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The Rise of Extremist Groups, Disparity and Poverty Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2019


Terrorism is the most immediate and significant threat to international security and peace. By definition, terrorism refers to the use of extreme violence by non-state actors against civilians or society for political and ideological goals. Although terrorism is not a new phenomenon, it has become increasingly common in the last two decades where it has led to deaths of thousands of innocent civilians across the world.

Despite the negative consequences that terrorists have posed to the society, the fight against the vice has become more difficult with time, especially in the light of the increasing support for the violent actions against civilians from extremist groups. Extremist groups use radicalization to amass support for their activities.

This strategy has become a very common and real problem, which has led to people being radicalized into violent extremism (RVE) . However, the force that drives groups and societies vulnerable to radicalization into violent extremism has been a major issue in the quest for finding a solution to this growing problem.

Looking at many programs and projects that are aimed at reducing extremism and radicalization, the use of financial aids and other programs for alleviating the lives of people where extremism is common is a major theme. Such an approach is a clear indication of the prevailing perception of the relationship between poverty, disparity, and extremism. This paper investigates the successful rise of extremist groups and their link to poverty and disparity.

The Consensus Relating to Extremist Groups and Extremism

What causes extremism? What motivates people to join extremist groups? Such questions have been at the center of efforts that have been put towards curbing extremism and extremist groups in the quest for making the world a better and more peaceful place. The questions are indeed set for a good reason, especially with reference to the ongoing proliferation of extremist terrorist groups across the world.

Since 2010, there has been a 53% rise in the number of terrorist groups and militias across the world. According to White and Halm (2002), the group’s main agenda is to attack civilians and government installations in an outright hatred for the current leadership or international actors such as the United States and its allies who have been accused of harassing or committing other crimes against the communities where these extremist groups exist .

For instance, the Al-Qaeda group, which is one of the well-known extremist and terrorist groups, has a deep hatred for the United States, which it accuses of infringing on the rights of Muslims. According to the group, the US should be attacked and exposed to extreme violence.

The extremist groups claim that such actions are aimed at ensuring that they (the groups) can be left alone to establish their governance in the areas that they control. The actions are also meant to keep away the international actors such as the US from interfering. In the last 10 years, the effects of extremist groups have been felt across the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Following the Arab Uprising in the Arab world, many governments have been destabilized to the extent of leading to serious problems and challenges in terms of delivering services to the members of the society . Without stability and strong governance from the central governments, it is difficult for the government to provide an environment where businesses can thrive.

This situation leads to an increase in unemployment and poverty among other societal problems. From the above analysis, extremism and terrorism have become a serious international security agenda. In the quest for reducing the effects and reach of terrorism, the US and other international players have dedicated billions of dollars to providing relief aid that is aimed at increasing education and the economic status of communities that are viewed as vulnerable to such extremist ideologies.

The perceptions of these efforts by the US and its allies are that poverty and marginalization are key factors that make people, especially the youths, vulnerable to extremism. However, so far, little has been achieved. More extremist groups are sprouting or expanding to the level of coming up with new approaches to violence (White & Halm, 2002). This situation is a cause for worry concerning the future of international security.

The Link between Poverty and Extremism

Poverty relates to the lack and inadequacy of material possessions to enable a decent livelihood for people. More than 1.2 billion people in the world live below the poverty line. They survive on less than a dollar while approximately half of the world’s population lives on less than 2 dollars a day . Poverty levels are increasing by the day.

The situation has caused many communities, and most importantly youths, who are finding the effects of poverty unbearable, and hence the reason why they have opted for new ways of making a living. It is also important to note that violence and lawlessness are majorly found in impoverished nations and/or marginalized communities and hence the reason why poverty and its linkage to violence and lawlessness has been a subject of growing research.

Researches have led to different outcomes and recommendations that relate to the main factors that make people vulnerable to extremism and terrorist ideologies. A research by Tessler and Robbins (2007) scrutinizes the link between discrete financial features and support for violence.

The study confirms, “Neither personal nor societal economic circumstances are crucial factors that determine attitudes towards terrorism that is directed towards the United States and other nations” (Tessler & Robbins, 2007, p. 323). Another research by Shafiq and Sinno (2010) used Pews Global Attitudes Survey (GATS) data from 2005. The study found that the relationship between income, education, and support for suicide bombing varies from one country to another and from one target to another.

