (many were radicalized while serving time).
Indeed, religious devotion simply does not correlate with violent radicalism. In one study, the Gallup organization examined the 7% of Muslims worldwide who are considered “radical”—that is, who condone the September 11 attacks and view the United States unfavourably—and found that they are no more religious than the general population of Muslims. Pew, in 2008, found that the proportion of non-religious German Muslims who said that “attacks on civilians cannot be morally justified” (94%) was identical to that of religious believers who said the same (94%). In France, it was 94% of religious French Muslims and 82% of the nonreligious; 90% of religious British Muslims and 87% of the nonreligious disapproved of attacks on civilians.
Jihadist terrorism became a phenomenon in the West starting in the early 1990s as an extreme political response to the presence of Western soldiers in Islamic lands. It has continued to follow this political path. While this means that adherents must believe in the existence of an inviolate “land of Islam,” it does not mean that they are otherwise the most devout religious believers.
“Religious orthodoxy and political radicalization are very different things and respond to very different mechanisms,” says Rik Coolsaet, the Belgian scholar who has led some of the most detailed studies of Muslim radicalization. “Religious orthodoxy starts from a quest for identity, especially demanding in highly uncertain times. Political radicalization starts from opposition to injustice. The former can develop into a challenge for social cohesion if it leads individuals and groups into a cultural ghetto. The latter can eventually become a security threat if some individuals move further down the path to extremism that—for an even smaller number—eventually ends up in using violence as their preferred tool of political action.”
Researchers at Demos spent two years studying Islamic religious radicals and convicted terrorists in Britain and Canada, and found that radical religious believers and terrorists were very distinct and different people. “[Religious] radicals also felt genuine affection for Western values of tolerance and pluralism, system of government, and culture. Terrorists, on the other hand, were unique in their loathing of Western society and culture. Interestingly, radicals were more likely than terrorists to have been involved in political protest, to have studied at university (and studied humanities or arts subjects) and to have been employed.” The terrorists also “had a simpler, shallower conception of Islam than radicals—that is, their degree of interest in the actual teachings of the Koran was fairly minimal.”
Or, in the words of Olivier Roy, the French scholar of Islamic societies: “The process of violent radicalization has little to do with religious practice, while radical theology, as salafism, does not necessarily lead to violence.” The radicalization process, Roy notes, “is not linked with the outspoken condemnation of Western sexual liberalisation that is pervasive among conservative Muslim circles … AQ [al Qaeda] recruits are not specifically puritanical and often live or have lived the usual life of western teenagers.”
Mark Fallon, a former US counterintelligence officer who heads the International Association of Chiefs of Police and oversaw the prosecution of dozens of high-level terror suspects, conducted a study of hundreds of ex-terrorists and found that neither theology nor larger political ideology played significant roles. “The one thing that we found everywhere is that the trigger that turns someone to violence is a very personal one and is usually based on local conditions. The global environment is used to recruit these people, but it’s generally some local condition or individual event in that person’s life that turns them. It wasn’t about ideology; it wasn’t about theology; it was about identity.” Of course, people who join terrorist cells, however political or personal their motives, have become religious believers, and most of them hold broadly fundamentalist or Salafist views of the world, however vague. In some cases they are recruited into jihadist organizations through evangelical Islamic movements such as Tablighi Jamaat, which are not themselves violent but are used by jihadist organizations seeking eager and vulnerable recruits. While this means that these religious orders should be watched closely, it does not follow that terrorism is a product of their religious doctrines.
Indeed, fundamentalists and religious Islamists are often the most effective forces among Muslim immigrants in opposing terrorist movements. In Britain, London’s Metropolitan Police successfully purged the Finsbury Park mosque of al Qaeda–linked sympathizers and activists by working closely with Salafist groups prevalent in the community. Scotland Yard found that the Salafists (who seek a theocratic Muslim state through political means) had both the most detailed knowledge of fellow immigrants who were susceptible to terrorist radicalization and also the strongest determination to keep violent and jihadist tendencies out of their mosque. This was a controversial approach, as it involved working intimately with religious extremists whose social views were abhorrent and whose ultraconservative views of women and homosexuality were being battled by other sections of the Muslim community. But from what I witnessed, it did appear to be effective in ending the violent extremist influence on the neighbourhood. Still, if terrorism is not a natural outgrowth of extreme Muslim religious beliefs, even those held by fundamentalists, couldn’t it be a product of the dense clusters of poor, segregated Muslim immigrants in our cities? That, too, is a much-examined question.
