Terrorism is one the foremost threat to global peace and stability in the 21st century. The sharp increase in transnational terrorist attacks is a source of concern for world leaders as evident in the 2014 G8 Summit.
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While there are conflicting arguments regarding the factors that influence terrorism, scholars agree on the need to evaluate evidence on the causes of terrorism and develop concrete strategies and approaches to tackle a vice that is threatening the cohesion of societies all over the world.
An analysis of the influence of socioeconomic factors on terrorism tendencies demonstrates a weak link between poverty and terrorism.
The proponents of the positive relationship between poverty and terrorism argue that poverty leads to social upheavals related to income inequality, unemployment and lack of education.
Social, economic and political inequalities influence resentments by individuals who consider that the society has deprived them of their freedoms, opportunities and standards. Social, economic and political strife increases the susceptibility of the affected individuals to embrace extremist ideologies.
For example, poor families in Afghanistan send their children to madrassas because they are affordable and provide children with free food, clothing and other items. Madrassas in Taliban strongholds allow the indoctrination of young children into terrorism.
A significant number of the original Taliban fighters in Afghanistan were madrassas students. Terrorist develop extremist doctrines around the social, economic and political struggles faced by ordinary citizens.
Proponents of the positive link between poverty and terrorism argue that fostering economic development in impoverished countries will significantly reduce the threat of terrorism (Gupta, et al. 108-110).
An excellent illustration of the fact that poverty is not the chief cause of terrorism is the 2007/2008 UN Development Programme report, which presents the statistics on the regional distribution of terrorism between 2000 and 2006.
The report shows that incidents of terrorism are not dependent on the socioeconomic status of a region.
For example, Sub-Sahara Africa has significantly low incidents of terrorism compared to regions such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, North America and Asia despite the fact that these regions have a higher regional human development index compared to Sub-Saharan African countries.
The report demonstrates that the socioeconomic status of a region is not a catalyst for terrorist activities. The region of Western Europe and North America experienced about 16 times the incidents of terrorism in Sub-Sahara Africa between 2000 and 2006.
The regional human development index in the two regions is 0.916 and 0.493 respectively (Piazza and Hippel 41-50). While a significant number of the poorest countries in the world have experienced rampant cases of civil wars and political strife, terrorism has not emerged as security issues in those countries.
Pakistan and Iraq have a higher per capita income than most countries in sub-Sahara Africa. The two countries are hotspots for terrorism activities. On the other hand, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Chad and Ethiopia have witnessed minimal cases of terrorism despite the social, economic and political strife in those countries.
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An analysis of the socioeconomic status of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack contradicts the claim that poverty promotes terrorism. The masterminds of the attack were university graduates from at least middle-income backgrounds.
Osama Bin Laden was the son of a Saudi Arabian billionaire and studied civil engineering at King Abdul-Aziz University. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, studied medicine at Cairo University.
Mohammed Atta studied in Germany and was the son of an attorney. The 2005 London bombing incident demonstrates the weak link between poor persons and terrorism. Criminal investigations into the incident revealed that one of the terrorists was the owner of a highly valued estate.
The perpetrators of the terrorist attack at Glasgow International Airport were persons from middle-income backgrounds. The masterminds of the attack were a medical doctor and an engineer. Similarly, a significant number of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement are graduates from universities in Egypt.
An analysis of the socioeconomic status of the members of Palestinian terror groups highlights the fact that Palestinian terrorists have a higher level of education compared to the average male population in the region.
Other cases of educated terrorists from privileged middle and upper-income backgrounds include Farouk Abdulmutallab and Dr. HUmmam al-Balawi. Abdulmutallab studied engineering at London University College.
He is the son of a wealthy banker and a former Nigerian commissioner. Farouk attempted a terrorist attack on a flight headed to Detroit. Dr. Al-Balawi studied medicine at Istanbul University and worked at the Jordan University Hospital.
He was the perpetrator of the Camp Chapman attack and suicide bombing at a CIA base in Afghanistan. The numerous incidents of educated and wealthy terrorists demonstrate a weak link between an individual’s income level, education and the likelihood of engaging in terrorism (Rgo, 42).
The data on human development index and terrorist attacks perpetrated by educated individuals from wealthy backgrounds demonstrates the fact that poverty does not lead to terrorism.
Impoverished regions in Sub-Sahara Africa, South America and East Asia have had minimal incidents of terrorist attacks. The weak link between poverty and terrorism highlights the need for world leaders to re-evaluate their strategies to tackle transnational terrorism.
Gupta, Dipak, Lowell Huesmann, and Graham Huesmann. “Is Terrorism the Result of Root Causes Such as Poverty and Exclusion?” Contemporary Debates on Terrorism. London: Routledge, 2012. 108-119. Print.
Piazza, James, and Karin Hippel. “Does Poverty Serve as a Root Cause of Terrorism?” Debating Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Conflicting Perspectives on Causes, Contexts, and Responses. Washington, DC: CQ, 2010. 35-62. Print.
Rgo, Tore. Root Causes of Terrorism: Myths, Reality and Ways Forward. London: Routledge, 2005. Print.