Another study by Chiozza (2011), which involved close to 15 Islamic countries, realized that the backing of Islamist radicalism was at the peak among the metropolitan underprivileged class. From these researches, it is important to conclude that low-income people or poor individuals are more likely to support violent extremist groups compared to those who have a higher income.

A good example is the support for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan where it is evident that poverty has played a major role in amassing support from youths and local populations, which have been left in poverty with minimal access to government services and development.

While support for terrorist groups and their violent activities may vary from one territory to another or a nation to another, such support is majorly determined by two characteristics, namely poverty and inequality. These two factors are all centered on the economic and political discrimination that has become unbearable in the marginalized communities.

According to Tessler and Robbins (2007), economic discrimination against minority groups can reveal why such underprivileged communities often support domestic extremist groups . Such individuals or minority groups often support the extremist groups since the group’s ideologies resonate with the plight of those who are disappointed by domestic politics of economic marginalization.

The ideologies also offer an attentive option of economic freedom or means of achieving various policy goals that they deem impossible to achieve unless the follow the approaches that the extremist groups suggest . In this case, even when an individual is not personally experiencing poverty (but he or she can witness it among other members of the society), he or she may end up being persuaded to support the extremist group’s ideologies of violence and terror to push for change .

Indeed, this notion is an important explanation of why more youths, even from the rich countries, are leaving their affluent lives to take arms in support of terror activities, especially in Syria, through the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) or in Somalia through the Al-Shabaab terrorist group.

Marginalization and Extremism

For a very long time, many Islamic nations in the Middle East and North Africa have been ruled through dictatorship where people in key government activities have had very limited freedom of expression. Such leadership has allowed the growth of dissidence, especially from the educated class and the youths who feel that there is a need for a change in governance to give people more say concerning the way they are governed .

The Arab Spring is an important indicator of the end of people’s tolerance for such leadership, which only benefits the elite while marginalizing and oppressing the majority of those who are led. Beginning in 2010 in Tunisia, the ‘Spring’ or what can been viewed as a revolution saw many civilians take into streets in protests, which were both violent and non-violent, requesting changes in leadership and governance in favor of democracy and democratic leadership .

Countries such as Libya are characterized by prosperity in terms of income and living standards. However, the lack of other benefits such as the freedom of expression and the right to partake in decisions relating to leadership was enough motivation for bringing civilians together to demand the ousting of the leadership of the day, which was seen as a great hindrance to what the society wanted.

By the end of the movement, the Arab world has experienced enormous changes in leadership and democratic process, which although have been slow to take root, are a clear sign of what can motivate people into supporting extremist groups .

A good example is Egypt. Despite the enactment of the preferred government led by Morsi, the country’s adoption of even more strict Sharia law, which was not in line with what the society expected, led to a new revolution and consequently the ousting of Morsi. It was evident that the society was willing to go to the greatest depths to support even the extreme groups as long as dictatorial and marginalizing leadership was the devil that was being fought.

Another important example of the way marginalization or inequality is a major reason why groups support terrorism can be obtained from the case of Somalia’s extremist group, which has launched many and often-disastrous attacks on countries it deems enemy such as Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

Since the African Union’s AMISOM forces, which have a majority membership from the Kenya Defense Forces, Ethiopia, and Uganda entered the lawless country of Somalia to flush out the terrorist group, there has been an increasing wave of radicalization and extremism across the region . Kenyan youths form the major culprit who has become an easy target for radicalization.

The youths are being turned into enemies of their nations. Indeed, the Kenyan government has been grappling with the challenges that the Al-Shabaab outfit poses, especially in terms of the radicalization of the young people. The genesis of this problem can be traced to the marginalization of youths who are growing up and becoming adults without any meaningful means of earning a living . In this case, even the youths may not believe in the ideologies that are posed by the terrorist groups.

The opportunity of making a living with very attractive packages of salary makes it very easy to radicalize such youths . What options do they have when the choice is between poverty and prosperity even if the cost of joining the terrorist group means taking up arms and killing innocent people?

The case of Al-Shabaab and its radicalization of youths across East Africa can be witnessed in other regions of the world where terrorism is thriving. This situation can solely be pinned to poverty and marginalization.


From the above review of studies, it is evident that the rise of extremist groups can be greatly attributed to many factors. However, poverty and disparity play the biggest role. For a long time, many governments in areas where terrorist groups thrive have ignored the plight of their people.