Claim: The growth of Muslim populations is accompanied by a growth in Islamic extremism and terrorism.
The jihad is coming quietly to America by the intentional building of Muslim populations in small to medium American cities.
- Pamela Gellar
What is the societal benefit of bringing in throwbacks, some of whom are no doubt terrorists, and some of whom are gonna produce children who will become terrorists?
- Michael Savage
Islamist terrorism in the West has generally been declining. In Europe, the number of people charged for Islamist terrorism offences dropped from 201 in 2007 to 187 in 2008 to 110 in 2009. It then rose slightly to 179 in 2010, largely as a result of a sweep of arrests in France related to a cell of North Africans preparing to fight in Afghanistan, but this does not appear to be part of an upward trend.
In the United States, there has been a false perception that Islamic terrorism is on the rise, in large part because of three high-profile incidents. These incidents were unrelated to one another but occurred in quick succession: the November 2009 Fort Hood shooting, in which a lone gunman killed 13 people on a military base; the December 2009 “underwear bomber” case (committed by a wealthy Nigerian man travelling to the United States); and the unsuccessful May 2010 Times Square bomb plot, committed by a lone Pakistani-American with apparent ties to the Pakistani Taliban. But Islamist terrorism remains rare: the number of Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators apprehended each year averaged around 14 annually between 2001 and 2008 — then spiked to 47 in 2009, in large part because a group of 17 Somali-Americans were arrested for joining the al-Shabaab militia in Somalia. Some observers, looking at this figure, together with the headline attacks of 2009 and 2010, feared that it meant jihadism was on the increase. But then the number of terror arrests fell back to 26 in 2010, and to 20 in 2011. There does not appear to be a larger movement.
In the West, jihadist attacks are not as prevalent as other forms of terrorism. For example, 2010 saw 20 non-Islamic terror attacks in the United States (most of them right-wing). In Europe, there were three Islamist attacks with one casualty that year (all in Scandinavia) while there were 160 separatist attacks, 45 left-wing and anarchist attacks, and 41 other attacks (mainly about a single issue). All told, there were 65 jihadist terrorist incidents in Europe from 2001 to 2009, involving 336 people; this represents less than 1% of all terrorist incidents on the continent during those years. None of this detracts from the seriousness of the Islamic terrorist threat, or the importance of countering radical ideologies in immigrant communities. Terrorism remains a grave problem, and has the potential to threaten international security. But it is not becoming epidemic, nor is it rising with the Muslim populations in the West.
The more important question is whether clusters of Muslim immigrants and their offspring—especially those who are living in high-density, ethnically segregated, poverty-stricken urban neighbourhoods—are becoming breeding grounds for anti-Western violence. By tolerating Muslim immigration, are the countries of the West welcoming more terrorists into their midst?
In short, this doesn’t appear to be the case. High concentrations of Muslims are not generally a source of terrorism. Geographers Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson analyzed the addresses of all British Muslims charged with terrorism offences in the mid-2000s decade, around the time of the London Underground bombings, and found that 77% of them came from neighbourhoods where fewer than 11% of the population was Muslim and more than half (56%) came from neighbourhoods with fewer than 6% Muslims; the lone Muslim living in a largely white neighbourhood is a closer fit to the terrorist profile. A similar effect was found in the United States, where only 17% of terrorism suspects between 2001 and 2011 were found to be residents of high-concentration Muslim neighborhoods such as Dearborn and Los Angeles. The majority were from lone Muslim families in mixed neighbourhoods. The former CIA counterterrorism specialist Marc Sageman, in his classic study of terrorist recruitment, found that the great majority of terrorists were neither poor and isolated nor from broken homes or criminal backgrounds: “Three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90%—came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5 to 6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest young people of their societies in many ways.”
This result was confirmed in Britain by the MI5 report, which found that two-thirds of the terror suspects the spy organization had watched during the decade were “from middle or upper-middle-class backgrounds, showing that there is no simplistic relationship between poverty and involvement in Islamist extremism.” A 2011 Whitehall report found that 45% of English terror suspects had attended university, college or some other form of postsecondary education, a far higher proportion than the general English or Muslim population—and a strong indication that the poor Muslim neighbourhoods are not breeding grounds of terrorism. These suspects had come to their political convictions based on reading, internet communication and contact with other political radicals in universities and prisons, not by way of influence from existing bodies of thought within Muslim communities or districts.
