Poor Scapegoats: Moving Beyond Radical Islam, Modernization, and Authoritarian Rule as the Root Causes of Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Air & Space Power Journal: Africa and Francophonie





First page number:


Last page number:



The Middle East and the states that comprise the Maghreb have been plagued by enduring hostilities for the past 50 years. With the end of the Cold War, the region hosted some of the bloodiest and most protracted wars in the world--namely, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two wars in Iraq (1991 and 2003), the civil war in Yemen (1994), the struggle in Lebanon (2007), and the war between Iraq and Iran (1980-88), one of the deadliest interstate actions on record. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, a known conflict zone rife with internal and regional struggles, is also the site of some of the most lethal terror networks and attacks in the world. Thus, the prevalence of violence in the region has made the Middle East and the Maghreb the focal point for a great deal of research in political science. For years, scholars have sought to understand why the MENA seemingly hosts an endless wave of violence. Several empirical studies have arrived at relevant theories that find the lack of democracy, barriers to modernization, and the presence of religious radicalism at the root of the conflicts. (1) Building upon this body of research, this article explores these arguments but from a different perspective. Instead of tackling democracy, modernization, and religious radicalism as discrete concepts, it examines the impact of these factors on the trend to political violence as components of state failure. Next to sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the MENA includes the highest percentage of weak and failed states in the world. Theories explored thus far as fundamental causes of the political violence in this area are simply symptoms of all weak states. Therefore, analyses of the causes of terrorism and political violence in the Middle East and the Maghreb should begin with an examination of the state dysfunction prevalent within the region. Using data from the Arab Barometer Survey (2008), this article asserts that the conditions of state failure force individuals to resort to terrorism and political violence in the MENA as a means of obtaining tangible political, economic, and social goods and forcing strategic political concessions. (2) Therefore, promoting democracy, modernization, and religious freedom on an individual basis is a noble and useful pursuit, but addressing these factors in a broader context by cultivating state building in the region constitutes the first step towards dealing with the systematic violence.

Controlled Subject

Radicalism; Authoritarianism; Terrorism; Middle East; North Africa


African Studies | Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Terrorism Studies

Search your library