Why isn't Haiti- failed state, miserably poor- an Al Qaida haven?
Amongst all the news from Haiti, one thing we never hear is that renegade groups of Haitians are bent on delivering suicide bombs to the US. Not only do they have ideal proximity, they have been shabbily treated by the US and other Western powers for hundreds of years. If poverty and "lack of opportunity", not to mention justified historical grievance, were sufficient for terrorism and suicide bombing, we'd be in far more trouble than we are. Why not?
Well, there is no denying the obvious, which is that Islam is the missing ingredient. Many other issues come into play, such as the generally friendly relations we have with Haiti despite all the burdens of history, to the point that the US hosts large expatriate communities with close ties to home, including remitting 15% of Haiti's GDP. ("For Haiti, one of the most affected LDC's- with close to 65% of its educated population found in the United States, the dislocation of much needed human resources is compelling.") And the overwhelming security unbrella/menace that the US represents, perhaps preventing any hanky panky in advance (hard to credit, really, knowing our capabilities, and considering Cuba next door).
No, it comes down basically to culture, and whether the bitter totalitarianism of Islam has touched down in Haiti. I am watching a bit of Spike Lee's Malcom X film biography, which is a classic example of such an ideology trying with all its might to establish itself on US soil, in the fertile and very justifiedly aggrieved black community. Separatism and militancy is the tenor, but the Nation of Islam did not take hold, nor Black Power more generally, and nor has generic Islam.
Perhaps we can thank Christianity for being a "commensal" or relatively benign religion, keeping away more virulent strains. Haitians are overwhelmingly Christian, 60% Catholic from their Spanish and French colonial history, and 25% or more Protestant with strong Pentacostal influence. Pentacostalism tends to be a striving religion, focusing on personal worldly success, virtuous living, and good business connections. This is quite distinct from the political focus of Islam, devoted as it is to authority, and political and social uniformity.
Pentacostalism (and Baptistm too) comes to society from the perspective that it is a small religion in a big society, striving to succeed in a pluralistic world dominated by others. Islam, no matter how marginal its community, comes at the question quite differently, insisting that not only its theology, but its sociopolitical program is perfect and absolute. Possibly in abeyance due to temporary weakness and existence as a minority, but the totalitarian goal is always clear and enshrined in scripture.
Most strongly fundamentalist cults will take a similar position, nurturing fervent dreams of toppling the reigning cultural paradigm. But few have armed jihad written right into their scriptural DNA, which makes all the difference here.
Catholicism in Haiti, as elsewhere in the Carribean and South America, has worn two faces- the static traditional form comfortable with ancient, not to say regressive, social hierarchies and personal, quasi-animistic devotions, and the other face exemplified by forcibly exiled Bertrand Aristide, termed liberation theology, which takes Christ as a revolutionary example, amenable to a communist, or at least socialist, social order. Haiti is strongly divided along these lines, as are many poorer countries, between the few rich and the many poor. As mentioned previously, this kind of divide is corrosive both to economic prospects and to the civil society. The rich have spared no effort, including calling in friendly US assistance numerous times, to suppress the socialist / populist movements in Haiti.
Fortunately, none of this has much to do with Islam. Islam can neither make unroads with the poor, who become even more oppressed in this religion, (women in particular), nor with the rich, who might like the additional social structure afforded by Islam, but not its strictures against hedonism and its relocation of cultural leadership to Arabia.
So, al Queda hasn't gotten serious footholds in some of the most promising areas in the hemisphere of their arch-foe for good reasons of history and culture which we can only hope will stay relevant as we continue (hopefully) to deepen and improve our relationships with Haiti during this time of catastrophe.
On the other hand, al Queda has been diversifying, now even taking up the standard of global warming. Next might be Keynesianism and progressive media diversification, not to mention internet neutrality(!), at which point Osama bin Laden may become a legitimate global leader of the poor and oppressed, yearning to breathe free. A sort of stateless Chompskyite counterpoint to the hyperpower head Barack Obama, who each moment seems to be regressing towards greater compromise with the vested interests. Who knows what the future of the global political scene might hold?
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