The image of the self-ghettoized Muslim living in a parallel society dissolves once you encounter the actual terrorists. When Edwin Bakker at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague scrutinized the data on hundreds of Muslim Europeans convicted of terrorism, he found that almost all were the European-born children or grandchildren of immigrants, and 305 out of the 313 suspects he identified were legal residents of a European country. Only eight had ever lived in a country outside Europe. Less than a fifth were raised in religious Muslim households; almost half had largely secular upbringings; and more than a third were converts to Islam, mainly from Christian backgrounds.
The convicted terrorists were reasonably well educated: 70% had finished secondary school, and the rest had graduated from college or university; there were no dropouts or illiterates. Of the 93 for whom economic data was available, 5 were upper class, 36 middle class and 52 (more than half) were lower class; another 14 were entrepreneurs such as shopkeepers. Two-thirds were employed at the time of their arrest, the largest group in unskilled labour. While their ages ranged from 16 to 62, they were typically in their mid- to late twenties. Almost half were married, engaged or divorced, most of them with children; a fifth were single. Significantly, almost a fifth of them had already been convicted in a court for a non-terrorist offence.
A number of major studies of the demographics and psychology of terrorist recruits have shown that adversity, including poverty and violence, is rarely a significant factor in radicalization or terrorist recruitment. If anything, it is the opposite, as middle-class, well-educated Muslims are drawn into jihad. These individuals are more likely to perceive a sense of shame or humiliation, and to have hopes and aspirations that they come to believe have been thwarted by the same Western forces they believe are invading the lands of Islam—as well as a desire for self-glorification that can be accomplished through martyrdom.
“Clearly, absolute material conditions do not account for terrorism; otherwise, acts of terrorism would be committed more by the poorest individuals living in the poorest regions, and this is not the case,” a major study of the psychology of terrorist recruitment concludes. “Psychological research points to the fundamental importance of perceived deprivation… . This groundswell of frustration and anger has given rise to greater sympathy for extremist ‘antiestablishment’ tactics among the vast populations on the ground ?oor.” People suffering actual deprivation do not have the time or inclination for terrorist organizing. Many of the most famous jihadists, including Mohammed Atta and Osama bin Laden, were university-educated technicians and engineers.
“All of them are integrated, Westernized and educated,” Olivier Roy says of the Western terrorists. “They do not have any particular social background that would explain their political radicalization because of poverty or exclusion. Most of all, almost all of them become ‘born again’ in the West… . The source of radicalization is the West and not the jihad or the conflicts in the Middle East. None became a radical after attending religious studies completed in a Muslim-majority country. Finally, for almost each one of them, the time between their return to religion and their transit to political radicalization has been very short, which shows that they are as much, if not more so, interested in politics as in religion.”
Has Islamist terrorism been a natural outgrowth of the conservative religious and political beliefs of the immigrants and their children? Or has it been something more like the wave of left-wing terrorism that swept across the United States and Europe in the 1960s and ’70s, in which thousands of mainly middle-class young people joined a dangerous movement that saw itself in opposition to the culture around it and committed hundreds of bombings through organizations such as the Weather Underground in the United States and the Red Army Faction in Germany?
The Demos researchers, in their study of religious extremists and violent radicals, found that al Qaeda’s appeal in Europe was neither its theology nor its larger ideology but rather its image of antiauthoritarian radicalism: “An increasingly important part of al Qaeda’s appeal in the West is its dangerous, romantic and counter-cultural characteristics… . It is becoming a combination of toxic ideology and youthful radicalism, something inherently anti-establishment which some young people find appealing… . Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism in the West shares much in common with other counter-cultural, subversive groups of predominantly angry young men.”
Jihadist terrorism, Olivier Roy notes, “shares many factors with other forms of dissent, either political or behavioral.” Most radicals have broken with their families; they don’t mention traditions of Islam or fatwas, but rather act on an individual basis and outside the usual bonds of family, mosque and Islamic association. Modern Islamic terrorism is “an avatar of ultra-leftist radicalism—its targets are the same as the traditional targets of the ultra-left—US imperialism, symbols of globalization.”
