October 24, 2007: Books and Arts
In his new book, What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism, published by Princeton University Press in September, Alan Krueger takes on a popular myth that economic deprivation and lack of education cause people to turn to terrorism. By analyzing data on global terrorism committed by a range of terrorist groups from 1997 to 2005, Krueger concluded that terrorists are much more likely to be doctors or engineers than laborers. The Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Policy and an adviser to the National Counter-terrorism Center, Krueger spoke with PAW’s Katherine Federici Greenwood.
Why would a labor economist do research on terrorism?
Labor economics has something to say about occupational choice, and one can think about choosing to become a terrorist as a choice of occupation of sorts. Some people choose to be doctors, some people choose to be engineers, and some terrorists. ... I also have done work on the economics of hate crimes in Germany and found that economic conditions and lack of education don’t have very much to do with the occurrence of hate crimes. I suspected that terrorism might be similar.
What did you find?
Economic circumstances have relatively little to do with participation in terrorism. Countries that have low GDP per capita and high illiteracy are not more likely to be countries that terrorists come from than other countries. I have done research looking at the characteristics of people who joined Hezbollah’s militant wing. ... Both the leaders and the foot soldiers are more likely to have finished high school or college than people from the same areas of Lebanon who are not members of Hezbollah. And they are less likely to come from impoverished families.
Why do you think terrorists are drawn from well-educated, middle-class, and high-income families?
The stereotype we have is that participation in terrorism should be like participation in property crime. And who becomes involved in property crime? People who have few opportunities. But a better analogy is toward voting or political protest. Who becomes engaged politically? It tends to be people who are well educated, who have formed strong views, and who are confident enough to act on those views. The terrorist organizations prefer to have more skilled operatives.
How does a country’s degree of civil liberties figure into its supply of terrorists?
The lack of civil liberties is associated with being an origin country for terrorism. A good country to have in mind is Saudi Arabia, which is a wealthy country and has relatively high educational attainment, yet at the same time people from Saudi Arabia have been associated with terrorist attacks. The other thing I found is that the targets of terrorism tend to be wealthier countries, and tend to be democracies, because one goal of terrorists is to change the policies of the groups or nations they target. That is more likely if they attack a country with a democratically elected government.
What are the policy implications, if improving education and reducing poverty won’t stem terrorism?
I’m pessimistic that eradicating poverty and lack of education will have a meaningful effect on terrorism. People sometimes say to me, “This is so disappointing, because all we had to do was solve poverty and we would eliminate terrorism.” ... Half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. If poverty were even a small cause, there would be far more terrorists out there trying to destroy us. At the same time, the United States has a moral obligation, independent of any effect on terrorism, to try to raise living standards around the world.
We should view terrorism as a strategic tactic, one that organizations are using to pursue a particular agenda. So first, we should try to limit the effectiveness of the tactic by keeping the threat in perspective. If the public recognized that the risk of terrorism is relatively small compared to other risks that we face — like everyday driving — that might make it a less effective tactic. Secondly, we have to guard against the more lethal forms of terrorism — such as biological, chemical, and radiological threats — which could be a threat to our way of life. Thirdly, we need to renew our commitment to defending civil liberties both at home and abroad. If you think back to what was motivating Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols [the Oklahoma City bombers], they thought the government had overreached. We don’t need to give would-be terrorists reasons to be paranoid.
Francisco Toledo’s 1996 Historia del Ojo (Autorretrato) [Story of the Eye (Self-Portrait)], left, is among the more than 40 works, including watercolors, prints, paintings, a tapestry, and a painted tortoise shell, in the exhibit “El Maestro Francisco Toledo: Art from Oaxaca, 1959–2006,” which runs through Jan. 6 at the Princeton University Art Museum. Widely considered Mexico's most distinguished living artist, Toledo often is called el maestro (the teacher or master) not only for his artistic talent, but also for his efforts to protect his native Oaxaca’s cultural and natural environment.
For the past decade, composer James Dashow ’66 has been crafting an opera on the life of Archimedes, the third-century B.C. Greek inventor and mathematician whose short life was marked by legendary genius. Archimedes is the thinker geometry students have to thank for determining the relationship between the surface and volume of a sphere in a cylinder. He also supposedly leaped out of the bathtub after discovering the principle of buoyancy, shouting “Eureka!”
But Dashow has been preparing for his own eureka! moment of sorts — he plans to stage the opera in a planetarium.
