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Education, Affluence Are Marks of Terrorists
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The traditional Marxist explanations for the root causes of terrorism don’t work. We’ve come upon a couple of sources suggesting that it is not the most destitute and unenlightened who are the most likely to become terrorists. A thorough analysis by former CIA case officer in Afghanistan, Marc Sageman, revealed just the opposite:

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.

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.

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:

Primary school or less:
Radicals – 23%
Moderates – 34%

Secondary education:
Radicals – 44%
Moderates – 38%

Low or very low income:
Radicals – 22%
Moderates – 31%

Above average or very high income:
Radicals – 25%
Moderates – 21%

Expect to be better off in five years:
Radicals – 53%
Moderates – 44%

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Hypothesis from the above data, and from knowledge of history:
    Terrorism comes from rising expectations combined with the wish to turn Excess( relative to what merit would yield) money and education into power, and towards a susceptible population, capable of being swayed by such acts, as when their faith predisposes them to exalt war of religion, etc.
    Virgil said: "hope comes to kindle wrath".
    Hope is rising expectations in this context, and greed for power stimulated by appeasement, enhanced opportunities and so on.
    Also the timing of the current terror offensive by Islam, reflects the disappearance of the communist threat which had preoccupied them earlier.
    The removal of the soviet threat has ignited a revolution of rising expectations for theocracy among the terrorists.
    They used to fear that the Russians would set up a mosque-demolishing secular socialist revolution or junta in their lands.

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "Disconnecting" from the Islamic world is not the solution. It's not practical and it's not constructive. Terrorism is a symptom of underlying problems – not only religious ones. Palestine has to be resolved.

    If we were to "disconnect", we would still be stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we were to pull out of both of those completely we're left with a dangerous Iran, as well as less cheap oil. Anti-American feeling would simmer at the generalized discrimination. Terrorism would increase. World anti-American sentiment would increase.

    Can you not see these things happening? Again, the first step to repairing our reputation is by resolving Palestine. We may have to strongly pressure Israel to give the West Bank back.

  3. I'm dissapointed that you often post links which aren't specific to your article – e.g., the Foreign Policy survey. Did you read that in paper?

  4. John,

    The threat of mosque-demolishing regimes is still in the cards, just not from the West. The Han Chinese don't put up with that kind of crap. They'll kill a dog as easily as a Muslim will–and I wouldn't put knocking off a few Muslim cities past them, either.


    The link is embedded within my link. I'm just that vain. Here's what I think you're after.

    Forcing Israel out of its West Bank settlements will, at best, dampen the more extremist activities of Hamas, which is localized anyway. Turning over Gaza did nothing but ruin the Gaza Strip (and allow a more propitious place for rockets to be launched from). The irredentist solutions are naive.

    You believe that pulling US troops off Middle Eastern soil would increase worldwide anti-Americanism? Of course the US will be one of the most disdained nations in the world–that is an inherent result of being the globe's ultimate market-dominant minority. Relative wealth matters immensely. We have it.

