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On Allan Krueger’s “What Makes a Terrorist”

By Tony Azios at the Christian Science Monitor

Theories abound as to what drives people to commit acts of terrorism. They range from the simplistic (”They hate our freedom”) to the more complex (modern terrorism is a continuation of longstanding religious and cultural conflicts). The most pervasive rationale on the matter, however, is that terrorism is nurtured by widespread poverty and a lack of education.

This explanation is popularly accepted across religious and party lines and in many academic circles. It is a theory as likely to be espoused by laymen as by global leaders and so-called experts. It’s an idea people can easily comprehend and embrace because it means that such abhorrent acts are born from social inequality, a preventable injustice.

Supporters of that diagnosis will want to read economist Alan B. Krueger’s What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism, in which he posits that this assumption couldn’t be more wrong. Within the parameters of Krueger’s analysis, it turns out to be the “economic – deprivation – and – no – education – breeds – terrorism” theory that fails to hold water.

Krueger’s book is based on a set of three lectures he gave at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2006. In it, he argues that the notion that poverty and ignorance breed terrorism is no more than an assumption lacking empirical evidence to back it up.

A review of hard data collected from various regions and continents shows that terrorists are more likely to have come from the well-educated elite of their respective countries.

“What Makes a Terrorist” brings together disparate data, such as academic studies and government reports, arraying them into a concise, accessible argument against the notion that we can defeat terrorism through aid and education. While Krueger is careful to affirm that these are useful in combating many social ills, he is adamant that terrorism is not one of them.

But Krueger, the Bendenheim professor of economics and public policy at Princeton University and an adviser to the National Counter terrorism Center, doesn’t just present the data. He offers skilled analysis to show that an aggressive foreign policy based on this fallacious assumption has cost several nations dearly and also warns that continuing along this course may provoke further terrorist acts.

Using public opinion polls from the Pew Global Attitudes Project and from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Krueger argues that residents of nations with higher rates of terrorist activity who possess comparatively higher incomes and education levels are more likely to view the use of terrorism as justifiable.

According to Krueger, the polls indicate that those with at least moderate wealth and education, relative to their nations’ standards, are more likely to be confident enough in their beliefs to attempt to enact political change, even through illegitimate and violent avenues.

The poor and uneducated, meanwhile, are less likely to even voice a neutral political view when asked. Simply expanding access to education without reforming content, warns Krueger, may actually have the unintended effect of promoting terrorism.

Rather than poverty and a lack of education, Krueger’s research indicates that living in a society lacking in civil liberties and political rights is actually the biggest indicator of what may lie at the root of terrorism. The lack of legal and civil recourse to political woes is more likely to lead someone to terrorism than any other single factor, according to Krueger.

While Krueger’s first two lectures use statistical analysis to determine which factors do or do not play a part in leading people to become terrorists, his third lecture serves as a critique of the media and politicians who exacerbate the psychological, economic, and political effects caused by terrorist acts, rather than putting them into perspective.

Krueger asserts that sensationalizing distant or comparatively minor acts of terrorism serves to promote societal anxiety, thereby assisting terrorists in accomplishing their goals of spreading fear and disrupting the economy.

After evaluating available evidence on the economic effects of terrorism and other destructive events such as hurricanes, Krueger reaches the conclusion that economies are only significantly affected by terrorism “if the public lets them, that is, if people and their leaders overreact.” This is because “terrorism – as awful and reprehensible as it is … leaves the bulk of the human and physical capital stock intact” in economies that are diverse and elastic enough to withstand disturbance.

Krueger advises that governments focus less on combating small-scale, isolated acts of terrorism and dedicate more resources toward preventing devastating nuclear and biological attacks.

One of the book’s strengths is that Krueger is not concerned solely with Islamic fundamentalist and anti-Western terrorism. Spain and Colombia are also addressed in some detail, while Northern Ireland is referred to as the notable exception in that terrorists there are somewhat more likely to come from less affluent backgrounds.

Remaining true to the original lecture format, Krueger includes many insightful and critical questions from the audience.