The sons of immigrants who turn to violent jihad are, ironically enough, driven by a world view that is exactly the same as that of the Muslim-tide activists. They believe that there are two irreconcilable civilizations, one trying to dominate the other by infiltration and aggression, and that they must fight to protect their traditions and values from the outsiders. This vision, from either perspective, is false and dangerous. Extremism remains a serious enough threat that we need to invest care and attention in combating its underlying philosophies and psychological causes. We now know that the terrorists’ “civilizational” vision is not shared by other Muslim immigrants and their children, that it does not emerge from their ethnic neighbourhoods, and that it does not spring from their practice of religion, however strict.
What we are left to contemplate is a group of new immigrants, large but not the largest, who come from poor and religious backgrounds, who are settling into the social, political and reproductive patterns of their new homes, but whose progress is sometimes interrupted economically and educationally, and therefore socially, by institutions that deny them the same opportunities as their native-born neighbours. This may feel like an unprecedented phenomenon. But, as we shall see in the next chapter, it is far from unprecedented. We have been through all of this before.
The Day After the Bombs
A busy public place, a dense and peaceful crowd of onlookers, a celebratory moment – and then the sharp rupture of a blast. There are bombs. There is panic, there is destruction, there is tragedy and heroism and death.And then there is emptiness. The next moment, the one that always follows the bomb, is singular: A ringing in the ears, a disoriented searching, a dark flush of horror and grief – and then a profound, disconcerting, lengthy silence. It lasts for days, sometimes for weeks. We know nothing. We do not know where the blast came from, what it was supposed to mean, whether there are more on the way. We look for reason in the misery, and we confront a void.
Our political future is often determined by what we pour into that empty interval – the words we employ during that long moment, before the arrests are made, when we try to make sense of an act that by definition cannot make any reasonable sense. We point to foreign threats and peoples, we point to the neglected menaces and failures within our own society, we raise our security and perhaps lower our tolerance for reduced civil liberties, and in the process we allow a new political moment to take shape.
Read full essay in The Globe and Mail
Some Background Facts on Terrorism in the United States
1. Terrorist incidents per year by source of threat, 1995-2011 (Source)
2. Total terrorist attacks and deaths per year, 1970 to 2011 (Source)
Green Mould (Doug’s Grandmother’s Recipe)
1 pkg. lemon-lime jello
½ tsp. salt
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp. vinegar
½ cup cold water
3 cups finely shredded cabbage
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
2 tbsp. diced pimento
1 tbsp. prepared mustard
1 tbsp. parsley
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. grated onion
Dissolve jello & salt in boiling water.
Add vinegar & cold water. Refrigerate
until partially set.
Add remaining ingredients. Put into
mould. Allow to set; refrigerate.
New Post has been published on http://dougsaunders.net/2013/03/apartments-suburbs-tower-renewal-cities/
Cities Without Cities: Highrise Suburbia is the Forgotten Urbanism of Our Age
What kind of housing do you think is most uniquely Canadian: The Victorian semi-detached house? The suburban split level? The downtown glass condo tower?
Think again. The dwelling that’s most Canadian, in its sheer numbers and popularity, is the slab farm – the block of high-rise rental apartment buildings, generally constructed between 1955 and 1979, located closer to the countryside than the city hall, in the suburbs or fringes of major cities.
Millions of Canadians live in these aging apartments on the outskirts, making us the world leader in non-downtown high-rise living. Forget the U.S.-generated image of suburban lawns versus downtown density: We’re a nation of peri-urban apartment dwellers. Figures show that Ottawa has more apartment buildings than Dallas, and most are midtown; Edmonton has more than Boston. Toronto’s outskirts are the North American leaders in elevator suburbia: Between Hamilton and Ajax, Ont., there are more than 2,000 of these cement towers, housing more than a million people; one in five residents of Canada’s largest urban area lives in one.
New Post has been published on http://dougsaunders.net/2013/03/cida-the-strange-life-and-quiet-death-of-canadas-foreign-aid-experiment/
CIDA: The Strange Life and Quiet Death of Canada’s Foreign-Aid Experiment
In 1968, when the Canadian International Development Agency began its 45-year life, the world was a very different place.
A reasonable observer might have concluded then that the world was sliding into a Hobbesian slough of violence, poverty, overpopulation and totalitarianism. The end of colonialism had created great hope and proud independence in the eastern and southern quarters of the globe, but, by the late 1960s, many of these postcolonial regimes had decayed, with the help of Cold War manipulation, into grasping autocracies.