They have focused on only the welfare of the elite while exposing many people to poverty and helplessness. This situation has led to resentment and great hatred towards those who are viewed as being the main cause of such societal problems.

Firstly, poverty makes living difficult and almost impossible to bear. When the government is not doing enough to provide the people with opportunities for making a living, it slowly loses its authority of such people. Hence, they slowly opt to carry out all possible activities to make a living .

When youths are growing up without an idea of what they can make of themselves, the situation leaves many questions on the people concerning the legitimacy of the government of the day if it cannot address the obvious challenges that the society is facing.

The presence of poverty provides extremist groups the best launch pad for success in the activities and their reach in two main ways. The extremist groups understand the problems the people are undergoing. Hence, they can easily convince them on who deserves to be the enemy, in this case, the government of the day or any other group such as international actors, including the US among others.

When the enemy is identified, actions that are necessary for eliminating the enemy mostly include violence (Bjorgo & Horgan, 2009; Shafiq & Sinno, 2010). Such actions become very viable. For instance, providing security and a means of earning a living are major motivators for many militants who join the group. Many terrorist groups have financiers or financial activities that ensure that they can support their members with good lives and a means of earning a living.

When presented with such an opportunity, many youths and people willingly join these groups by taking up arms to fight against the ‘enemy’ . Therefore, it is evident that poverty is closely linked to extremism and the proliferation of extremist groups across the world. Secondly, marginalization and disparities between the rich and poor are a major cause of extremism.

In many nations, the ruled or the population does not have a say on matters that greatly influence their welfare. This situation attracts a major disparity between the elite or the political class and the ordinary citizens. The government and other individuals who are close to power have access to the best lives possible while the ordinary citizens are left to grapple with all kinds of problems .

Of great significance is the iron fist approach to leadership that some governments use with total disregard for democratic process that can allow those who are ruled to be part of the decision-making process on issues that they hold dear. At the end, the government implements unpopular decisions where any opposition is responded to with brutal force, which often violates all human rights that the citizens should enjoy.

When the people are tired of such leadership styles, extremist groups become the only way out of such marginalization and/or the only viable option towards equality . In this case, people are oppressed to become an easy target for radicalization since they easily resonate with the ideologies of the extremist groups, which promise to use all means possible to overthrow and organize a more representative government .

Even though most of such ideologies and goals never become successful, they still reflect the motivation of the members of the extremist groups as far as their quest for equality is concerned.


As long as poverty and inequality dominate the society, it will be difficult for the world to rid itself of extremism and extremist groups. The ideologies of such groups are based on the desire to fight the ‘enemy’ who has caused poverty and marginalization.

While researchers have given different opinions on the causal link between poverty, marginalization, and extremism, it is evident that cases of violence and lack of peace are majorly found in areas where poverty and marginalization prevail. However, the support for poverty and disparity as major causal factors can be explained since the two issues give extremist groups a good starting point towards convincing members of the target communities into embracing their ideologies.

Once the government or other actors are portrayed as the enemy and the cause of the problems that members of the society face, taking up arms is just a part of the problem since extremism takes root. Concisely, to eliminate extremism and terrorism, it is important for world governments and other players to find a way of ensuring inclusivity and equality for all people.

Eliminating poverty must be a major goal for all governments. It is only after the achievement of prosperity for all people that the world will stand a chance to be at peace without extremist groups.

Reference List

Aftab, S. (2008). Poverty and Militancy. Conflict and Peace Studies, 1(10), 65-86.

Bjorgo, T., & Horgan, J. (2009). Leaving Terrorism Behind: Individual and Collective Disengagement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Chiozza, G. (2011). Winning Hearts and Minds: The Political Sociology of Popular Support for Suicide Bombings. Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University.

Jones, G. (2014). A Persistent Threat: The Evolution of Al Qa’ida and Other Salafi Jihadists. Washington, DC: RAND Corporation.

Piazza, J. (2011). Poverty, Minority Economic Discrimination, and Domestic Terrorism. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 48(3), 339-353.

Shafiq, M., & Sinno, A. (2010). Education, Income and Support for Suicide Bombing; Evidence from Six Muslim Countries. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 54(1), 146-178.

Tessler, M., & Robbins, M. (2007). What Leads Some Ordinary Men and Women to Approve of Terrorist Acts Against the United States? Journal of Conflict Resolution, 51(2), 305-328.

White, J., & Halm, S. (2002). Terrorism and Homeland Security. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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