Root Causes

What are the root causes of terrorism, and what can we do about them?

In an earlier article, I spoke a little about the root causes of Terrorism. I mentioned our foreign policy over the last 50 years , and I still feel that is part of the issue. However, writing about this made me want to find out what the real ‘root causes’ of terrorism are.

This is what I have found so far:

Those who hold to ‘poverty as the root cause” do so even though the data does not fit their model. Even leaving aside multimillionaire Osama bin Laden, the backgrounds of the September 11 killers indicates that they were without exception scions of privilege: all were either affluent Saudis and Egyptians, citizens of the wealthy Gulf statelets, or rich sons of Lebanon, trained in and familiar with the ways of the West — not exactly the victims of poverty in Muslim dictatorships.

From Dr. Radu’s article The Futile Search for ‘Root Causes” of Terrorism

That makes sense. They need people who can move unnoticed through our society. People who were educated at our schools and speak our language very well. You will not find that amongst the poor in most countries.

Most terrorists are not motivated by the prospect of financial gain or the hopelessness of poverty, says economist Alan B. Krueger, least of all in the Middle East.
Only 13 percent of Palestinian suicide bombers are from impoverished families, while about a third of the Palestinian population is in poverty, according to new research by Claude Berrebi, a Princeton University graduate student.
A remarkable 57 percent of suicide bombers have some education beyond high school, compared with just 15 percent of the population of comparable age.
This evidence corroborates findings for other Middle Eastern and Latin American terrorist groups. Terrorists are drawn from society’s elites, not the dispossessed.

From The Motivation for Terrorism, by National Center for Policy Analysis

One of the things that I have often felt, is that Terrorism targeted at us is related to how we are perceived on the on the global stage. Over the last 50 years, we have been, if not the most, one of the most powerful players in the world. How have we used this power?

According to the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, a strong correlation exists between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States. President Clinton has also acknowledged that link. The board, however, has provided no empirical data to support its conclusion. This paper fills that gap by citing many examples of terrorist attacks on the United States in retaliation for U.S. intervention overseas. The numerous incidents cataloged suggest that the United States could reduce the chances of such devastating-and potentially catastrophic-terrorist attacks by adopting a policy of military restraint overseas.

From the Cato Institutes’s Article Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism? The Historical Record

But, what kind of policy’s are we talking about?

The U.S., having decided that an Iranian victory would not serve its interests, began supporting Iraq: measures already underway to upgrade U.S.-Iraq relations were accelerated, high-level officials exchanged visits, and in February 1982 the State Department removed Iraq from its list of states supporting international terrorism.

Iraq received massive external financial support from the Gulf states, and assistance through loan programs from the U.S. The White House and State Department pressured the Export-Import Bank to provide Iraq with financing, to enhance its credit standing and enable it to obtain loans from other international financial institutions. The U.S. Agriculture Department provided taxpayer-guaranteed loans for purchases of American commodities, to the satisfaction of U.S. grain exporters.

From The Saddam Hussein Sourcebook

So , we propped up Saddam, gave him money and material to fight a war, and now we don’t understand why the people that he brutalized dislike us? There are more and more examples of this kind of duplicity on our parts. We helped the Taliban fight the Russians, and then we get angry when they continue with their same extremist ways. We help with one hand, and strike with the other. It makes no sense.

I certainly hope that our Foreign policymakers see the problems that our history has caused, and take a more open, and constructive approach in the future. We should be helping people be free, happy and safe , not funding extremists and butchers. We should be leading this world by example , not by a leash.

2 thoughts on “Root Causes”

  1. Just looking at Osama’s history, the causes that he has assisted shows that it’s not our culture, it’s not a case of the have-nots vs the haves. It’s a case of anger directly because of the heavy handed involvement that U.S. Foreign policy has become since the Cold War.

    Lebanon is a perfect example.

    <em>On May 17, 1983, an agreement was signed by the representatives of Lebanon, Israel, and the United States that provided for Israeli withdrawal. Syria declined to discuss the withdrawal of its troops, effectively stalemating further progress. Opposition to the negotiations and to U.S. support for the Gemayel regime led to a series of terrorist attacks in 1983 and 1984 on U.S. interests</em> (from <a href="; rel="nofollow">Lebanon’s History</a>)

    If true or not, a lot of the perception is that the U.S. is a bully. Let’s look at our actions in a different arena.

    Imagine that you are a teacher, and you just moved to a new school. You hear that there are several groups of 4th and 5th graders that fight at lunchtime. Would you fight with one of the smaller groups?

    That is what we have been doing in the past. We, the biggest power on the block, have been picking sides and fighting for what we ‘think is right’ ignoring social and cultural contexts that we simply do not understand as westerners.

    Instead of promoting peaceful discourse, we have been selling weapons. Instead of trying to understand what is going on, we have been picking sides.

    And we are amazed when people are angry with us?

    I agree totally that peaceful societies will not breed terrorists – but how we reach that place is as important as getting there.

    I support the war in Iraq – we put Saddam into power, and he was killing people right and left. We needed to clean up our mess. Other then that, we need to allow those people to work out their own problems. We need to give them support and help – not guns.

  2. Certainly the fact that the terrorists are middle class shouldn’t surprise anyone with any grasp of history at all. Revolutions are always precipitated by the middle class, usually in response to hitting a ‘glass ceiling’ where they can rise no higher. The poor are generally too busy surviving and lack resources to ferment a serious revolution anyway.

    This bit, from the National Center for Policy Analysis you posted on is, I think the most signifigant peice of information on this question:

    " * No other factor besides a lack of civil liberties — including the literacy rate, infant mortality rate, terrain, ethnic divisions and religious fractionalization — could predict whether people from that country were more or less likely to take part in international terrorism.

    Thus economically well off countries that lack civil liberties have spawned relatively many terrorists. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn terrorists."

    The Cato Institute paper strikes me as particularly unconvincing. I think that it explains pretexts for an attack, but not reasons why the people became terrorists or what truly motivates them. In addition, it treats domestic terrorist attacks and terrorist attacks fully sponsorer by foreign governments the same as Al-Qaida style terrorist groups. Several of it’s examples (the Japanese Cult plans to attack Disneyland is a biggie) seem to be a stretch to link things with our foreign policy actions.

    It seems to me that they already had their answer, and then went hunting for data to support it. That doesn’t really tell us anything, except what sort of foreign policy the Cato Institute favors.

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