Poverty wasn’t just deadly, it was nearly genocidal. Just six years earlier, as many as 45 million Chinese died in a single famine; 1968 would see a million die in western Africa; in 1974, another million would perish in Bangladesh. These deaths were not ecological but political in cause.
This, we now know, was a transition, one that would stretch from the 1950s well into the 1990s. After the terrible “lost decade” of the 1980s, when dozens of those countries fell into severe economic and political crises and wars, the story became one of rapid improvement, democratization and mass escape from poverty, one that continues today.
Now that CIDA no longer exists – Thursday’s federal budget killed the name and the existing bureaucracy, though not aid spending itself – it’s worth asking what it was all about, and what ought to replace it.
Read full column in The Globe and Mail
New Post has been published on http://dougsaunders.net/2013/03/pope-francis-argentina-junta-which-side-was-he-on/
Pope Francis and Argentina’s Junta: Which Side Was He On?
Now that he has become the leader of the world’s largest Christian church – a position of both spiritual and political influence – many people are beginning to ask what role Pope Francis played when Argentina collapsed into terror and dictatorship in the 1970s.
The relationships between the Roman Catholic Church and right-wing regimes, including dictatorships in Europe and the Americas, has been a subject of controversy for decades. While more recent Popes have delivered sermons favouring democracy and human rights, Pope Francis is bound to raise questions about his role in one of the most horrific political conflicts in the modern history of the Americas.
Read full article in The Globe and Mail
Also read this longer feature I wrote on the question of Francis’s ideology
For Argentines of any standing – and especially those within the Church – it was almost impossible to be neutral during the “Dirty War” and ensuing right-wing military dictatorship that consumed Argentina from 1976 to 1983. If you did not explicitly side with the military junta as it committed tens of thousands of disappearances, murders and acts of imprisonment and torture, you were likely to fall victim to its terror.
And Pope Francis, then known as Father Jorge Bergoglio, had considerable standing. He was the 40-year-old head of Argentina’s Jesuit order when the military overthrew Isabel Peron’s government and imposed a strict reign of terror in March, 1976.
He certainly was not one of those priests who spoke out against the regime in public. The question, instead, is whether he helped seal the fate of those who did.
Much of the attention centres around two Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were kidnapped by government forces on May 23, 1976, imprisoned for five months at clandestine detention centre, tortured, and later found lying drugged and semi-naked in a field.
Days before their disappearance, according memoirs and statements made later by the priests, they had been dismissed from the Jesuit order by Father Bergoglio for having ministered to residents of the slums, which were considered hotbeds of Marxist agitation. Kicking the priests out of the order is seen by many Argentines as a move that, in the polarized climate of the Junta, may have served as a clear signal to the military dictatorship that they were to be targeted.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais quotes from a 1995 memoir by Father Jalics, who now lives in Germany, in which he accuses Father Bergoglio of betraying them.
“Many people who held far-right political beliefs frowned on our presence in the slums,” the priest writes. “They thought we were living there in support of the guerrillas, and set out to denounce us as terrorists. We knew which way the wind was blowing, and who was responsible for these slanders. So I went to [Father Bergoglio] and explained that they were playing with our lives. He promised that the military would be told that we were not terrorists. But from subsequent statements by an officer and 30 documents that we were able to access later, we saw without doubt that [Father Bergoglio] had not kept his promise but, on the contrary, had filed a false complaint with the military.”
Reuters reports that the other kidnapped priest, Orlando Yorio, testified in a book, The Silence, by journalist Horacio Verbitsky, that Father Bergoglio had deliberately caused the kidnapping of the priests by withdrawing the Jesuit order’s protection of the two, and thus signalling to the regime that they were enemies.
“History condemns him,” Reuters quotes Fortunto Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, saying about Cardinal Bergoglio. “It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the Church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cozy with the military.”
But Cardinal Bergoglio has contested these accusations. In his 2010 book The Jesuit, and in testimony he has given during Argentine hearings into the Dirty War and the disappearances, he has argued that he in fact worked to free the kidnapped priests, including holding secret meetings with General Jorge Videla, Argentina’s de facto military dictator of the time, to argue for their release. His words imply that they owe their survival (Father Yorio died of natural causes in 2000) to his efforts.