The semantics of defining terrorism are also well addressed, as the line between “terrorist” and “freedom fighter” can be a thin one. Students of American history may recall, writes Krueger, that the British labeled George Washington a terrorist.

It’s a question particularly relevant at the moment, given current debates as to whether certain states are engaged in civil war or terrorism, or both. /• Tony Azios is an intern at the Monitor

What makes a Terrorist?

United States of America has classified Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its arm, the New Peoples Army (NPA), as terrorist organizations. It made former U.P. Professor Jose Maria Sison, CPP-NPA’s founding leader, a terrorist. It also made others like Vladimir I. Lenin, Mao Ze Dong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel F. Castro and the rest of the class, as no different.

My perception of Terrorism is that it is an act of violence in demand for something, like kidnapping and hijacking for ransom or (exchange of) prisoners, or pure destruction of property as a form of blackmail. Its most terrible and biggest act is of course 9-11. There must be some demand attached to it, like Al Qaeda trying to tell Uncle Sam to back off from whatever.

CPP-NPA is a Leninist-Maoist organization. It is not demanding anything. It is intent on capturing political power by armed overthrow of State to establish a “proletariat dictatorship,” and no less. That is what Leninism and Maoism is all about. It revolves around (armed) social class struggle.

That “economic-deprivation-and-no-education-breeds-terrorism”, or that “poverty and ignorance breed terrorism” may be ways of putting things:

Firstly, no miserable peasants sent their children abroad to be educated. Mao Tse Tong (Ze dong), for example, was no economically deprived and ignorant person. A roster of modern revolutionary leaders, indeed, will show them having one thing in common – they are all educated. Most of them came from the (upper echelon of) ‘Middle class’.

[In the world of Marxism there are only two social classes in a Capitalist society: the Bourgeoisie – owner of means of production, and the Proletariat – wage earner.] “Middle class” in relation to them is actually section of the Bourgeoisie that is intermediate the Proletariat class.

But, economic-deprivation and poverty that are among the causes of more social ills are harsh realities noted in the early days of the industrial revolution until today especially in third world countries. Out of the multitudes will always be educated minds that will be drawn to those realities. Without misery all around them, there is no Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels that people knows of, to mention a few of those minds.

Secondly, rebellion is armed politics. Social-economic deprivation and poverty in such situation are like rich composts that sprout fighters, volunteer-manpower who will fight without pay, or that serve as mass base and safe haven for a guerrilla movement. Fighting for their own cause is the reality of those in it. It is the problem of the masses synthesized to them by their leaders.

In the Philippines we do have a negative cycle of poverty and no-education. Children of poor farmers for example, aside from incapacity of their parents to send them through school, have to help in farm-work so there will be less food deprivation in the family. Children labor for neighbors or in bigger farms as low as $ 0.50 cents a day to augment family income. They are stuck to hand-to-mouth existence. Lacking education, their chances of getting free from poverty someday is indeed slim.

The idea that (armed political dissension) can be defeated through aid and education is not without material basis.  Leninist and Maoist forms of struggle are noted to have become unnecessary in advanced countries. They have become obsolete. However, application of the theory that insurgency can be defeated by social advancements in third world countries where insurgency is usually a problem, has been rendered mere idealism.

One reason why some countries hardly develop is because of high degree of corruptions. After much of economic aid under that condition, such countries have failed to change the miserable lives of their people especially at the grassroots.

Why States do not grab initiative at eradicating causes of rebellion is itself one big political question in the third world. And, I think, this is the answer why there are people who hate Uncle Sam. While he sees himself as helpful to his neighbor-states, he is viewed as a defender if not the root of corruptions.

There is no single reason that makes a dissident. Any social problem, whatever they may be, may cause an individual to enter dissent. Once in there he progresses into an ideologue through a process of (self or induced) indoctrination.

“Simply expanding access to education without reforming content…..may actually have the unintended effect of promoting terrorism”, whatever they mean, are simply incomprehensible. They are incomprehensible as Chiang Ch’ing’s (Madame Mao) idea of Cultural Revolution, which is more of a whim to control the masses, or a way by which the ruling side hopes to maintain status quo – their status.

