Islamist apologists invariably postulate that Islamic terrorists are driven on account of being marginalized, discriminated and impoverished. US Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, would have us believe that poverty is one of the root cause of terrorism,[i] and that to counter terrorism we must ensure that there are “more economic opportunities for marginalized youth.”[ii] Kerry of course is no outlier, for among many others, he is in, on this issue, at one with the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Archbishop of Canterbury, former US President Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the late Elie Wiesel and others.[iii] However their assertions lack empirical verification, for the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that terrorists do not commonly originate from within a country’s poorest social strata.
A survey conducted in fourteen Muslim states revealed the indigent were considerably less supportive of terrorism than those who were affluent.[iv] An MI5 report determined that at least 60% of terror suspects were highly educated and economically well off.[v] Much the same picture emerged from a study undertaken by France’s Center for Prevention Deradicalization and Individual Monitoring which concluded that two-thirds of those who had left France to fight for the Islamic State hailed from middle-class families.[vi] Having interviewed 250 surviving Palestinian suicide bombers, scholar Nasra Hassan noted that “none of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle class and, unless they were fugitives, held paying jobs…two were sons of millionaires.”[vii] What did characterize each and every one of them was that they were “all deeply religious.”[viii] As Alan Kreuger of Princeton University and Jitka Maleckova of Charles University, Prague, determined, there is little direct connection between poverty and terror.[ix]
A casual glance at the portfolios of prominent Islamic terrorists reveals that many of them were anything but poor. Fifteen of the nineteen jihadists in the 9/11 attacks were of the middle class and their movement’s leader, Osama Bin Laden, was a son of a multi-billionaire. More recently, consier Omar Mateen, the mass murderer of the Orlando, who grew up in a family household that, although not rich, was by no means destitute. According to the Washington Post, Mateen’s “childhood in the coastal Florida town of Port St. Lucie was filled with ice cream from McDonald’s and trips to the mall.” [x] Nidal Hassan, the Islamist who killed 13 and injured 30 of his fellow US soldiers at Fort Hood, was not only an army major but also a psychiatrist. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber had been a student of the University of Massachusetts. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh who masterminded the killing of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, graduated from the prestigious London School of Economics. Kafeel Ahmed who drove a car laden with explosives into the terminal at Glasgow airport was an engineer studying for a Ph.D. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane in flight, is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and business man. Azahari Husin, the brains and organizer behind the Bali bombing was a university lecturer and gifted mathematician.
The assertion that ‘terrorism is induced by poverty is so patently belied by both empirical and casual observations, we can only conclude that people like Kerry — educated and with reasonably high IQs, must be afflicted with an aptitude for cognitive dissonance. Otherwise, the only explanation is a stubborn idiocy in the face of so much empirical evidence.
Ruled out of consideration by those of Kerry’s mindset is that the particular belief system plays any part in motivating their actions. Were that not the case they would ask themselves why Jews, who have been infinitely more persecuted in Europe than Muslims, have never embraced Islamist-style massacres. Part of the problem is that the prevailing nostrums of multiculturalism posit all religions must command respect, a state of mind only tp be achieved by the absolute refusal to recognise that a theology — in this case Islam — is woven with tenets antithetical to Western values. This sometimes leads to ludicrous situations whereby, for example, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first invited a prominent Iman to break halal bread with him at Kirribilli, then was obliged to denounce him after being informed of his guest’s urgings that homosexuals deserve death and how troublesome women nee to be hung by their breasts. Turnbull’s folly was to begin with the belief that people such as his problematic Iman are wayward clerics, rather than grasping that their views are shared by co-religionists — no doubt including other Muslims present.[xi]
There are, of course, many personal factors that induce a person to become an Islamist. But usually among them one can point to an exposure to aspects of the Koran that extol the killing of infidels and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of Allah. In an Islamic State proclamation put out on the internet, we are informed that we in the West are hated by Muslims because we are disbelievers and they “have been commanded (by Allah) to fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam.” (Koran 9.29)[xii] No reference was made to any other grievance, be it economic exploitation, discrimination or Islamophobia. Strengthening the Jihadist’s resolve is the expectation of being rewarded in heaven and the certainty that he or she would be revered after death by others.
The cognitive dissonance needed to assert that poverty, not religious ardour, is the root of Islamist terror is worse and more dangerous than a comforting delusion, it hobbles the West’s response before it can take effective shape, If you refuse to recognise your enemy, how can you combat him, let alone defeat hm?
Leslie Stein is the author of The Making of Modern Israel, 1948–1967 (Polity, 2009)
[i] Remarks after meeting with Secretary of State of the Holy See Pietro Parolin, US Department of State, January 14, 2014. http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/01/219654.htm
[ii] Editorials. “Kerry on Counterterrorism, October 4, 1013. http://editorials.voa.gov/a/kerry-on-counterterrorism/1762867.html
[iii] See Alan Krueger, “What Makes a Terrorist, American Enterprise Institute, , November 7, 2007.
[iv] C Christian Fair and Husain Haqqani, “Think Again: Islamic Terrorism,” Foreign Policy, January 30, 2006.
[v] Abul Taher, The Mail on Sunday, October 15, 2011.
[vi] See Giulio Meotti, “Islamic terrorists are not poor and illiterate, but rich and educated.” Gatestone Institute, November 19, 2016.
[vii] Nasra Hassan, “An Arsenal of Believers,” The New Yorker, November 19, 2001.
[ix]Alan B Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, “Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is
There a Causal Connection?” Journal of Economic Perspective, Fall 2003.
[x] Ken Sullivan and William Wan, “Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter, Washington Post, June 17, 2016.
[xi] See Mark Durie. “It’s not Personal, It’s Islam” The Spectator, July 2 2016.
[xii] As quoted by Raymond Ibrahim, “Confirmed: Islam, not ‘grievances’ fuels Muslim hate for West.”
Frontpage Magazine, August 19, 2016