The priests’ accusations resulted in a lawsuit launched against Cardinal Bergoglio in 2005, during the papal conclave that ultimately chose Pope Benedict. At the time, Cardinal Bergoglio denounced the lawsuit, which was later dismissed by the court, as “old slander.”
In the years after democracy was restored, Father Bergoglio became known himself for ministering to the poor. While he showed no explicit inclination toward right-wing politics, he sparred angrily with the left-wing governments of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner over social issues such as same-sex marriage and birth control.
For many Catholics and some Argentines, his record as a figurehead of moderate Jesuitical reason and humility has redeemed him enough. But for others who are sensitive to the Catholic Church’s political role in the world, his record seems like an echo of darker moments in Catholic history.
Hugo Chavez Had Nothing to Do With South America’s Real Left-Wing Revolution
What ended this week, with the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, was a continent-wide experiment in the transformation of human life through politics.
Outside South America, Mr. Chavez was a polarizing figure: His outspoken anti-Americanism and alliances with the dictators of Iran, Libya and Iraq led him to be demonized by many as a Cold War-style threat. For others, he was a hero: a dark-skinned child of the slums who beat down rapacious corporations and gave his country’s oil money to the poor and championed the marginalized.
For the outside world, then, the legacy of his “Bolivarian revolution” is a contest of left and right. But within South America, something much more interesting took place during his 14 years in power – something that offers important lessons.
Mr. Chavez was far from the only leftist to govern a Latin American country in the 21st century: Within a decade of his 1999 election, left-wing leaders had come to office in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and El Salvador; they now govern about two-thirds of the region’s people.
But they’re not all the same. If the great divide in the 20th century was between pro-American right-wing strongmen and anti-American Marxist autocrats, after 1999, it was between two varieties of left-wing government.
Read full column in The Globe and Mail
Hugo Chávez and the Tragedy of the Venezuelan Arrival City
Hugo Chávez and the Tragedy of the Venezuelan Arrival City
This is a chapter from my book Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World.
Revolutionary movements originating in the wealthy centre, probably beginning with the Jacobins in 1789, have used the grievances and frustrations of the arrival city as their source of ideological and human support, and then abandoned those communities as soon as they come to power.
A most extreme and fascinating variation on this theme is found in Venezuela, where the “Bolivarian revolution” that began with the election of Col. Hugo Chávez to the presidency in 1999 promised to produce a South American government focused exclusively on the arrival city. Turning the rural-migrant slums into the symbolic instrument of their legitimacy, the Chávez regime managed to stoke these marginal lives into a revolutionary conflagration, and then to provoke a fresh crisis in the arrival city.
To understand what went wrong, it’s worth speaking to the residents of Petare, an enormous shantytown community that covers a large upper slope of the Caracas valley, a dense warren of streets that overlooks the wealthier city below. The slums of Caracas are likely the most vertical in the world; rural arrivals have spent decades staking their claims on theoretically uninhabitable rock walls, the residents of Petare jerry-building steep cascades of squatter settlements that are both physically and economically precarious.
Its people—they number between 400,000 and 900,000, depending how they’re counted—have been described from the beginning as Chávez’s most ardent supporters and most lavishly rewarded beneficiaries. The Mexican writer Alma Guillermoprieto described this slum as embodying the essence of the Chávez revolution. “Petare has … possibly more chavistas [followers of Chávez] per square foot, and more cohesively organized, than anywhere else in the country. It is in Petare that Hugo Chávez’s ambitious social welfare programs are implemented most ambitiously, because he has turned the poor into his de facto party, and as a result, whether his presidency stands or falls can be determined by the residents of this barrio.”
These would prove to be prophetic words, as we shall see. It is no surprise that a new sort of arrival-city politics arose in Venezuela, for this oil state has had huge arrival cities longer than most countries. Venezuela was one of the first developing countries to make an urban transition, its population becoming 61 per cent urban by 1961. From 1941 through 1961, the annual growth rate averaged more than 7 per cent, greater than any other city in Latin America. As in Iran, ultra-rapid migration was encouraged without much consideration for either village or urban destination. During the 1970s, rising petroleum prices created an employment boom in Caracas, and governments encouraged tens of thousands of villagers to migrate to the city, tolerating their “land invasions” and occasionally granting them ownership of their squatter homes in exchange for electoral support.
