The Corner

National Security & Defense

Piketty’s Latest Folly

First there was America’s own Metternich, John Kerry, wisely explaining that ISIS had something to do with climate change.

Time:

 “I’m not telling you that the crisis in Syria was caused by climate change,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech last month. “But the devastating drought clearly made a bad situation a lot worse.”

But now, Thomas Piketty, the French neo-Marxist economist who enjoyed more than his fifteen minutes last year, has confused the picture with another explanation.

The Washington Post reports:

The new argument, which Piketty spelled out recently in the French newspaper Le Monde, is this: Inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Islamic State attacks on Paris earlier this month — and Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality.

Of course!

Piketty writes that the Middle East’s political and social system has been made fragile by the high concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population. If you look at the region between Egypt and Iran — which includes Syria — you find several oil monarchies controlling between 60 and 70 percent of wealth, while housing just a bit more than 10 percent of the 300 million people living in that area. (Piketty does not specify which countries he’s talking about, but judging from a study he co-authored last year on Middle East inequality, it appears he means Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. By his numbers, they accounted for 16 percent of the region’s population in 2012 and almost 60 percent of its gross domestic product.)

Inequality, always inequality…

Writing in City Journal, Benjamin Weingarten is rightly unconvinced:

Piketty succumbs to the widely held belief that the global jihad can be understood through a Western prism rather than on the jihadists’ own terms. This Western prism is obscured by a materialist screen, which assumes that all peoples are ultimately driven by the same motives, desires, and ambitions—namely economic ones. We in the West believe that a love of freedom is sown into the hearts of all men, and that we all seek a good job, a nice house, and a fine education. But liberty is not a universal ideal; upper-middle-class values aren’t shared by everyone.

No they are not, despite Obama’s pathetic insistence that the Paris atrocities were an attack on “universal values”, a bizarre conceit reduced to absurdity by the mere fact of the attacks. The president’s sad, alarming flailing was a reminder that this sheltered, narrow-minded man simply cannot keep up with a world that is not as he thinks it should be.

Back to Weingarten:

 Jihadists are willing to subordinate earthly concerns in the name of Allah. Turning back the jihadist tide will require the West to remove its blinders and examine the jihadists’ worldview honestly. The United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Paris just days after ISIS murdered 129 people, surely did nothing to shake the jihadis’ belief that they are on the winning side of a battle with an unserious enemy. Nor are they likely concerned with the force of history, despite progressive proclamations that jihadis are “on the wrong side” of it…

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a socialist [Piketty] interprets the jihad according to first materialist principles.

And there’s a certain irony to the fact that someone so inspired by Marxism, a millenarian cult of the nineteenth century (not that Piketty would describe it as such) is unable to identify ISIS, a millenarian cult of the twenty-first, for what it is.

And the failure is not just Piketty’s, of course. In course of The Closing of Barack Obama’s Mind, an important article for Commentary Peter Wehner observes this:

[I]n the case of jihadism, when the killers themselves are invoking the Koran and the Islamic faith to justify their malevolence — when the caliphate established in the heart of the Middle East is called the Islamic State — the president refuses to confront it. He goes into contortions to downplay or ignore the connection to Islam. He has a narrative to advance, and he will do it even if he has to run roughshod over reality to do it.

No one is asking Mr. Obama to indict all of Islam or have America or the West declare a war on it. He should do neither. But what we should expect is the president to understand the nature of the enemy we’re facing. It would also be refreshing if the president did not live in a world hermetically sealed off from facts that are inconvenient to his worldview. But that is precisely what Mr. Obama is doing.

And part of the reason for that lies in an understanding of the world that, at its core, simply cannot move beyond a crude economic reductionism. That may be a comforting explanation—economic problems can be eased— but it is dangerously inadequate to explain a murderous phenomenon that owes a great deal to human nature—and the timeless appeal of an apocalypse where the righteous will prevail.

America would be safer if we had a president willing to recognize that reality.

Unfortunately, in Barack Obama we have one who either can’t or won’t. 

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