The Poverty/Terror Myth By Robert Spencer

Over the years we have posted many studies that show that jihadists are generally better educated and wealthier than their peers. I expect that at least some of them have come to the attention of officials in Washington, but the assumption among law enforcement and government officials that money will solve the problem of terrorism remains deeply entrenched. Anyway, here is more evidence.

“The poverty/terror myth: There may be an economic dimension to terrorism — but it’s not what you think, says Fortune’s Cait Murphy,” by Cait Murphy in Fortune:

NEW YORK (Fortune) — The idea that poverty breeds terror appears obvious; how could it be otherwise? And people as different as the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Bush, Jacques Chirac and Pakistan’s leader, Pervez Musharraf, have also noted a link between poverty and terrorism.

In fact, there is now robust evidence that there is no such link. That does not mean, however, that economics is irrelevant.

First, to the question of poverty. Of the 50 poorest countries in the world (see list at right) only Afghanistan (and perhaps Bangladesh and Yemen) has much experience in terrorism, global or domestic.

But surely that is the wrong way to look at things. Aren’t the people who commit terrorist acts poor, even if they are from countries that are not? No. Remember, most of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were middle-class sons of Saudi Arabia and many were well-educated. And Osama bin Laden himself is from one of the richest families in the Middle East.

But it goes deeper than that. In a 2003 study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova reported the results of a post-9/11 survey of Palestinians. Asked whether there were “any circumstances under which you would justify the use of terrorism to achieve political goals,” the higher-status respondents (merchant, farmer or professional) were more likely to agree (43.3 percent) than those lower down the ladder (laborer, craftsman or employee) (34.6 percent). The higher-status respondents were also more likely to support armed attacks against Israeli targets (86.7 percent to 80.8 percent). The same dynamic existed when education was taken into account.

In another study, 129 Hezbollah militants who died in action (not all of them in activities that could be considered terrorism) were compared to the general Lebanese population. The Hezbollah members were slightly less likely to be poor, and significantly more likely to have finished high school.

Outside Palestine, there is general agreement that suicide attacks on civilians is a form of terrorism. So where do suicide bombers fit in? A study looked at the biographies of 285 suicide bombers as published in local journals, from 1987-2002. And this found that those who carried out suicide attacks were, on the whole, richer (fewer than 15 percent under the poverty line, compared to almost 35 percent for the population as a whole) and more educated (95 percent with high school or higher) than the rest of the population (almost half of whom went no further than middle school). A similar survey of terrorists in the Jewish Underground, which killed 29 Palestinians in the early 1970s, found the same pattern.

A comprehensive study of 1,776 terrorist incidents (240 international, the rest domestic) by Harvard professor Albert Abadie, who was sympathetic to the poverty-terrorism idea at first, found no such thing. “When you look at the data,” he told the Harvard Gazette, “it’s not there.”

This content was used with the permission of Jihad Watch.

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