The economy was virtually engineered to prevent a decent urban transition. Beginning in 1970, food prices were set by a Law of Agricultural Marketing, and then price controls were extended to 80 per cent of wage goods in 1974. This was accompanied by the massive subsidizing of goods at the consumer level, notably food and gasoline—an expenditure that amounted to 7 per cent of government revenues—and rigid currency-exchange controls. These policies continued in the 1980s, this time without the oil revenues to back them, leading to staggering government debt. Together, these rigid policies had several effects. They destroyed the agricultural industry, sending hundreds of thousand of people fleeing the villages for Caracas, and they provoked high levels of inflation, which destroyed the non-oil-productive economy. This, in turn, led to double-digit unemployment, which struck just as the slums on the outskirts were becoming most crowded.
In 1989, as the government was forced to abandon its gasoline subsidies in order to receive emergency bailout loans, the slums of Caracas exploded into days of violent rioting and repression known as the Caracazo. Bodies shot by government soldiers were dumped in Petare. This set the seeds for Chávez’s unsuccessful coup attempt in 1992 and then his successful presidential election, built on the support of arrival-city residents, in 1998. By that point, Petare was badly in need of state support: the endless shantytown slums of Caracas were becoming unlivable, their canyons of sewage undermining the very hills that supported them, causing their roads to collapse and entire neighbourhoods to plummet off the hills in rivers of mud and human waste. There were no jobs, and crime was rife.
The Bolivarian revolution seemed to be made for the arrival city, and Chávez was lucky enough to launch it just as petroleum prices were beginning their decade-long climb, providing him with the resources to support it. By 2003, Chávez had established the signature programs of his revolution, the “social missions” (misiones) aimed mainly at the urban poor. Key programs were Mission Robinson and Mission Ribas, which taught basic literacy and skills-training courses to Venezuelan adults; Mission Mercal, which provided subsidized, low-cost meat, grains and dairy products in the barrios; Mission Barrio Adentro, which provided free health care in the slums; and Mission Hábitat, which was intended to replace slums with 100,000 new units of high-quality housing per year.
There is no question that large sums of money were poured into the arrival cities of Caracas during the first decade of the Bolivarian revolution, or that the arrival-city residents appreciated any food, health care and money that came their way. Yet it quickly became apparent that the social missions were doing nothing for the arrival city in terms of its most important needs: land ownership, business opportunities, an autonomous economy and a pathway into the middle class. The residents of Petare knew what was needed for this, but were never asked.
They soon realized that the social missions directed at their barrio had not delivered. While the free food and money brought about a decrease in absolute poverty during the period in which the money was coming, the arrival-city residents complained that nothing lasting was being built. This was often literally true. Housing construction never really got going; 150,000 homes were meant to be built, and fewer than 35,000 were, many of them social-housing apartment blocks that didn’t suit the needs of arrival-city residents. There was never any effort to give the arrival cities a chance to determine what housing suited their needs. Such long-term investments never became a priority, and in fact declined: average per capita levels of public spending on housing dropped by a third between the 1990–98 period (against which Chávez had campaigned) and his own 1999–2004 period.
As for the education programs, these have been shown in extensive studies to have produced no measurable decrease in illiteracy. The writer Tina Rosenberg, on a visit to a slum near Petare, was surprised to find how Mission Ribas functioned: “Political and ideological training, Ribas officials told me, is the top qualification for a facilitator. I attended a session for new Ribas students in Las Torres, a La Vega barrio near the top of the mountain. After Ribas officials told students how to register for classes and what would be expected of them, María Teresa Curvelo, the district coordinator, began a 90-minute talk about a referendum of great importance to the government … Afterward we rode down the mountain in a truck. When she got out, I thanked her. ‘Fatherland, Socialism or Death!’ she replied.”
At the end of 2008, Petare rebelled. Along with many other poor urban neighbourhoods, it turned against the revolution, defeating the Bolivarian candidates in regional elections and protesting against the failure of the social missions. Petare’s member of Parliament, Jesse Chacón, one of Chávez’s best-known allies, was defeated by Carlos Ocariz, a social-democratic opposition candidate. “There were people who got tired of the same old thing—it was payback,” said Arleth Argote, a 31-year-old voter who had enthusiastically backed Chávez during the previous decade, then became frustrated as the arrival city failed to evolve into a thriving community. “People are tired of living poorly,” Ocariz told reporters. “It was a struggle between ideology and daily life.”
