The Indigent; The Moths To The Flame of Terrorism

Through our class studies of Socialistic China and Mao, and my own individual studies about the Shining Path Rebellion in Peru, I have spent some time contemplating why people are so attracted to the use of fear and terrorism.  Abimael Guzman was the founder of The Shining Path, a Communist party in Peru.  He idolized Mao and used Mao’s Cultural Revolution as a general revolutionary model for Peru.  Peru, similarly to China, was facing some major economical struggles leading up to the SP (Shining Path) rebellion.  Peru was heavily hit by rapid population growth, agrarian crisis, and they had become very reliant on food imports, which only perpetuated the suffering for many working farmers, who were losing business to the cheaper imports.  Guzman became a strong advocate for agrarian reform and wished to end class struggle.  In order to rid the country of capitalist “monsters”, Guzman, like Mao, felt that violence was necessary to obtain the goal of true social equality.  Guzman began forming an army similar to Red Guards in China.  Young adults often joined the Red Guards because of the attractive offers that Mao presented.  The poor peasants and uneducated youth, who had only known oppression this far in life, were so ready for change that they would nearly latch on to any movement that promised equality and reform.  In a desperate act, the peasants of Peru cling to the SP in hopes of improving their lifestyle.  These peasants have felt so exploited that they blindly associate themselves with terrorist groups, not because they agree with their methods, but because they often view these terrorist factions as the only groups capable of progressing their lives.  Leaders, like Guzman and Mao, recognize that the peasants are weak and easy to convert to their organization.  This “targeting of the poor” often plays a large role in the success of terrorist groups.  The peasants are like the moths to this flame of terrorism.  They are inevitably attracted to the flame because of the brightness it shines, regardless of whether or not the flame was sparked from guerrilla explosives.  The vulnerability of the needy stirs a deep fear in me.  We are not invincible, The U.S might not be too far from a terrorist uprising.  We have impoverished and upset citizens that could easily cling to the next terrorist group that advocates social liberation.  What will it take to prevent the inevitable attraction of the poor to terrorism?

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3 Responses to The Indigent; The Moths To The Flame of Terrorism

  1. Will says:

    Matt, I think it is important to recognize that the impoverished poor in both China and Peru were more than just masses, in fact, they were majorities. In the United States, only a marginal amount of the population (although no one should be living in poverty) is impoverished. Nonetheless, the impoverished people in America are much better off than the peasants in Peru and China were. Thus, although you do bring up a very interesting point, I would quickly repudiate the potential for a mass terrorist uprising among the impoverished citizens of the United States. Also, at least pertaining to my knowledge of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, I think you have a slight misconception of the relation between the poor and terrorist organizations. Although terrorists organizations do recruit the poor, according to a book I just read, “Lone Survivor,” which recounts a Navy Seal’s experience in Afghanistan, many Taliban and Al Qaeda recruits simply join these organizations because they are Jihadists and have an intrinsic and insatiable ideological hatred for the United States. Furthermore, many Taliban recruits come from “third-world” regions where wealth is not a concern or an issue, and where people live contently in the same subsitence manner that their ancestors have for many years prior. The hatred many Jihadists hold for America, however, can in part be found in the “decadent” Western culture of our nation, which can somewhat trace the problem of terrorism back to wealth, although the Taliban and Al Qaeda are external terrorists, not domestic. In conclusion, I think terrorism is an unavoidable consequence of extremist views, rather than the influence of wealth, or lack thereof. I also believe that terrorism is an unavoidable aspect of life, and that the only way to fight terrorism is to completely quash those who are plotting against the United States and other nations. On a slightly separate note, in light of the Boston Bombings, the best way for Americans to transcend terrorism is to demonstrate our ability to stay strong and unified even in the most deprave situations.

  2. Joe says:

    Matt, although the poor fuelled revolution in China and Peru because of their seemingly hopeless levels of abject poverty, I believe that America is an altogether different example. In a recent study conducted here in the United States, as income inequality grew from 1952-2006, both the wealthy and the less fortunate classes became increasingly fiscally conservative. Instead of what many would expect, when asked their opinion on the matter of government welfare spending, the lower-income respondents chose that increased government welfare spending was not the preferable route to take when it came to evening out the income distribution in our nation. However, this is not because the American poor are not aware of the incredible wealth discrepancy. As found in this same study, the poor are actually more aware of the income-gap than any other income strata in the U.S. This leads me to believe that the poor do not merely act out of self-interest, as you partially suggest in your post that the poor resort to terrorism because of their abject poverty, but rather the poor, like their fellow wealthy American neighbors, put the needs of their nation first here in America. Next, I also believe that in order for terrorists to triumph in any nation there must be a common cause behind the movement, and the movement cannot just be a “means to an end” as many terrorist movements appear to be in society today. If the poor do not understand what exactly their goals for their nation are after the terrorism occurs, then one may question if the movement even meant anything. In my opinion, there is a fundamental difference between terrorism that seeks to establish a new government or governmental change such as the Red Guards in China, or on the other hand, a terrorist movement such as Al Qaeda, which seeks to attack the West without bringing about any change for their people aside from war and unforeseen devastation. Overall, I disagree with your statement that the poor are the moths to the flame of terrorism and that a mass uprising could occur in the United States under the present conditions. In most revolutions we have studied, the actual people commanding and running the revolutions have been strong leaders such as Lenin, Robespierre, Gandhi, and Mao, all of who descended from relatively wealthy families. The poor need someone to guide them to terrorism, for they alone are not attracted to it when a wealthy or commanding party is removed from the situation. However, I do recognize the slight possibility for an uprising by the poor, but I believe that the poor could not achieve this revolution alone, for they would need the guidance of a liberal wealthy American.


  3. Madison says:


    I do not foresee a terrorist uprising from the indigent here in the United States anytime in the near future. An uprising is not very likely because here in the United States, we have reasonably good social welfare programs, which provide some support for those in need. Many Americans rely on these programs to sustain everyday life.

    We are also a democracy, which allows people to protest as groups and speak their minds – this form of government does not suppress people but instead provides a political outlet for all concerns people have. People can vote for whomever they feel will better represent all Americans, including the poor.

    The other countries you have mentioned do not provide a sufficient political outlet for the people. Therefore, people must react more radically to be heard and affect change.

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