The Misguided Fear of Terrorism
Since George W. Bush declared war on terror following the events of 9/11, the western hemisphere is clouded by fear of terrorism. Prior to 9/11, very few nations regarded terrorism as a national threat. Today even the least affected countries implement strict measures in order to prevent potential terrorist attacks. The European Union holds its own list of organizations and individuals that have a connection to terrorism. Although nations implement numerous measures to combat the phenomenon, it is difficult to do so without acknowledging the underlying causes of terrorist activities.
Policy makers as well as a number of prominent figures seem to believe that the major underlying cause is poverty. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell stated that “we can’t just stop with a single terrorist or a single terrorist organization; we have to go and root out the whole system. We have to go after poverty.” His idea was further stressed in a statement by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said that “you can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate.” It is no surprise that such correlation is being made. One can argue that poverty leads to the lack of opportunities and the absence of money also causes people to become angry, blaming the government as well as the others who are better off. It is possible to see how in such case, terrorism is the last but a very effective resort of the poor. And even the United Nations General Assembly shares this view in one of their resolutions on the >> [Global Terrorism Strategy].
In Article 6 of Resolution 60/288, the General Assembly explicitly mentions its “commitment to eradicate poverty and promote sustained economic growth, sustainable development and global prosperity for all”. That section is dealing with measures to address the conditions that permit the spread of terrorism. Thus, it is not surprising that the general public shares such logic with the policy makers. It is further no surprise that we often see interventions in “failed” states as legitimate, acting according to a belief that such states need our, western, help in order to fight poverty, which eventually will result in eradication of terrorist activities.
However, such thinking is flawed. Its primary flaw is in the very belief that poverty causes terrorism. One only needs to look at the map, which marks the countries that are affected the most by terrorism to see that the leading countries are not in fact poor. The top five countries on the >> [Terrorism Index 2011] are Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Yemen. Out of the top five countries most affected by terrorism, only Afghanistan falls in the category of low-income countries (according to the >> [World Bank] with an annual GDP per capita of 600 U.S. dollars). Iraq is an upper-middle income country with India, Pakistan and Yemen being lower income countries. The Russian Federation is ranked 9th despite its high annual GDP per capita of $ 14,037 in 2012. The United States falls among the top 50 nations most affected by terrorism and yet again it is a nation where the annual income is almost $50,000. Consequently, the Global Terrorist Index shows that there is a very thin link between terrorism and poverty. Countries which are most affected by terrorism are not in fact poor.
Analyzing the prominent figures in the field of terrorism further undermines the belief that poverty causes terrorism. Osama bin Laden, who was the founder of Al-Qaeda, came from a wealthy, Saudi Arabian family. In fact his father was a Saudi Arabian billionaire named Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden. Furthermore, Anders Breivik, who entered the stage in 2011 when he bombed the government buildings in Oslo and then carried out shooting at a camp of the Worker’s Youth League, was also from a well-off background. Even the Jihadi terrorists that often carry out terrorist attacks within Europe are not worse off than the rest of the Muslim immigrant communities from which they originate. Edwin Bakker from the Netherlands Institute of International Relations did a >> [research] on the Jihadi terrorists in Europe in 2006.
In his paper he states that out of 72 individuals for whom socioeconomic data could be gathered, three jihadi terrorists were from an upper class, 30 were middle class and 39 from a lower class. Yet taking into account that the individuals came from Muslim immigrant communities, Bakker concludes, “the situation may, above all, simply be a reflection of the general socioeconomic character of Muslim immigrant communities in Europe”. Therefore, poverty is not the central cause of terrorism because the perpetrators do not come from poor backgrounds meaning that the reasoning, which was previously outlined, is severely flawed.
In conclusion it is important to note that despite the fact that the belief that poverty causes terrorism circles around the western hemisphere for years now and despite the fact that it is logical to assume that poverty leads to terrorism, the empirical data shows otherwise. Not only are the countries that are most affected by terrorism well off, but the individuals who are involved in terrorism often come from middle to high-income families.
As a result of these findings, the countries that place eradication of poverty in developing countries as their primary goal in an attempt to combat terrorism should refrain from doing so as there is little or no link between poverty and terrorism.