When my sister and I were kids, we dared not let our parents catch us doing nothing. “If you need something to do,” my mother would say, “I’ll give you something.” Nine times out of 10, that something would be an onerous chore. My parents were big believers in the adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
A couple of articles in the news recently made me think about that adage in a grim new light. The cover story in the April 28 issue of Newsweek profiled Darnah, a small town of 50,000 people along the Mediterranean coast of Libya.
Late last year, in Iraq, American soldiers raided an insurgent headquarters in the northern town of Sinjar. Inside they found documents with the names and biographical information of foreign fighters in Iraq. Analyzing the papers, American investigators uncovered a startling fact. Of the 606 militants cataloged in the Sinjar records, almost 19 percent had come to Iraq from Libya. Even more surprising was this: of 112 Libyan fighters named in the papers, an astoundingly large number-52-had come from Darnah. What’s more, some 85 percent of them volunteered for suicide missions-a significantly larger fraction than any other country but Morocco.
The Newsweek reporter traveled to Darnah to figure out why the town was contributing such a large portion of its young men to fight the Americans in Iraq. It’s difficult to generalize about what would motivate a young man to travel 1,800 miles from home just to blow himself up and take a few Americans with him. However, there’s little doubt that the town’s poverty and rampant unemployment were major factors. You have to wonder if those young men had a choice between jihad and, say, a good-paying manufacturing job, there might be fewer foreign fighters to contend with in Iraq.
Reading that, I couldn’t help but be heartened by couple of other news items that crossed my desk.
In January, CNH International (Burr Ridge, IL) purchased a shuttered agricultural machinery manufacturing facility in Iskandiriyah, Iraq, and is beginning the process of restarting operations. CNH is getting help from the Defense Department’s Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations in Iraq, which is supplying 200 New Holland tractor kits to get the assembly line rolling.
As with any factory anywhere in the world, job creation extends well beyond the shop floor. When you produce tractors, you need outlets to market them, so CNH is training 40 Iraqis to sell and service tractors at four new dealerships throughout the country: Mosul, Erbil, Baghdad and Kut.
“We are pleased to help the U.S. Department of Defense successfully provide agricultural equipment in Iraq and provide training to local Iraqis,” says Franco Fusignani, CEO of CNH.
The factory in Iskandiriyah is one of many ways that CNH is working with the DoD to improve conditions in Iraq. You can read more about them here.
Everyone wins with these efforts. Iraqis get jobs and new tractors with which they can rebuild their shattered infrastructure and fallow fields. CNH turns a profit. And, the Iraqi government and the DoD get an Iraqi population more interested in clocking in than checking out.
A similar story is playing out in the embattled Russian republic of Chechnya, where Russian soldiers have fought two wars since 1994. The unemployment rate in Chechnya is a staggering 75 percent, and the United Nations once described Grozny, the republic’s capital, as “the most destroyed city in the world.” With conditions like that, who wouldn’t take up arms?
Fortunately, there may be light-or, more specifically, headlights-at the end of this tunnel, too. Earlier this month, the first cars rolled out of a new AvtoVAZ assembly plant in Grozny. The factory is expected to provide some 10,000 jobs. You can read more about the new plant here.
Certainly, the roots of political strife and terrorism run much deeper than economics, but a good job and money in your pocket have a way of helping you forget any grievances you might have with the powers that be. Idle hands truly are the devil’s workshop.