What is the connection between Al Qaeda and Adam Smith? Absolutely nothing, at first glance. While the former is a ruthless terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, the latter is a highly respected and scholarly person who is widely considered to be the founding father of free market economics. But if we actually think about it, we realize that Al Qaeda has, inadvertently so, been following Adam Smith’s principles of a free market economy.
In the last few years, thanks to the relentless drone strikes and global pressure on terrorist havens like Pakistan, Al Qaeda has been significantly weakened. Being constantly on the run, without having any safe sanctuary except in the Pakistani Wild West, Al Qaeda has not been able to launch any successful terrorist attack on any nation. However, they have fostered a spirit of “entrepreneurship” among their radical followers. Like in a free market economy, there is not much “central planning” and “state/central intervention” in the “framing of policies”; rather the “center/state” has created conditions for the “blooming of private enterprise”. That is to say that, though there is no organizational level planning from the Al Qaeda central leadership with regards to terrorist strikes, their vitriolic messages of hate have encouraged and influenced a host of small time morons to take up arms for delusional causes. This is clear in the recent attacks: the Nigerian Underpants bomber, the Times Square bomber and the parcel bombs from Yemen. These were all low cost and unorganized missions put together by a bunch of wannabe terrorists. But it is precisely these kind of attacks that become hard to detect and will increase panic and unrest in an already scarred society. Eg: the TSA pat downs at US airports.
The only way to prevent such attacks is to remove the deep rooted causes that fuel such hatred. But this is easier said than done. Top on the list of grievances is the Israel-Palestine issue, which shows no signs of heading towards a peaceful resolution. Another major cause for concern in the Islamic/Arab world is the US and Western support for oppressive military dictators. These despots, hated by their own people, are staunch allies of the US. When they fall, as all despots eventually do, the people turn their resentment towards the global allies of the tyrants i.e US and Europe. This is what happened in Iran and indirectly influenced the Al Qaeda.
In 1953, a US supported coup brought back the ousted Iranian Shah to power, much to the chagrin of the Iranian people. When the Shah was ousted in 1979, the Iranians fearing another US coup attacked the US embassy and held the diplomats hostage for 444 days. An incensed US supported Iraq in the following Iran-Iraq war, funneling weapons and money to Saddam Hussein. A power hungry Saddam then attacked Kuwait in 1991. The US intervened and threw him out of Kuwait, but stationed troops in the Arab countries as a counter to Iraqi imperialist ambitions. This presence of US troops and their support for the autocratic Arab regimes gave fuel to the newly jobless Mujahideen created by another US backed dictator: Zia Ul Haq.
As we can see, this has been a vicious cycle of violence. To win this war on terror, we can’t just be content with dismantling one or two organizations. Al Qaeda is still a dangerous if somewhat diminished threat. The world needs to make a cohesive effort to address the root causes that make educated urban youth in US, UK and even India to propagate violence against innocents. The recent revolutions in the Arab world has left the US and the western world in a bind. Should it support its dictator friends for the sake of stability or support the people and risk radical fanatic political parties coming to power? I think the world needs to support democracy and the freedoms of people in the Arab world. Only this would lead to stability and peace in the coming century.