A lot of people seem to think poverty causes terrorism, but that attribution of causation has never been satisfactory.
Some numbers compiled by academics highlight the problem:
Backgrounds of 148 Palestinian suicide bombers show they were less likely to come from families living in poverty and were more likely to have finished high school than the general population. Biographies of 129 Hezbollah shahids (martyrs) reveal they, too, are less likely to be from poor families than the Lebanese population from which they come. The same goes for available data about an Israeli terrorist organization, Gush Emunim, active in the 1980s.
Terrorism doesn’t increase in the Middle East when economic conditions worsen; indeed, there seems no link. One study finds the number of terrorist incidents is actually higher in countries that spend more on social-welfare programs. Slicing and dicing data finds no discernible pattern that countries that are poorer or more illiterate produce more terrorists. Examining 781 terrorist events classified by the U.S. State Department as “significant” reveals terrorists tend to come from countries distinguished by political oppression, not poverty or inequality.
Public-opinion polls from Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey find people with more education are more likely to say suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq are justified. Polls of Palestinians find no clear difference in support for terrorism as a means to achieve political ends between the most and least educated.
The data aren’t perfect – no terrorists are answering questionnaires on their motives. But still, quite interesting.
However, Princeton economist Alan Krueger has a new hypothesis, and I’ll be interested to read the study when I can find it.
From an interview:
[i] “The evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as an important cause of support for terrorism or of participation in terrorist activities,” Mr. Krueger asserts. The 9/11 Commission stated flatly: Terrorism is not caused by poverty.
So what is the cause? Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. “When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed,” he says, “malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics.”[/i]
Very interesting – anyone have any thoughts on whether his hypothesis makes sense?
I note an imperfect comparison. abortion-clinic bombings have been explained in a somewhat similar fashion: a contentious political question was taken out of the political arena, and a small group of disturbed individuals decided the only way to demonstrate their discontent was through violence.