“A Marriage of Convenience”
“Stop The Afghan Drug Trade, Stop Terrorism.” Forbes, Misha Glenny
“To win the war on terror, forget the war on drugs.” Financial Times, Rachel Ehrenfeld
The global drug trade is intricately married to Islamist terrorism. This subject is more significant to us personally than one might assume and the consequences are of great importance to our communities. The mainstream titles of articles featured recently in both Forbes Magazine and the Financial Times illuminate the vast chasm of opinions amongst global thinkers on the subject. Both publications have made significant inroads into the thinking of policy makers in the United States and in Europe. On one hand there is the opinion that if we rid the world of drugs we will end the source of financing behind much of the terrorism in the world. The opposing opinion is that if we legalize illicit narcotic drugs the problem will go away, along with much of our crime and terrorist fighting costs. Both seem like simplistic positions.
(For clarity, here is a synopsis of the current series of the weekly editions of More than Meets the Eye. The goal in these articles remains the same, to make consumers of these realities better able to appreciate and understand them more effectively.
Part 1- A Marriage of Convenience- Last week I discussed how on the surface, the competing actors, drug cartels and Islamist terrorists are fueled by an overlapping mixture of ideologies and political agendas.
Part 2- A Marriage of Convenience Part 2- Today we will look at the global economic impact of the nexus of the drug industry and Islamist jihadism. We will see how significantly different the opinions of global thinkers are as to how to combat the two.
Part 3- The Fuel of Fury- I will discuss how drug use among Islamist jihadists directly fuels violent terrorist operations globally.
Part 4- Hitting Close to Home- I will address the Drug/Terror Continuum; how it directly effects your family and community.)
Though not traded on any stock exchange, Heroin is one of the most valuable commodities in the world today. While a ton of crude oil costs less than $290, a ton of Heroin costs $67 million in Europe and between $360 million and $900 million in New York, according to estimates based on recent Drug Enforcement Administration figures.
Since its liberation from Taliban rule, Afghanistan’s Opium production has gone from 640 tons in 2001 to 8,200 tons in 2007. Afghanistan now supplies over 93% of the global opiate market; a staggering statistic! And somehow these drugs find their way into our communities.
The logistics of how drugs make their way into the United States is baffling. Let me describe to you from personal experience just how difficult it is to travel from, for example, Bamyan (central Afghanistan) to Atlanta, GA with no constraints and all the available transportation possible to me as an American. To get from Bamyan to Kabul, a distance of only about 110 miles it takes about 12 hours. Google Maps will tell you 3, but I can assure you that is an optimistic algorithm. Once one is in Kabul, odds are that you will wait for several hours to several days to get a flight Westward. Let’s say that you are fortunate to get on a flight to Dubai, UAE. That flight could be navigated in about 3 hours. Once you have shopped around the Dubai airport for 4 or 5 hours, (The Dubai Airport is just a giant shopping mall with an airport attached to it.) you will be snuggled in your seat for a 14 hour flight to Atlanta. Arriving in Atlanta after a several day affair is typically done with the full complicity of several governments who really did not want you to travel. Now imagine the difficulties of negotiating this same journey with pounds of heroin on your person? The journey must take months and costs a fortune to navigate. I suppose for many this is worth the cost in time, the risk of discovery and the stress on the body. At the end of that rainbow is a pay off worth $180,000 for just one pound. There are few reasons for us to believe that this drug war will go away anytime soon with these kinds of profits waiting to be had.
Though Afghan Opium production shrank a little to 7,200 tons in 2008, it still accounts for 97% of the country’s per-capita annual GDP, or $303 of $310. Yet Afghan Heroin is worth 3.6 to 6.4 billion dollars on the streets of most Western nations. As long as that kind of value is sitting on the table, there will be many troublesome people waiting to take advantage of those kinds of profits, no matter what the risks.
