“We follow the money; everything else is a means to an end”.
These are the lines in a film called All the President’s Men, where the stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played the role of journalists that unearth a major conspiracy while investigating the Watergate Scandal.
The film is adapted from the major political scandal that occurred in the US in the early 1970s, following a break-in by five men at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, and President Richard Nixon’s administrations subsequent attempt to cover up its involvement. The investigation by the journalists led to the discovery of multiple abuses of power by members of President Nixon’s administration, the commencement of an impeachment process against the President, and his eventual resignation.
The terms terrorist and terrorism may appear to be a recent phenomenon. However, they were first used in 1794 by French philosopher Francois-Noel Babeuf during the French Revolution, where Paris was threatened with ‘exemplary never to be forgotten vengeance and subjected to military punishment and total destruction’, if the royal family was harmed. But this only increased the revolution’s resolve to abolish the French monarchy.
Last week, terror revisited our nation during the DusitD2 attack where several people needlessly died, others seriously injured and many more severely traumatised. And the country was engulfed with a mixture of emotions, from grief to shock, post-traumatic stress, relief and unprecedented gratitude to our law enforcement and first responders.
The terrorist group that claimed responsibility told us that their motivation for the attack was President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in Israel. As incredulous and disconnected a reason this might appear to those affected by the attack, it is a narrative that will be unquestionably believed in its totality by those who ascribe to the terrorist’s doctrine.
Globally, a lot of research and resources have been dedicated into trying to comprehend and decode the terrorist industry. And there has been sufficient evidence to show that the factors that motivate people into terrorism are poverty, unemployment, extreme ideology or social justice revenge in support of past or present persecution. But despite several mitigation measures, such as economic empowerment, re-socialisation, intelligence and defense mechanisms, the acts of terrorism have become a hydra-headed quandary, that keeps regenerating its heads and simply refuses to be slain, thus making it difficult to predict what its next incarnation will be.
Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence that shows a mutation of the determinants that serve as pull factors into terrorism, ranging from backgrounds of affluence, high education levels, improbable tribes and unassociated habitats. The common denominator is shifting towards normalcy. And this has bewildered logical thinkers and profilers because it has completely defied their proforma checklist. It does not conform to their script.
Could it be that our failure to vanquish terrorism has been occasioned by the fact that we have studied the anatomy of terrorism through the moral and socio-political lenses? Resultantly, our responses are interlaced with emotions in support of and against. Plato described emotion and reason as two horses pulling us in opposite directions. And the more intense our emotions, the more clouded our judgement is. When our emotions run too high, our logic is low. We make the best decisions when we achieve a careful balance between emotions and logic.
I submit that we need to change tact. We need to interrogate terrorism as a market because the market does not care an inch about your feelings, neither does it catch feelings. It doesn’t care about your political beliefs or moral values. It doesn’t conform to your religious ideology or revere your culture. Nor does it kowtow to your favourite tin god or deity. The market only cares about what you want, what is available and how much you are voluntarily willing to pay for it.
The backbone of any market is supply and demand. Demand refers to how much of a product or service is desired by buyers. The quantity demanded is the amount of a product or service that people are willing to buy at a certain price. The law of demand states that, if all the other factors remain equal, the higher the price of a good, the less people will demand that good. Supply on the other hand, represents how much the market can offer. The quantity supplied refers to the amount of a certain good or service that producers are willing to supply when receiving a certain price. The law of supply states that producers supply more at a higher price because selling a higher quantity at a higher price increases revenue.
A huge proportion of mitigation efforts have been concentrated on the supply side. These are the terror perpetrators willing to perform violent acts for monetary or non-monetary returns. As a preventive measure, we have focussed on their psyche in a bid to reverse it with little success. And as a curative measure, we kill them in defense of our people when they attack. Sadly, despite our best efforts, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of supply. Hence, attention should now be paid to the demand side or those who support terrorism, because supply is driven by demand. When the demand reduces, the supply also decreases.
Begs the question, who is on the demand side of terrorism? Often, we hear amorphous constituencies such as al Shabaab, al Qaeda or ISIS take responsibility for terror attacks. But I am willing to bet my last dime, that these terror groups are not led by Artificial Intelligence. So, who finances the terror perpetrators? Who are these that will finance people to blow themselves up, but will not sacrifice themselves? Who masterminds the execution of terror? Who supplies the ammunition? But most importantly, who holds brief for them when they are charged in court?
We have a huge body of knowledge on the supply side with regard to individual suppliers or those willing to commit violent acts. After the fact, we know who they are, where they come from, the types of weapons they use and their supply side networks.
Hence, I naively ask, if we follow the money, are we not able to solve the mystery of the invisible faces that sit on the demand side of terrorism? And if we do, are we not able to destabilise or eventually obliterate this demand, the requisite supply and resultantly terrorism altogether?
When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat – President Ronald Reagan
Mugwe is a political economist and writes here on her own capacity