Monday, August 16, 2004

Poverty and Terrorism: the false link

Earlier this week in The Guardian -- London's reliably liberal daily, and usually a fairly solid newspaper despite its leftward tilt -- ran an editorial by former Pakistani PM Benazhir Bhutto that called for a war on poverty to help win the war on terrorism. This is the usual rehash of the liberal canard that terrorism is rooted in poverty. That claim is pure rubbish. The majority of the al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah members are from middle class families or richer than that, as the article linked in the title of this post indicates. (If you don't want to read the whole article, read this synopsis; see also this fact sheet from the Council on Foreign Relations and this archived post). Here is an excerpt:

Any connection between poverty, education, and terrorism is indirect, complicated, and probably quite weak. Instead of viewing terrorism as a direct response to low market opportunities or lack of education, we suggest it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings of indignity and frustration (perceived or real) that have little to do with economics. ... The evidence that we have assembled and reviewed suggests that there is little direct connection between poverty, education, and participation in or support for terrorism. Indeed, the available evidence indicates that compared with the relevant population, participants in Hezbollah's militant wing in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Lebanon were at least as likely to come from economically advantaged families and to have a relatively high level of education as they were to come from impoverished families without educational opportunities.

Bhutto calls for eliminating the poverty in the Muslim world, and that's all well and good -- if it could be done. But her premise is false. Non-Muslim African nations are not state sponsors of terrorism even though they are far and away the poorest on the planet. How many Tanzanian or Madagascan terrorists have you heard about? Mozambiquan terrorists? What about Laotian or Burmese terrorists from Asia? No, no, no, no, and no. There's much more to terrorism's causation than poverty -- if poverty is even a cause. Bhutto's simplistic formulation of cause-effect-solution is only a way for richer countries to throw money at a potentially minimal problem -- and given the nature of the countries from which the terrorists usually come (Arabian Africa, Saudi Arabia, Southwest Asia), that money would only line the coffers of the totalitarian regimes in the countries that spawn the terrorists.

Hat-tip to QandO for The Guardian link, but they completely blew the analysis.

Submitted to the Beltway Traffic Jam.


Jon said...

While I agree that it's not as simple as "pverty=terrorism", I think it's pretty clear that poverty--or, to be more precise, the governments that create oppressive conditions that result in, among other things, poverty--play a role in terrorism.

It is not Islam, or poverty, alone that creates these conditions. It is the combination of Islam and oppressive environments that, to borrow a phrase, give idle hands over to the devil.

The Monk said...

Jon, I believe you've hit upon the core of my point.