MotivesExplain Martha Crenshaw's speculation that "Perhaps terrorism occurs precisely where mass passivity and elite dissatisfaction coincide."

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belarafon's profile pic

belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I don't think terrorism can be solely attributed to any single class or status; instead, let me throw out the idea that terrorism as an act to change public opinion, frighten the opposition, and draw attention to a cause is something that is performed by the underclass and fostered by the elite. Isn't it interesting that acts of terrorism are almost always single people with deeply personal reasons, and yet leaders of groups are always elsewhere? Consider the following quote:

Of course it's wrong, but I understand why they do what they have to do.

This is a sentiment I see everywhere, ranging from tacit sympathy to full support. This sentiment allows and indirectly supports the act; the leaders of terrorists foster their hatred and then set them loose, while the underclass is led by the nose to actions they have never truly thought through. This is a disease of the mind, and the only things that will alter it for the better is rational thinking, freedom, and education.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Terrorism cannot occur in a vacuum.  It also cannot occur with any widespread frequency or success in countries that are stable.  The government of any country depends on the support of elites to maintain stability, and once the support of the elites is lost, a more fertile ground for terrorism (or any rebellion, for that matter) exists.  The passivity, or unwillingness of the population to support the government or the status quo against terrorists, whether it is from fear, apathy or self-absorption with their own situations and lives, compounds the fertility of the terrorist environment.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Crenshaw herself has further explained her thinking by arguing that “Terrorism is the result of elite disaffection; it represents the strategy of a minority, who may act on the behalf of a wider popular constituency who have not been consulted about, and do not necessarily approve of, the terrorist aims or methods…”

In other words, members of a social elite take it upon themselves to act in the name of, and supposedly on behalf of, a much larger group whose opinions are never actually requested. One assumes that few people in the Muslim world would have approved of many of Osama Bin Laden's actions, but he claimed to act on behalf of the Muslim world.

As noted by vangoghfan (Hi!), the collision of the elite thinking classes with the lower classes of the mass of a populace, where terrorism finds its foot soldiers and objectives, is not to be assumed to be a benefit to nor a desire of the majority of a populace.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Crenshaw's assertion seems to be related to the way in which the perfect conditions for terrorism to emerge are where the social elite are extremely dissatisfied and able to whip up the majority of the populace into a frenzy because of their passive nature. Passivism here implies not an inability to do anything, but rather a willingness to be led by charismatic leaders and individuals.

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Mass passivity and elite dissatisfaction may account for some of what has taken place with terrorist groups. They are the minority, and dissatisfied with the world. They are not the elite. Are the elite dissatisfied? It's hard for me to see this in that the elite usually are on a socioeconomic level that far exceeds that of the common man. Money doesn't buy happiness, but it sure makes life easier in many ways. Mass passivity I can see more clearly, but I see it with people that lack motivation. Those who are passive are not the kind to rise up and change the world. They often just don't care. (I may be seeing this too much from a US standpoint and not enough with a wider world-vision.)

Putting these two together, does it create an environment that appeals to terrorists or makes it easier for them to operate? I may be missing the point, but mass passivity will generally last until someone tries to take the right to that passivity away (though pohnpei397 makes a good point about a passive mentality allowing things to take place because they don't care).

As others have noted, there has to be some truth to "revolution" in the face of social inequality. We have seen it in the US and French Revolutions. I agree, too, that some people may think they speak for the masses, who don't necessarily agree with terrorist acts. This all seems to echo Margaret Mead's quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Unfortunately, these committed "terrorists" are changing the world in ways most of us want no part of.

vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Crenshaw herself has further explained her thinking by arguing that “Terrorism is the result of elite disaffection; it represents the strategy of a minority, who may act on the behalf of a wider popular constituency who have not been consulted about, and do not necessarily approve of, the terrorist aims or methods…”

In other words, members of a social elite take it upon themselves to act in the name of, and supposedly on behalf of, a much larger group whose opinions are never actually requested. One assumes that few people in the Muslim world would have approved of many of Osama Bin Laden's actions, but he claimed to act on behalf of the Muslim world.

readerofbooks's profile pic

readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The basic point of the quote is that terrorism takes shape when the upper and lower classes come together (but not on equal terms). In other words, the upper classes spin the ideology and plant the vision on account of their dissatisfaction. Then they use the lower classes to create change through terrorism. I do not know if I agree with this statement, as it makes the masses a pawn of the rich.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Terrorism is often a type of revolutionary activity that takes place where you have a great deal of inequality between classes.  There may be members of the elite that support the lower classes, and members of the lower classes, and terrorist activity is intended to cause change in the social structure to eliminate the inequality.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think what she's saying is that you have elites who are angry with the status quo and therefore preach against it in violent terms.  Then you have a mass of people who are passive and who A) do not resist the violent rhetoric and B) may be passively swept up in it.  In that situation, you have the potential for terrorists from the masses following the lead of elites who were the ones who were unhappy in the first place.

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