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"The Poor are not Rebeling"

Terrorists cannot be overcome with bombs. the social and political causes of terrorism, the breeding grounds of poverty, hoplelessness and powerlessness, must be removed. "The structural background of terrorism is an unjust world." (Johannes Rau) This interview is translated from the German by Marc Batko.
"The Poor are not Rebeling"

Terrorists usually come from the upper class. However bombs alone cannot stop them. An interview with development researcher Franz Nuscheler

[This interview originally published in: DIE ZEIT, 41/2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.zeit.de.]

DIE ZEIT: Professor Nuscheler, can bombs stamp out terrorists?

Franz Nuscheler: No, because they do not remove its social and political causes. They do not clear away its breeding grounds.

ZEIT: What are its breeding grounds?

Nuscheler: Poverty, hopelessness and the feeling of powerlessness. As Johannes Rau, the President of the German republic, recently declared in his address at the Brandenburg gate: The structural background of terrorism is an unjust world.

ZEIT: Really? The suspected terror pilots, the persons behind them, they all did not come from poor conditions.

Nuscheler: The poor themselves are not rebelling. Rather they incline to self-accusation and surrender to their fate. History shows that terrorists usually come from the middle- or upper-class and function as a kind of high-priest. Often in the literal sense, they are the Mullahs, the Ayatollahs or even Christian priests as in the guerilla movements in Latin America. These high-priests feel provoked by the poverty and the world perceived by them as unjust. They see themselves as voices of the voiceless. That is their self-legitimation even when they do not have any social interests but rather religious and political like the terrorists of New York and Washington.

ZEIT: To master terrorism, the worldwide poverty and injustice must be reduced. This conclusion must frustrate you very much. Over 30 years ago you began to be engaged with development policy. However the number of people living in absolute poverty is higher today than at that time. 30 lost years.

Nuscheler: I would not say that. The number of the poor has increased but simultaneously the world population has doubled since 1980. Thus the share of the poor in the world population has declined. In addition the life expectancy and literacy have risen; child- and maternal mortality have clearly declined.

ZEIT: These little successes indicate increased prosperity elsewhere. The income relation between the richest and the poorest countries was 30 to 1 in 1960. Today it is 75 to 1.

Nuscheler: This disproportion is not acceptable. The OECD calculates that cutting poverty in half within the next 15 years is possible.

ZEIT: Will that succeed?

Nuscheler: Not if we carry on as in the past. Aid to developing countries has reached an historical depression in countries like Germany and the United States. In Germany it amounts to only 0.22 percent of the gross domestic product. We are clearly below the international average.

ZEIT: We are further removed from the goal agreed decades ago to give 0.7 percent of the gross national product.

Nuscheler: I regard reaching that goal as an illusion. Therefore it is high time to seek for new sources of money. For example, an international tax could be levied on aviation fuel.

ZEIT: That is an illusion.

Nuscheler: Not at all. Not much bureaucracy is needed to levy such a tax. The problem is: the airspace is used, the air becomes polluted without the causal agents having to pay. A global kerosine tax would change that and simultaneously make available enormous funds for development policy. The scientific advisory board Global Environmental Changes in which I am a member appointed by the German government will propose that in two weeks.

ZEIT: Do you believe that such proposals will find more hearing today than before the attacks of September 11?

Nuscheler: Absolutely. I hear from all political parties: We must do more for development policy. We cannot further slash the development budget. It is not an accident that the attacks of September 11 provoked outrage everywhere in the world while solidarity with the US in the lands of the South is kept within limits. Americans now see that they cannot only focus on their own interests any more in the future. For example, they take the UN seriously. In the last week, they announced they will repay a part of their debts to the United Nations. I am convinced that the demands of developing countries will get more of a hearing in the future at the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

ZEIT: Thus the philosopher Hans Jonas was right when he said that a person only learns from catastrophes.

Nuscheler: History has demonstrated that again and again. Think only of the plague; think of BSE. I am certain that not only armies and secret services will be rearmed. Reflection about the social causes of terrorism is beginning. The question is only how long will it last. Experience has shown that old priorities often prevail when the dreadful events are several months past.

ZEIT: The question is: Is more aid to developing countries the right way? In the past decades, hundreds of billions have flowed often directly to the private accounts of some military leaders.

Nuscheler: Lessons have been learned. Today for example a debt remission is only granted when the civil society of the respective debtor nation is included in the form of churches, unions or ethnic minorities. Then they can jointly decide where the money will be spent.

ZEIT: For what should it be spent?

Nuscheler: The keys to development are education and health. Therefore we need more hospitals, more schools, more teaching aids and above all better trained teachers. Even the World Bank says that investments in education, especially in the education of young girls, brings the highest profits in development. In many countries of the Third World, the teachers are half-illiterates.

ZEIT: Participation of civil society, more money for education and health - that may sound good but new development concepts have often sounded good and then fell apart.

Nuscheler: I do not claim this is a panacea or cure-all but it could help mitigate poverty. Aid has not succeeded everywhere. Sometimes the respective governments did not cooperate. Sometimes church representatives and unionists were not adequately trained to point their finger at corrupt governments as in Kenya for example. Still the experiment is worth the effort.

ZEIT: The Asian tiger states made the greatest leap forward in the last decades. They received less development funds per capita than Africa for example.

Nuscheler: In the fifties Taiwan and South Korea were on the level of the African countries. The only products exported by Taiwan at that time were button mushrooms and asparagus. Then on the background of their culture and Confucianism, they gave the highest priority to education and invested their export revenues in training engineers and developing industrial enterprises. Successful high-tech enterprises later followed light- and heavy industry. An intelligent state bureaucracy makes correct decisions.

ZEIT: One could also say: a dictatorial regime.

Nuscheler: Yes. Decades ago, I criticized the Japanese for investing in dictatorships like Taiwan, Korea, Thailand or Singapore. Today I must apologize. In these countries, a middle class had to first arise which then propelled the democratization process with their own strength. Democracy cannot be put on from the outside; it must come from within. Today for example Thailand has an incredibly liberal constitution. The thesis that democracy promotes development while dictatorship inhibits development cannot be held out.

ZEIT: Can a religion inhibit development, for example Islam?

Nuscheler: I refuse to speak about Islam in a generalized way. There are very different traditions and configurations of Islam. In Malaysia, Islam supports a very successful development. Thus Islam can stand for progress as in Egypt and Tunisia. However where it defines itself fundamentalistically, it most likely hinders development.

ZEIT: Investments in the education of young girls will probably not occur.

Nuscheler: You see that very typically in Afghantistan where women do not work and young girls cannot go to school. However that is a stone age Islam which most Muslims do not accept as an example for their religion.

ZEIT: Fundamentalism produces part of the misery which then gives terrorists the motivation for perpetrating attacks in the name of those deprived of rights.

Nuscheler: The terrorists obviously do not see this contradiction since they project the origin of all injustice and all suffering on a single enemy: the West.

ZEIT: Thus the regime of the Taliban must disappear so Afghantistan can develop.

Nuscheler: This is inevitable.

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