If you’ve ever had a discussion about the root of terrorism with a Leftist then you’ve probably heard the argument that only poor uneducated people become terrorists. This argument would then lead into the claim that education is the best prevention against terrorism. Build schools, libraries, and universities and you will see the education level increase and terrorism decrease. It sounds logical at first, but evidence paints a different picture.
Not a single study could make a cogent case that terrorism had economic roots. This lack of evidence culminated in a recent review of the literature by Martin Gassebner and Simon Luechinger of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute.
The authors estimated 13.4 million different equations, drew on 43 different studies and 65 correlates of terrorism to conclude that higher levels of poverty and illiteracy are not associated with greater terrorism. In fact, only the lack of civil liberties and high population growth could predict high terrorism levels accurately.
So does this relation also hold for Pakistan? It appears so. Christine Fair from Georgetown University documents a similar phenomenon for Pakistan. By utilising data on 141 killed militants, she finds that militants in Pakistan are recruited from middle-class and well-educated families. This is further corroborated by Graeme Blair and others at Princeton University.
They too find evidence of a higher support base of terrorism from those who are relatively wealthy in Pakistan. In a robust survey of 6,000 individuals across Pakistan, it is found that the poor are actually 23 times more averse to extremist violence relative to middle-class citizens.
The authors further disproved the supposed connection between terrorism and economic position by studying data Pakistan between 1973 and 2010. What they found was that even though elevated amounts of terrorism reduced GDP, imports and exports, a higher GDP, and imports and exports did not lower terrorism. “The bottom line: when the economy was not doing well, terrorism did not increase and vice versa.”
Even though education and wealth have nothing to do with terrorism the researchers did find one significant connection to the growth of terrorism.
But he observes another pattern in data: a systematic relationship between political oppression and higher incidence of terrorism.
He relates terrorism to voting behaviour and concludes that terrorism is a “political, not an economic phenomenon”. He defends his results by arguing at length that political involvement requires some understanding of the issues and learning about those issues is a less costly endeavour for those who are better educated.
Just as the more educated are more likely to vote, similarly they are more likely to politically express themselves through terrorism. Hence, political oppression drives people towards terrorism.
To understand what causes terrorism, one need not ask how much of a population is illiterate or in abject poverty. Rather one should ask who holds strong enough political views to impose them through terrorism.
It is not that most terrorists have nothing to live for. Far from it, they are the high-ability and educated political people who so vehemently believe in a cause that they are willing to die for it. (Via The Gates of Vienna)
In the case of many terrorists today, that “strong political view” is Islam. The Quran makes it clear that infidels are enemies of Muslims (4:101), Muslims and non-believers are not equal (45:21), and that Muslims should fight the infidels (25:52).
And wouldn’t you agree that just because you have an education doesn’t mean you are smarter or morally higher. Claiming that most educated people won’t participate in terrorism just doesn’t make sense. Education is just knowledge. It’s not a moral compass; it’s a way to obtain one, but it doesn’t automatically give your conscience a sense that blowing up innocent civilians is wrong.
For those in political oppressed regions, where it’s hard to have your voice heard or even respected by the law, terrorism is an obvious choice for two reasons. 1) it gives you instant recognition, and 2) gives you a sense of respect in the eyes of the authority.
This is not to say that an open political system would eliminate acts of terrorism. It takes a deeper look into the reasons and ideologies behind Islamic terrorism to discover practical solutions to the problem. And that is for another day (wink, wink).
But since you and I are on the subject at the moment, is there any practical solutions that you can think of? It’s a highly controversial and complex discussion, but it’s a discussion that needs to be had.
And never be afraid to speak the truth.