The extremely high profit is the reason why so many Islamist jihadists have turned to the narcotics industry to fund their semi-ideological campaign. Though ideologically they are against the use of drugs, their somewhat slanted ethic allows them to produce and sell these drugs to “pagans” globally, especially since all they intend to do anyway is punish them for their “unbelief.” The narcotics industry provides a huge resource for terrorists and a safe haven to conduct their nefarious business of creating terror and instability in an unbelieving world. The opinions about how to deal with such dilemmas are as disparate as there are fish in the sea. One group of policy makers advocates focusing on the wholesale destruction of the poppy producing industry altogether. They advocate that by using new technologies such as Mycoherbicides these fields can be targeted and destroyed with little collateral damage to local populations and infrastructure. Attacking the narcotics production cycle has been high in the US policy realm for many years. It was the main stay of action under the Reagan administration. This course of action has many short comings. In the past, the economic impact on poor rural communities has been destructive. The use of a mycoherbicide will have similar effects, but will not be destructive to local infrastructures. In the past, destruction methods have usually included bombing, setting on fire or chemically destroying production means. It has been determined that these measures proved too draconian for local populations, therefore NATO has ruled them out.
Another solution at the other end of the spectrum has been to move the solution closer to the consumer end. While still not addressing the problem completely, it assumes that taking the cost factor out of the equation through legalization, prices would come down so low that no longer would production of narcotics be as profitable; then the problem would go away. They also site how governments could reap taxes from these drugs as they do cigarettes, lower the criminal population by reducing the fact that so many crimes are related to trying to find money for expensive drug habits.
What few appear to be discussing is the idea of actually reducing the demandfor narcotic drugs. The general assumption appears to be that people are going to do drugs, so let’s not even seriously discuss it. I think we neglect that conversation at our own peril. The fact that 67,000 Americans die each year from drug related deaths, along with the social costs of ignoring drug use is significant. Certainly Islamist extremists are capitalizing on the war on drugs. They are doing so in a way that joins drug trafficking and terrorist attacks into a marriage of convenience. The effects are devastating.
There is no simple solution for the dilemma of the marriage of drug trafficking and terrorism. It is not the poppy growers who are getting rich. It is not enough to just legalize everything and ignore the social costs. It is naive to just assume that if you explain to a drug user how his actions are stimulating the terrorism market that he will stop buying drugs. This is a global problem. It will not be solved by Western nations alone, although social programs addressing the rampant drug use in the West could go a long way in solving some of the problems. Destroying poppy fields by whatever means will do nothing to stop narco-terrorism; they will simply relocate, especially if the financial incentives remain as high as they are currently.
The global issue of the connection between drugs and terrorism will only be arrested by the communal efforts of peoples all around the world. Why are Christians not more attuned to this enormous problem? Why are we not more deeply involved in helping to create Christ-centered solutions that will not only diminish the demand for narcotics, thus decreasing terrorist resources to carry out destructive attacks against Western targets? What can be done by churches, Christian non-profit organizations, and individuals to abate this growing problem?
As I have written about in previous issues of MTMTE, it is essential that Christians become more aware of the dynamics of terrorism. It is so easy to bury our heads in the sand and assume that a government program will address it.
As a church we need to see how terrorism and drugs is simply a part of a large scale assault on our world, our nation and our community. It is a several-edged sword. On one edge we are paying for the drugs that are causing the decay of life and the deaths of many, while on the other edge Islamist terrorists are taking the monies that are being generated to fund their terroristic campaigns. Yet on another edge we are paying for the police, military and political systems to stop all of it. It is a trifecta for the evil one. It is destroying us and we are naively paying for it. I can only imagine the gleeful discussions that the evil oneis having with his minions over this situation.
- We need to pay closer attention to one another by caring enough to help. Being part of a compassionate community will go a long way in solving the problems. Most who suffer from drug abuse are loners, not part of caring communities.
- Learn as much as we can about drug abuse. Provide ways for getting help. Right now drug treatment programs are so expensive that less than 10% of our population who want to get addiction help are able to do so. This is a huge area where we as churches can make a difference.
- Make drug abuse prevention a big deal in our education system. The sooner we can intervene in a young persons life, the less likely they are to engage in drug use as they enter into adulthood. This has proven effective in the cigarette addiction sphere with evidence of decreasing levels of teen cigarette smoking.
- Strategic prayer for our communities. We can never under estimate the power of fervent and effective prayer. It accomplishes much. (James 5:16)