How Science Can End Terrorism

It must be awfully tough to be anti-American. Imagine waking up before sunrise and reaching for the switch only to stop and look at the lightbulb and realize that Thomas Edison invented it. Reach for your cellphone to check for any important messages and realize that Alexander Graham Bell invented the landline version. You look out the window at the moon and maybe you can imagine seeing the 6 American flags that were left up there. You look at the TV. The radio. Pop music. Blue jeans. Google. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad. Obamamania. It would all make you just want to go back to bed.

If you’re young and male and Muslim and living in the Middle East, though, it must be easy to be angry: high unemployment, poor job prospects, the economy. If you’re educated, it must be even easier, since you know that it was the US who discovered oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1920’s. The UK who found oil in Iran and Libya. That is, 95% of the modern wealth of the Middle East was discovered and developed by foreigners. The same ones who made your cellphone and computer and iPod. You know how many oil exporting countries, like Iran, are importers of refined petroleum. That the major oil tracing centers are in the West, not the Middle East.

Don’t get me wrong: Every nation has a proud and glorious Past. You can’t find a person on Earth who isn’t proud of their nation’s history. Our brilliant victory at the Battle of Whatever in 1342. The Golden Era when we ruled an area 10 times larger than we are now. The traditional architecture and music. The time we were invaded and almost wiped out – But we survived and persevered, because that’s what our people are like. And, of course, the food. Oh, the food the way mom cooks it.

But some countries have a lousy Present. Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber, had a BA in IT and an MBA, and apparently tried to find work in Pakistan (where he was born) and the Middle East, but lived and worked instead in the finance industry in southwest Connecticut. He was unhappy about not being able to find work back home. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underpants Bomber, is the son of one of the richest men in Nigeria, so went to the West (in his case, University College London) to get an engineering degree, rather than be educated at an African university. He was unhappy about that. Osama bin Laden was born into a wealthy family, but originally founded Al Qaeda to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. He was unhappy about how close the royal family is to Western powers. None of these men were desperate, all were college educated, and all were desperately unhappy about the state of affairs in their homelands the rest of the world.

The reason, I think, they were unhappy is that many of the countries of the Middle East seem to have no Future. Why? Peak Oil. Foreigners found the wealth of the Middle East, and, when it’s gone, it’s gone. Supposedy Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai said: “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel.” I think everyone in the oil-exporting countries fears this is true.

After the September 11 attacks, many in the West asked themselves Why do they hate us? And, what can we do to keep this from happening again? Personally, I’m not certain if there is anything We can do. Nobody blows themselves up if they think they have a future.

A lot of scientific effort is being spent in the West using network theory and data mining to identify potential terrorists. New scanners at airports to find people with weapons or those with trace residue of explosives on their hands. Behavioral targeting and infrared cameras to find people who are nervous or otherwise acting suspiciously.

That is not the way that I think science can help end terrorism. To end terrorism what the Muslim world needs now more than anything else, I think, is an Accomplishment. Some meaningful achievement they can rub in our faces on a daily basis for the next ten decades. An international trip to Mars in which a Muslim male is the first to set foot on the surface. A cure for cancer found in a lab in King Abdullah Economic City. Profitable nuclear fusion discovered in Pakistan. Extremely efficient solar cells invented in Egypt.

Some reason to get out of bed in the morning, turn on the light and check for any important messages on your cellphone.

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