Nugget of Truth Buried in Turner's Ramblings

Posted: Feb 18, 2002 12:00 AM
Although most of the criticism of Ted Turner's latest ramblings has centered on his labeling the September 11th hijackers "brave", one of his other remarks was much more troubling, though there was a grain of truth--and I emphasize "grain"--worth exploring. As repugnant as it is to call cowards who murder thousands of innocent civilians "brave", several other commentators made similar comments in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, including MSNBC host Chris Matthews and Politically Incorrect's Bill Maher. The most disturbing view expressed by Turner in his speech at Brown University was that the terrorists were not to blame for their actions, poverty was. The lunacy of this statement should be instantly evident. The hijackers did not come from "abject poverty," as Turner claimed. They were predominantly from upper-middle class backgrounds, and all were backed by multimillionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden. Turner merely recycled decades-old leftist propaganda that seeks to obliterate personal responsibility. Even if the media mogul had been correct in deeming the hijackers poor, his assertion would still be dead wrong. Issues of money or opportunity were not even a factor for any one of the 19 evil-doers; they were hell-bent on destroying our way of life. Poverty doesn't cause crime; people do. To commit acts as heinous as those of September 11th requires a profound depravity and utter lack of conscience. Those traits flourish in folks rich and poor, which is why there are wealthy murderers such as the Menendez brothers. As irresponsible as Turner's words were, there was a nugget of truth to his contention. Although poverty certainly does not lead to crime, in the Middle East it has been conducive to radical leadership. The flip side of Turner's statement, which has been hinted at or outright stated by many in recent months, is that Islam fosters terrorism. The appeal of that statement is stronger, because 15 of the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, where poverty is not nearly as rampant as in neighboring nations. If there is a commonality in the countries most responsible for cultivating terrorists, it is the lack of openness, both in the economy and the political system. Some Muslim nations have money, but most of those that do derived that wealth from oil, not open capitalism. In an open economic structure, the rich can only get richer by employing and eventually enriching those around them. With oil, however, the handful of families who control the valuable commodity can sell to other nations, shutting out their countrymen without financially suffering. Unlike the impoverished in free market economies, the poor in most Muslim nations have no chance of a better life. If their country is torn asunder by militant radicalism, they are no worse off. In short, they have nothing to lose from backing maniacal leaders with an unwavering devotion to terror. The best proof that terrorism is not endemic to Islam is Malaysia, a Muslim nation in Southeast Asia. A former British colony, this predominately Muslim population has a Constitutional monarchy, directly modeled on Britain's, and more or less embraces open capitalism. In election after election, the public has had the option of supporting the fundamentalist Muslim opposition party, but has not done so. There has been some discussion in the international press that Malaysia was a "staging ground" for September 11th, but any activity that occurred within the country's borders was done in stealth and without even tacit support from the government. Malaysia's ruling government has been cracking down on suspected al Qaeda members since well before September 11th, when it became fashionable for other countries to do so, and has not let up. Malaysian businessman and former military officer Yazid Sufaat, who allegedly provided financial backing for two of the hijackers and whose actions were the fodder for the "staging ground" label, was arrested by Malaysian authorities in December for ordering four tons of explosives. Going after al Qaeda has not been a politically unpopular move in Malaysia. In fact, the moderate ruling party has used the threat of extreme Islamic rule to political advantage. Television clips aired before a recent by-election showed footage of an Afghan woman being executed for violating Islamic law and warned that Taliban-style rule could happen in Malaysia. The success of the spots demonstrates that free markets and free elections are the only true antidotes to tyrannical reign. Freedom makes citizens stakeholders in the system, meaning that a free people has something to lose by supporting or even tolerating terror. If nothing else, maybe Turner's idiotic comments will force us to study the root causes of tyranny. If we do, promoting democracies fused with capitalism could become a vital component of our war on terror.