Using the scant appearance of Archimedes in the Greek historian Plutarch’s biography of Roman general Marcus Marcellus, Dashow’s opera creatively fills in the gaps in what we know about Archimedes’ life, taking some artistic license to imagine the mathematician’s thoughts.
By showing Archimedes as someone who is persuaded to put his considerable talent to work fighting the Romans, the opera makes a point about “what human beings do with the most gifted people among them,” as Archimedes’ brilliance is harnessed for destructive ends. Dashow has no venue or date scheduled for the opera, which he is still working on, but several portions of the piece have had sneak previews at universities and music festivals.
The opera also marks the latest stage in the cutting-edge technical creativity of Dashow, who has been composing computer music since the medium was so new that he had to invent code himself. Along the way he picked up Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, co-produced a radio program for Italian national radio, and received a career award at the Bourges (France) electronic-music festival, the electronic-music equivalent of the Oscars.
Dashow composes work for both computers and live orchestras, but the Archimedes opera will be a computer feat alone — there will be no orchestra. The opera promises to be a full-immersion experience, Dashow said. With the planetarium staging he can combine live actors with a light show, creating a “spatial counterpoint” to his musical work, he said, explaining: “Moving around in space, the composition takes on a whole different kind of aesthetic.”
The lone music major in his class, Dashow staged an opera of The Scarlet Letter for his thesis. He started experimenting with computer music in graduate school and then in Italy, which he has called home for 38 years. He has come back to teach at Princeton and MIT, and was on campus last spring to present one of his Archimedes scenes and talk about his computer system for integrating musical pitches.
“The computer is a musical instrument. We have to learn how to play it like we learn how to play anything else, only it can make any sound under the sun,” he said. “You don’t just sit back and let the computer do the work.”
By Anne Ruderman ’01
Anne Ruderman ’01 is a graduate student at Yale University.
Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, was traveling in Copenhagen in the days following the disclosure of abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib in the spring of 2004. “On every newsstand every magazine had that horrible picture of the guy standing on the box with the hood and the cord, this awful caricature of the Statue of Liberty,” she recalls. “And for the first time in my life, when I showed my passport, I felt a twinge of shame.”
Out of that experience came her book The Idea That Is America, published by Basic Books in July — a “book from the heart,” she says, written with anguish and outrage that events during the Iraq war took place “in the name of values that I believe in,” distorting those values in the process. The book is one of three recent — and very different — works by Princetonians that concern the ideals that animate national life. The others are The New American Story (Random House) a book by former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley ’65, and “The Spirit of Democracy and the Rhetoric of Excess,” an article by Princeton religion professor Jeffrey Stout *76 that was published in the March issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics.
All three authors present stories about the values that tie us together as a nation, what threatens them, and how to save them — even if they don’t always agree on the details of what those values are. While the Bush administration gets a large share of the blame, Democrats and political leaders from years past aren’t let off the hook. The authors share a conviction that getting back on track will require public action at the grassroots level.
“Once upon a time, there was a nation known for its openness and ingenuity. Its power rested on its continental size, its thriving economy, its generous-hearted people, and its fair and democratic government,” writes Bradley. That national myth has been subverted over the last generation, Bradley says, by something more sinister: a sense of helplessness and denial.
“I wanted to show that there are answers to the problems that we face as a country, and that we can afford those answers,” he explains. “I wanted to explain that the reason these obvious things have not been done is because we have been in the grips of an old story that’s basically a ‘can’t do’ story — we can’t give health care to everyone, we can’t make our public schools world-class, we can’t make sure people have stable pensions that maintain middle-class lives, we can’t break our addiction to oil.” Bradley wants to tell a new story, he says, “based upon telling people the truth and putting country ahead of party.”
The former presidential candidate and current managing director of an investment banking firm seems ready to roll up his sleeves and dive into the messy work of governing. He offers solutions to a range of issues, including fixing Social Security, funding pensions, improving public education, providing universal health care, and ending American dependence on foreign oil — all ticked off in itemized lists at the end of each chapter. He explains how these programs could be paid for (cutting defense spending by 10 percent would save $50 billion, for example; making greater use of preventive medicine, another $10 billion; and so on).
Democratic reform, Bradley says, “has to be a commitment over a decade. ... It’s not just a matter of raising money. It’s a matter also of tapping into the ideas of average citizens, it’s a matter of having the party be a place where people can go who want to serve, not just a place where people want to go to slave for little wages to be in a campaign or cause.”
