Tonight on Al Jazeera’s The Stream, they will be talking about the gang problem in El Salvador. Some of you may remember that I wrote an article for Latino Rebels explaining why I understood the massive migrations from Central America to the U.S. The gangs and rampant violence obviously being some of those reasons.
Today as I was discussing this topic with The Stream on twitter, I recalled a heavy discussion that I had with my Muslim friend from Pakistan, Gibran Malik. He is well versed in topics of the region, and we had a very deep discussion on terrorism and what conditions breed terrorism.
As I explained my viewpoints to the folks from the Stream, that’s when it hit me. I realized that the same details from the discussion that Gibran and I were having in regards to terrorism, applied almost exactly to the gang situation in El Salvador.
What leads to terrorism? A lack of information, lack of opportunity, brain washing, and in some cases the threat of dire consequences should you not cooperate. One can similarly ask, what leads to joining a gang? What leads to a gang becoming so big and powerful? You will find that the answers are exactly the same.
If there are no jobs, then how will you provide for your family? If there is no education or opportunity, then how could you even get a job? If the police are powerless, or otherwise unwilling to fight the gangs, then who can help you if not the gangs themselves? Who will protect you when the gang comes to recruit your child?
I recently read a story about a Nicaraguan young man who was ordered to kill a bus driver in Guatemala. He refused to kill the man, as punishment the gang leaders then gave him an option, death by dismemberment, or being thrown off a bridge. He chose the bridge, and they obliged.
How is this any different from any other terroristic organization? Their tactics may slightly differ, but at the heart of it all, they are the same. They spread terror, fear, and mayhem, and in many cases, they come to power due to similar circumstances.
Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani advises that the Salvadoran government annihilate the two major gangs. Though in the past I would be inclined to agree with him, experience has taught me otherwise. How has fighting terrorism worked out so far? It hasn’t worked, has it? I’ll argue that taking this approach in El Salvador will yield the same results. You have to go after the root cause, while simultaneously punishing and taking down those who commit violent acts. They cannot be ignored, or go unpunished, but applying one without the other will certainly not work.