Angry, hungry and hopeless: Exactly who al-Qaeda wants.
While living in a lower-income slum community in a Middle Eastern capital city for several years immediately before the start of the Arab Spring, one issue I became increasingly aware of, disturbed and angered by, was the incredibly high amount of child labor that exists throughout the region. And while I would love to have been able to merely go into "Mr. Fix-It" mode and solve things entirely, the issue of child labor isn't a problem with an easy and simple solution, but one that is extremely complicated.
I was confronted by multiple cases of child labor on a near daily basis. The first would come the moment I walked out of our front door each morning, and looked across the street and saw the two ten-year-old boys, Ahmad and Issa, who at such young ages had both already been forced to drop out of school and take jobs as "apprentices" in order to help make money to contribute to the basic daily needs of their respective families.
Then, before even making it to the end of my street I would come face-to-face with the evils of child labor once again, as there was a sweatshop located about 75 meters down the road from my house that I would walk past on my way to the bus station. This sweatshop ' which I found out produced clothing for a popular American company ' was a fairly large employer of young people, many of whom were most definitely under the age of 16. And so as I walked past the sweatshop ' sometimes even wearing the same brand of pants that were produced behind the closed doors in dangerous, horrendous working conditions that gave the workers absolutely no dignity at all ' I knew there were many children inside who also were being robbed of their childhoods to help their families survive.
Yet it wasn't until I had reached the extremely crowded, chaotic bus station that served a slum community of approximately one million people that the real onslaught of child labor would hit me. It was there I would witness hundreds of boys, most of whom where no more than ten-years-old, running around and ushering the masses onto the correct busses, on which the young boys all worked as ticket-collectors. Seeing as how I did not own a car, but instead took public transportation all of the time, I was well accustomed to seeing the same boys, day-in and day-out, working from early in the morning until late in the evening. Yet again, more children being robbed of their childhoods to help their families survive.
Cairo child labor
A child forced to work in the streets of Cairo. The cries of the poor and the shouts of the masses are heard by the religious fanatics. | Photo: Jeff D. Patterson | Link | Cairo, Child Labor, Children, Rights, Egypt,
In other words, in the time it took me between walking out my front door and making it to the neighborhood bus station, I came face-to-face with multiple cases of young adolescents robbed of their childhoods and forced to work 12 ' 14 hours a day to make money to help buy bread for their families so they would not go hungry, when they should have been going to school and doing all the other things most kids their age did. To me, that seems entirely unjust and unfair.
The aforementioned situations also help in understanding that the fires of the Arab Spring were initially fueled by economics, and not by religion.
Initially the masses were not on the streets demanding for Islamic-style governments to be installed. The cries of the poor in the Tunisian, Egyptian and Syrian streets were calling for a more just society where all citizens would be treated with dignity and equality, where all citizens would have access to basic services such as education and health care, and where the prospects of employment would be more than just pipe-dreams. Unfortunately, as the governments were toppled and new ones were put into place, the voices from the streets were not heard by the out-of-touch elite who took the places of the previously out-of-touch elite. Instead, the cries of the poor and the shouts of the masses were heard by the religious fanatics, such as the Salafis in Egypt, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, and now al-Nusra Front in Syria. And it is those groups who are now taking advantage of and looking to exploit the dire economic situation crippling the Arab World.
In looking towards the future as it relates to this issue of the extreme economic challenges facing the Arab World, and more specifically how it relates to the fight against radical Islamic extremism such as can be found in the Egyptian Salafist movement, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda, I see two potential scenarios.
The first possibility ' which is bad news ' is this: The Islamic terrorist organizations will reach out to these disgruntled, poor, young people who have no hope for a better future, and through their manipulative, highly effective recruitment strategies, draw them into their organizations. Ultimately, this would give way to a rise in Islamic terrorist organizations hell-bent on bringing their violent acts of terrorism to our doorsteps, unlike anything the world has seen to date. And we will then likely have no choice but to continue our "fight against terrorism" by killing these terrorists off, a few at a time, only to watch them continue to exponentially multiply before our very eyes. And this reciprocating process of one terrorist being killed, followed by 100 others racing to take the place of the slain martyr
, will just go on and on and on and on until finally one side has entirely wiped the other side out.
The second possibility ' which is better news ' is this: Those of us who do not want to see the ongoing growth and influence of fanatical Islamic extremism, and want to see the world rid of terrorism and becoming a safer and better place, can honestly ask if there is something ' anything ' we personally can do to help combat the problem. Instead of assuming it is the role of a few "special others" to fix the growing terrorist threat, we could ask what role we each can personally play in the "fight against terrorism".
I for one wholeheartedly believe giving people real, tangible hope for a better future is a way in which we can eliminate the possibility of individuals so much as even entertaining the idea of joining the ranks of these terrorist organizations before they begin to venture down that dead-end road. This could mean being directly involved in assisting with the unprecedented humanitarian crises the Middle East is currently experiencing, helping to raise awareness by giving a voice to the voiceless, or by focusing on philanthropic activities.
Or, alternatively, we can just sit back and wait until many of the young, angry, fed-up people on the Arab streets are effectively recruited into the ranks of groups like al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, Ansar al-Sharia, or the Egyptian Salafist movement, brainwashed into fully embracing these groups' violent ideologies, and then be forced to watch the bloodshed from the train-wreck we most likely could have prevented from happening in the first place.
The choice is ours.