What Chávez had done, in essence, was to replace existing state programs with his own “revolutionary” programs, staffed by volunteers and visiting Cuban professionals, and with an ideological, rather than an economic or social, mission. The largest sum of money was spent subsidizing consumption, which did not change the underlying conditions, and often replaced programs that might have done so. As a result, rather than improving life, these programs actually caused a sharp decrease in the material conditions of the rural-migrant poor. Between 1999 and 2006, the proportion of Venezuelan families living on dirt floors almost tripled, from 2.5 per cent to 6.8 per cent; the percentage with no access to running water rose from 7.2 to 9.4 per cent; the percentage of underweight babies rose from 8.4 per cent to 9.1 per cent. Despite the rhetoric, Chávez decreased the proportion of public spending on health, education and housing compared with the years leading up to his attempted coup. Most tellingly, social inequality actually increased during the years of the revolution, according to the regime’s own estimates. It has been described as a process of “hollow growth”: even though the oil-dominated economy grew by 9 per cent each year in Chávez’s first decade, it failed to create jobs, and half of Venezuela’s factories closed their doors between 1998 and 2008, mainly because price and foreign-exchange controls made it impossible to do business.
That view was reinforced by Edmond Saade, a generally regime-supporting scholar who runs the Caracas-based Datos research firm. He realized, a few years into the regime, that the money spilling into the arrival cities of Caracas was leaving no lasting effect. “The poor of Venezuela are living much better lately and have increased their purchasing power … [but] without being able to improve their housing, education level, and social mobility,” he told an interviewer. “Rather than help them become stakeholders in the economic system, what [the Chávez regime] has done is distribute as much oil wealth as possible in missions and social programs.” In the view of disgruntled regime supporters, Chávez had done exactly what previous governments had: poured oil money into the economy, thus causing inflation and destroying the possibility of slum-based entrepreneurship, and given vote-winning handouts to the people on the margins, ignoring their real needs. “Despite its revolutionary rhetoric and its curtailment of democratic institutions,” the economist Norman Gall concluded in an impressive study, “the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ seems merely to be continuing the history of colossal waste of oil revenues, disorganization and failed investments that have impoverished the Venezuelan people in recent decades.” By the end of its first decade, the first great South American revolution of the arrival cities had fizzled, failing to deliver the rural migrants anything it had promised. Chávez, his popularity fluctuating wildly, turned his attention toward dramatic seizures and nationalizations of foreign companies, all but forgetting the promises of housing, development and more prosperous slums. In Petare, time froze.
This was, like its Iranian cousin, an explosion from the urban centre that simply used the arrival city as fuel. There is another way arrival cities can explode: by developing their own potent political movements and sending them inward to seize the political centre of the larger city, and possibly the nation. The arrival-city takeover of the city and the nation is a new phenomenon, but is likely to become the defining political event of this century, as neglected ex-migrant communities, which in many countries will soon represent a majority of the population, demand their own representation.
See Me in Conversation With Daron Acemoglu
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New Post has been published on http://dougsaunders.net/2013/02/vancouverism-when-density-and-development-beat-sprawl-and-solitude/
Vancouverism: When Density and Development Beat Sprawl and Solitude
I recently flipped through aerial photos of Canadian cities in the 1970s. One thing stood out: the parking lots. They were everywhere. Downtown Vancouver was a checkerboard of them. Post-Olympic Montreal was streaked with them. Toronto, especially south of King Street, seemed to be nothing but one giant, contiguous grey parking lot yawning across the lakefront.
In September, I returned to Canada after living abroad for almost a decade, and was struck by the disappearance of those acres of cement emptiness. Toronto’s waterfront had become a wall of elegant glass housing towers, their tens of thousands of residents turning this former lonely wasteland into a thriving human community. Montreal is seeing its first new high-rise housing boom in more than 20 years, as the postindustrial southwestern corner of the island is populated.
And, of course, Vancouver has been remade dramatically, rendered into a thickly vertical city jammed with people and activity. Its combination of high population density in cozy downtown neighbourhoods, intimate street life and popular public transit has become one of Canada’s leading exports: When I visit cities in Europe and the United States, their officials talk earnestly of adopting “Vancouverism.”
To Vancouverize, in the minds of mayors, is to make residents realize that having a crowded, people-packed downtown core is not a problem but a solution.
Read full column in The Globe and Mail