    A disconnect is not unimaginable. We're largely disconnected from much of southern Africa and Southeast Asia. Feeble Iran (which matches up with us even less favorably than North Korea does against the South) is less threatening than a Pakistan that sees Musharraf overthrown.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    To further the point about the Chinese, they don't play around. They don't care about the media or public relations either. I recall reading somewhere that when the plan was laid out to murder the protestors in Tianamen, some Chinese leader said, "We don't fear public opinion." After the obligatory handwringing by the West, it was back to business. Muslims who step out of line in Xinjiang get beaten, jailed or worse. There might be significant oil out there as well, so the PRC is serious. This seems to be the right course to take with muslims. Playing nice with these people will get us nothing. Not too many people mess with the PRC. Also interesting to note is that any complaints the muslims have against the West can be applied to China, only more so. But, as I said, not too many islamics seem to want to take on the People's Liberation Army or Chinese intelligence. One reason is the PLA won't run UAV video past lawyers to see if it OK to drop some bombs.
    Muslims are not interested in coexisting with Israel, the West or anything that is not islam. It is the holy duty of muslims everywhere to wage jihad. So we have things like 9-11, exploding Israeli pizza parlors, CAIR, beheadings, Paris in flames and the latest round of freelance jihdai killings or attempts like the shooter in Utah or the cabbie in Nashville and CAIR. If you think muslim cabbies in Minnesota who won't drive someone with booze or hijab wearing clerks in Target refusing to handle pork is just fine and dandy, more "islamic cultural practices" are on the way. All these "random" incidents have 1 commonality, the perpetrators were muslims. Actually giving into any muslim demands for land, special status, etc.. only emboldens these people. They also view mercy and negotiation as weakness. Why would the infidels want to talk or give us the West Bank unless they were in a weak position?
    The only solution that will prevent these savages from wreaking havoc is to first prevent any more of them from coming to any sort of Western, civilized nation. Get rid of the ones here, I frankly don't care how. Buying their oil does not mean we have to accept muslim immigrants. Besides, if it stays in the ground, they have no other viable economy (we have plenty of sand and homegrown religious lunatics)Then leave the muslim world to its own devices.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    You believe that pulling US troops off Middle Eastern soil would increase worldwide anti-Americanism?

    I'm not so sure our influence in the region will be a bad thing in the long-run if we stay. If we pull out rather than funding reconstruction, we'll be known to the Iraqis as simply the people who destroyed their country rather than the people who liberated them.

    My comment was more directed at this idea that we don't allow any Muslims to come in. If we did that, discontent would simmer and a global uproar would ensue. Plus, you know it's never going to happen. Why even bother when they can easily slip across the border anyway? There would be a substitution effect for the terrorists. (Who have an incentive to slip in illegitimately anyway.)

  7. Anon,

    Western liberals have a difficult time grasping that most of the world sees acting in an egalitarian way toward an outside entity (person, country, etc) is a sign of weakness. I'm currently reading a book dealing with European colonialism in SE Asia. This sentence stands out:

    "When the European treats the Annamite [Vietnamese] as an equal the latter responds by treating the European as an inferior."

    Middle Easterners adhering to the religion of submission are no exception.


    I'm not so sure that continued ME immigration into the US is assured, at least not in the form of a random lottery drawing. True, those coming to the US are the cream of the crop in comparison to Europe, where immigrants from the Muslim world conspicuously sink to the bottom of society. But the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, and France have all come up with more restrictive immigration screening procedures aimed at keeping out hardline Islamists.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Do you honestly think that 9/11 would have happened if this disaster in Palestine hadn't been going on for the past few decades? If that had been resolved the movement would have deflated. (It may be too late for that, considering how much stirring of the pot we've been doing.)

    Western liberals have a difficult time grasping that most of the world sees acting in an egalitarian way toward an outside entity (person, country, etc) is a sign of weakness.

    Since when have colonial conquerors ever treated the conquered as equals? Please answer this one?

    I'm not a liberal, but seems obvious that your statement is an oversimplification, if anything. Magnaminity is the ultimate expression of power, and at some level, humans, as rational beings, are aware of that. It is often confused as weakness, but not often when the power differences are significant, as they are between the conquerors and the conquered.

  9. Underground,

    Treating the 'conquered' as absolute equals would be a contradiction in terms. But there are certainly all sorts of gradations. The Spanish colonizations of the Philippines through Mexico (after Magellan, before Iberia took the reights) was relatively benign. On the other extreme, the Japanese colonization of Korea was brutal.

    The Palestinian question is of course speculative, but given that the muhajideen and their Taliban allies were indoctrinated, equipped, and trained thousands of miles away from the West Bank, and fought both the Muslim northern Alliance (supported by Iran, among others) and the Soviet Union, all the while supported by Pakistan, makes me believe if the 'resolution' of any conflict could have deterred 9/11, it would've been Kashmir.

    A denial of visas to the hijackers and strict interior enforcement would've done the trick as well.

  10. undergroundman,

    Osama specifically stated that 9-11 was a result of our presence in Saudi Arabia. It was some months later that he added Palestine to the mix of reasons.

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