In his article, Stout, whose award-winning 2004 book, Democracy and Tradition, dealt extensively with the formation of democratic culture and its complex relationship with religion, now sounds the alarm that the very idea of democracy in America is at risk, threatened by terrorism abroad and a loss of civil liberties and growing economic inequality at home. “Democracy is a spirited, passionate affair, or it is nothing,” he writes. “Unless citizens wake up and take responsibility for the condition of their society, democracy will be completely eviscerated and the economically powerful will no longer be answerable to anyone else.”
This subversion, Stout continues, has been going on for decades. He argues that developments have been under way since the collapse of the New Deal coalition, the demise of big-city machines, and the end of the civil-rights movement. Stout makes clear that Republicans are not the only ones to blame: “The Clinton administration demonstrated that the Democratic Party is now almost as deferential to economic elites as the Republican Party is,” he says. “The Democratic Party now basically consists of about 100,000 seriously dedicated operatives with almost no connection to the grass roots. It’s mainly experts, lawyers, and bureaucrats.”
It is Slaughter’s book that has received the most attention, particularly among foreign-policy experts and in the blogosphere, to which she herself contributes regularly. To Slaughter, who is spending this year in Shanghai on a sabbatical, the core American values are liberty, democracy, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, and faith. In her view, these fundamental values have remained constant through our history, though our interpretation of them has changed. So Jefferson’s conception of what it meant to say “all men are created equal” was not the same as Lincoln’s, which is not the same as our conception today. Slaughter traces the “critical patriotism” that embraced America even while trying to correct its flaws. Martin Luther King Jr., she notes in one example, did not reject America because of racism, but instead called upon it to live out the true meaning of its creed.
The dean set out to write a book that could help teach young people about the significance of those values in American government — an exercise that an earlier generation would have called civics. “I am appalled to find that when I write things like, ‘Every American has read Federalist No. 51,’ my readers come back saying no, it’s not being taught anymore,” she says. “Our founders thought there were universal values and they thought we were blessed, because we had the chance to show the world that it was possible to create a government based on these values that actually worked.”
Nonsense, reply others, who insist that American values are neither universal nor even particularly admirable. Slaughter’s book has generated pages of debate, much of it vitriolic, on the Web site where she writes a blog (www.tpmcafe.com). A central question in this discussion was whether America ever could be considered an exemplar of values for other nations.
“Anne-Marie wants dialogue with other nations. She honorably calls for humility. And yet she remains married to a romantic, self-loving vision of the political and moral essence of the United States that seems to me based on confusing a sociological analysis — as she puts it, ‘part of what we think makes us distinctly American is that we hold to a set of values that apply around the world’ — with an historical one,” writes David Rieff ’78, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, on the same Web site. “What a florid romance Americans make of America! Surely, if we are serious about gaining ‘both friends and humility, not necessarily in that order,’ as Anne-Marie rightly calls for, the first thing to do is to once and for all renounce this romance and see the United States for what it is — a great country that, like all great countries, has done many good things and many bad things throughout its history, but also whose national myth about itself is a self-serving fantasy, like all national myths.” What, Rieff asks, would a Latin American familiar with the long history of Yankee gunboat diplomacy say in response to Slaughter’s assertion that the United States historically has stood for freedom and democracy?
Slaughter asserts that her book is neither triumphalist nor intended to suggest American exceptionalism, and acknowledges that the ideals she discusses are not necessarily exportable. “What I think is so wrong about the debate today is that it has gotten framed in terms of exporting American values rather than [saying that] America is one version of universal values,” she explains. “So our definition of equality and free speech and how to have a democratic voting system is one version. England’s is another. Germany’s is another. Turkey’s is another. Japan’s is another. What we ought to be doing is coming together with those countries and talking about the multiple realities of how you implement these universal values. That is a very different debate, but it is one that is much more consistent with what the Founders thought they were doing and one that is much more congenial to the rest of the world.”
Slaughter does, however, criticize liberals for what she sees as their squeamishness about talking about American values in a positive way, something she says has enabled Republicans to convince voters that they are the only party of faith, family, and flag. Her fear, Slaughter says, is that the country will repudiate an idealistic foreign policy in favor of a purely pragmatic, almost Kissingerian, one. “My argument is no, you stick with values but you define them consistently with our history, in a much more self-critical, honest way.” Thus Slaughter quotes 19th-century Sen. Carl Schurz, who said, “Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.”