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Where Do Little Terrorists Come From #1 - Poverty?

Terrorists aren't the world's poor.

By Will Offensicht  |  June 16, 2008

Shortly after 9-11, liberal sociologists saw opportunity in the poverty which is so highly visible in the Palestinian territories neighboring Israel, and throughout the Middle Eastern Islamic world.  The liberals declared that poverty was the root cause of terrorism.  Like their Great Society predecessors of decades before, they promised that if the American taxpayers would only spend enough money fighting poverty, terrorism would melt away just as American crime had melted away when we fought the "War on Poverty" in the United States.

That notion was ridiculous on its face - most of the 9-11 terrorists turned out to be university-educated, middle class Saudis - but the idea of being permitted to spend large sums of taxpayer money fighting poverty is always attractive to liberals.  They kept banging the drum for a program to fight global poverty in the name of fighting terrorism.  The idea that poverty causes terrorism became so pervasive that someone had to write a book disproving the link between poverty and terrorism.

An article "The Poverty Myth" was published on p. 104 of the Winter 2008 issue of the Wilson Quarterly.  This article reviews the book What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism by Alan B. Kreuger.  The review begins:

The belief that poverty is a root cause of Islamic terrorism has been thoroughly discredited.  Numerous studies of terrorism have debunked the notion.  Islamic terrorists themselves, as well as those who live among them and know them well, have repeatedly attributed Islamic terrorism to primarily to religions and ideological motivations and to the logic that - against America and the west - terrorism is used because it works. [emphasis added]

The reviewer credits Dr. Kreuger, a Princeton economist, with a much-needed act of intellectual hygiene.  "As a group," Kreuger notes, "terrorists are better educated and from wealthier families than the typical person in the same age group of the societies from which they originate."

We commented some time ago on the great wealth of the Bin Laden family from which Osama bin Laden emerged.

One study examined 48 Palestinian suicide bombers and found that "almost 60 percent of the suicide bombers had more than a high-school degree, compared to less than 15 percent of the general population."

We see a similar phenomenon in the few examples of America-grown terrorists.  We noted earlier that Mr. Barack Obama was involved with William Ayers, son of the CEO of New York's Consolidated Edison utility company, who was a member of the Weather Underground in the 1970s.  Mr Ayers wrote that he had he participated in the bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, and of the Pentagon in 1972.  Given his father's exalted job as CEO of ConEd, personal poverty clearly played no part in Mr. Ayer's decision to become a terrorist.

The book review concludes:

...perhaps they [Western opinion leaders who seldom consult Arab sources] will read Kreuger's book and understand that if terrorism has identifiable root causes, they're the ones most frequently cited by Islamists themselves - the desire to achieve what terrorists see as holy ends, and the conviction that, in the service of those holy ends, terrorism works.

I fear, though, that despite Kreuger's definitive and persuasive book, conventional wisdom and wishful thinking will keep alive the idea that poverty causes terrorism.  Intellectual hygiene is an honorable enterprise but, alas, often unsuccessful - especially in a world in which familiar, easy, and hopeful explanations that leave us thinking the problem has a ready solution are preferred to explanations that leave us feeling vexed, powerless, and perpetually afraid.

We agree wholeheartedly with the Wilson Quarterly's view that people prefer imagined, hopeful explanations to unpleasant reality, but they've overlooked the real reason why so many people want to claim that poverty causes terrorism: there's huge money to be made in fighting poverty.

Making money by expanding their empires motivates the bureaucracy, of course, and they're only too glad to ally themselves with wealthy liberals who can afford to look down on those of us who try to earn money.  After all, they already have more than enough for themselves.

For example, we've pointed out some time ago that Mr. Barack Obama and many other senators support a massive fight against global poverty.  Mr. Obama is a millionaire; so are most of his Senate colleagues.  Taking Mr. Obama's description of this program at face value, he and the other sponsors of a global War on Poverty are arguing that we should spend about half our annual federal budget fighting global poverty.

What's wrong with telling a few lies when there's that much money at stake?  Throw in the fact that wealthy liberals won't be hurt by spending our money and that they can feel good about fighting global poverty and about fighting terrorism at the same time, and it becomes a no-brainer.  It fits quite nicely into their efforts to redefine "patriotism" - "Of course I'm patriotic, I voted to spend zillions fighting global poverty, the cause of terrorism!"

Justice Department figures show that crime rates remained essentially flat during the peak years of the war on poverty.  The fact that fighting global poverty won't reduce terrorism any more than the domestic War of Poverty reduced crime in America is a mere fact, and liberals are never too worried about mere facts.

If poverty doesn't cause terrorism, what does?  It's all very well to say that terrorists use terrorism because "it works," but what are they trying to bring about that they couldn't accomplish in other ways that did not expose them to as much personal peril?

The next article in this series explains what modern terrorists are trying to do and explores the reasons why terrorism seems to be the only method that gives them a significant chance at achieving their goals.