02/03/2006 12:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Terrorism's Little Secret

The one thing that terrorist leaders don't want their followers to know is that they have nothing to gain. Suicide bombers are only the most obvious example, since they won't survive to gain anything even if terrorism ever "wins." but no follower is going to gain, because the deeper secret is that Islamic terrorism helps the rich and powerful.

Osama bin Laden is himself a wealthy man from a prodigally wealthy family. He is a outcast from his clan in Saudi Arabia, but only because he crossed a certain line. The other wealthy people in Saudi Arabia fund and support jihadist Islam for obvious reasons: it keeps them in power. Terrorism has become the new opiate of the masses. An opiate keeps you drowsy; it makes you believe in fantasies instead of reality.

Terrorism is now doing that as effectively as religion. Millions of Islamic children are going to private Islamic schools, or madrasas, only to come out almost as unfit for modern life as the day they entered. Fundamentalist clerics, such as those in Iran, have become billionaires while the flocks they preach to fall lower and lower economically. Corrupt princes stay in power by funding these clerics, both serving the same reactionary politics that will never grant power, money, or a chance to rise in society to ordinary citizens.

Terrorism wears a revolutionary mask, but the revolution doesn't exist except as a fantasy of returning to a pre-modern age when the Muslim world had greater prestige. Without America and Israel to hate, terrorism would be socially and politically bankrupt, so why is it succeeding? Because it stands symbolically for the dispossessed. Al-Qaeda is perceived as the only chance for people who have nothing.

This is another way that terrorism has morphed into a pseudo-religion. But at the same time, this is terrorism's Achilles heel, since every society could help its dispossessed. Certainly the G-8 countries and the Arab sheikdoms could long ago have subsidized a good life for every Palestinian refugee, for example. That we keep the dispossessed in a state of wretched misery gives terrorism its opening, which will never close until we become a global force for progress and expose terrorism for the reactionary fraud that it is.