Extremism from Below, not Abroad

class="georgia darkgray one_three fourteen space">What is perhaps most striking about events since September 11, 2001 is their affirmation of a crucial trend: What happens in far off corners of the world can have serious implications for what happens at home. When Al Qaeda emerged in the 1990s it was not engaged in a global jihad in a pure sense. Rather, its main concern was Saudi Arabia and the eradication of foreign, western influences from that land. Only once its efforts failed in Saudi Arabia did the local jihad globalize, morphing into a network of interconnected individuals and groups sharing information and ideas about political objectives in the coming era. More often than not, these concerns were not about global politics, but about local politics.

Consider the Arab Spring and its origins: The usual suspects — radical Islam, foreign intervention, and anti-Americanism — were not involved. Rather the uprisings emerged from local, domestic politics. We have been here before: The velvet collapse of the USSR in 1991 came as just as big a surprise as the Arab Spring — and for exactly the same reason. The two episodes seem far apart in culture, space, and time, yet they spring from the same causes: First, an abused and exploited people is systematically denied the ability to compare the way they live to the lives of others. Second, this people gains access to comparative information about how others with similar histories (or fewer advantages such as natural resources) live their lives. And, third, they are outraged by the comparison.
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