Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing - the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil.Foreign Policy magazine's John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed conducted a more far-reaching survey of 9,000 people across nine Muslim countries. They found those supporting suicide bombings and other terrorist activities are better off than their moderate brethren, and found no difference in religiosity between the two (both groups--and by extension, the broader Muslim world--are extremely pious). Their results are summarized below:
Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90 percent—came from caring, intact
families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.
Primary school or less:We know that hotbeds of terrorism are generally not the most impoverished places on the planet. No sub-Saharan African country plays a significant role. With the exception of Afghanistan, which has long been a proxy battleground for foreign jihadists first against the Soviet Union and then against a coalition of US-led Western nations, the Islamic states producing international terrorists are relatively well-off--Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the UAE, Egypt. The reprobate from poorer Muslim states, to the extent that they carry out terrorist activities, are mostly localized--Hamas in Israel, separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Zarqawi in Iraq from neighboring Jordan.
Radicals - 23%
Moderates - 34%
Radicals - 44%
Moderates - 38%
Low or very low
Radicals - 22%
Moderates - 31%
Above average or very high
Radicals - 25%
Moderates - 21%
Expect to be better off in
Radicals - 53%
Moderates - 44%
Now Fortune's Cait Murphy touches on these points in addition to bringing a deluge of additional analysis that obliterates the 'desperate poverty' explanation. I generally try to limit the quantity excerpted, allowing readers to follow the link if further interested in source, but there's simply too much here that can't be cut out:
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.Murphy, however, doesn't discount economics entirely. She points out that the grandest terrorist operations tend to be delegated to the most educated and affluent, as the 9/11 crew epitomizes.
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."
Even the world of civilian slaughter isn't devoid of merit considerations. I suspect that the education and affluence of those carrying out major operations proxies for higher IQ (relative to the local populations these terrorists come from). The botched attempts are probably disproportionately the work of dumber terrorists, further accentuating the errant conventional conception of the tragic terrorist who has failed in life.
Post-Christendom Westerners have trouble understanding fanatical religious devotion. The spiritual motivations of Raymond IV of Tolouse and Pope Innocent III are relics of Europe's distant past. But most of the Islamic world has not progressed beyond the Fifteenth Century. The top response for what the West can do to improve relations from both the moderates and the radicals in the survey referenced earlier is to "respect Islam" (coming in ahead of providing "Economic development/jobs").
Occidental elites, thoroughly secular and materialist, are especially clueless. Murphy mentions in her opening paragraph that leaders from Bush to Chirac have pointed to poverty as an underlying cause of terrorist activity. They represent the two ends of Western elite thought on how to deal with the Islamic world.
They're both wrong. The stagnant economy French economy is being further undermined by underachieving north African and Middle Eastern immigrants who are clamoring for affirmative action in a nation that's always rejected it. Meanwhile, the country simmers. The neocon's half-hearted invade-the-world strategy sees 100 million Muslims believing that 9/11 was "completely justified".
We need to disconnect from the Islamic world. We'll need to scrap the Diversity Visa Lottery program, secure our porous borders and push out criminal immigrants already here through attrition and deportation, institute a merit immigration program, and develop economically viable alternative sources of energy to do this. Until these things happen, we can expect more of the same.