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Desperate for Leaders

Larbi Charef killed dozens of people in Algiers on Tuesday when he detonated his explosives-packed car. His suicide bombing was the culmination of a year that Charef had spent training with terrorists in the mountains in Eastern Algeria.

Some of those Charef murdered this week were receiving another form of training; they were university students. Although Charef received a high school diploma while spending two years in prison, he decided to become a terrorist when he was unable to find work upon his release.

Charef’s release from prison was the result of a government program “that gives amnesty to people convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.” In comforting the bomber’s mother, a family friend said, referring to the national program, “when you put young men for two years into prison, you need to follow up. They need guidance.” By suggesting the government should take responsibility for this young man, the family friend was exculpating the very people who should have had the strongest role in shaping his character: his parents.

And yet, today Charef’s parents are shaking their heads as to what could have motivated their son. Meanwhile, other parents are quite clear about what they teach their children. To wit: Charef’s accomplice in a second Tuesday bombing was a 64-year-old father. What had he imparted to his offspring? The value of joining the Islamist militant movement. A lesson well-learned: when their father, Rabah Bechla, took his life and those of many innocents this week, he was just following in the footsteps of his sons, who had died already “for the cause.”

It is painful to witness this cycle of nihilism and destruction. But it is not poverty alone that forms a terrorist. The photo in today’s New York Times that accompanies the story of the Algerian bombers shows the miserable shanty town in which one of them lived. Yet, the story’s text depicts a poverty of thinking, in which parents reject responsibility for their children. Where terrorists are bred, it seems the real vacuum is one of leadership.



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