While education contributes to rate of ideological development of individuals, it has no relevance to the problem of terrorism and insurgency in general. Education, as in the public school system, is about promoting literacy and imparting knowledge that can not be departed from truths or facts and norms. It is a tool towards the good of the whole and no way should they be twisted.

Education – failure of the State to eradicate illiteracy is in fact a political issue in the third world that is feeding insurgency. In the Philippines for example, many Filipinos do not understand it why the 42 Billion Php ZTE-NBN/Cyber Ed deals when State cannot even provide enough classrooms, teachers and basic school facilities first. History of Philippine public school system shows perennial backlog of them.

The splits and makes of political movements: Communists and Social democrats are, basically, one and the same except for some fraternal disagreements. The differences are in the means of achieving end. Meanwhile, there are certain conditions today where the differences between social democrats and liberal democrats have become too narrow that the terms social and liberal might as well be dropped. That will leave the word democrats with right and left wings. Marxism in fact, is a direct descendant of Bourgeois Liberalism and of Hegelian idealism. What happens when a communist and a democrat meet in the other side of the world has not been explained. I guess, cousins can clash or they can unite depending on actual situations.

The Filipino Muslim insurgency

Filipino Muslim insurgency, in the other hand, revolves around Regionalism, Culture and Religion, all in one. Their struggle dates back since Spanish colonization of the Philippine archipelago. Their modern movements are the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) by former U.P. Professor Nur Misuari, which later split up to form the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). And then there is the dreaded Abu Sayyaf that many Filipino Muslims seem to be distancing from.

The Filipino Muslims attribute their misery to regionalism and culture (Tagalog, Ilocano, Ilonggo, Visayan and others versus minority tribes that are incidentally Muslims) and cultural-religious sectarianism (Christians versus Muslims). Territories that they consider traditional Muslim domains have been systematically settled in and dominated by Christians. They think they are neglected by a dominant Christian government. They believe they will do better as an independent State. They want to secede from the Philippines.

President Gloria M. Arroyo has announced the end of Muslim terrorism and NPA’s three and a half decade-insurgency by year 2010. This is viewed as mere (wishful thinking). Presidents Joseph E Estrada, Corazon C Aquino, Fidel V Ramos and Ferdinand E Marcos had been through the problems before. By brute force as the big solution, the best that one can probably achieve in one’s time is to eliminate some known Abu Sayaff leaders and fighters which are winning battles nowhere from winning a war. Personalities and names are incidental. They are naturally replaced as soon as a vacuum is created. It is the cause that must be eradicated or defeated to put an end to it.

Armed insurgency ends only when people see no logic why they are doing it. What made Muslim Filipinos want to secede must be addressed and this has not been accomplished since President Ferdinand E Marcos, or in a span of 40 years.

The idea for an autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao (today’s ARMM) was created in the Marcos era to defeat the idea of Muslim secession. But free elections have or will always result to Filipino Muslims being the political underdogs. Fact is they are minority in most part of the Autonomous region. The area that they had demanded is too wide, if religion is the issue, and which President Marcos was only too willing to concede. Government has always worked to place ARMM governorship at least, in the hands of Filipino Muslims or else Christians would be seating in there.

Sometimes open issues are not what they are like when political movements simply grab pre-existing issues and ride on them. For example, while Al Qaeda is based on Islamic fundamentalism; it appears Bin Laden, same as Nur Misuari, is no ignorant of Marxism.

Meanwhile, terrorism- scaring people to go away as in the southern Philippine experience, appears to be beyond terrorists. Bellow is an excerpt that I have imported from Inquirer.net. I found it interesting because I think it provides a deeper glimpse why Philippine government has hard time ending Abu Sayyaf terrorism:

/Akbar has rightly called on the Philippine military to use local resources to go after the four alleged killers of the Marines, whom he named, instead of sending in a big contingent of troops that could cause havoc and put innocent civilian lives at risk.

I agree in principle with Akbar, but the problem is that too many Muslim politicians in Mindanao claim that they support the central government, but also wink at the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf, in an attempt at having it both ways.

I understand why the military must be wary and suspicious of these local politicians and of the MILF when they claim to be helping the government. So many times when some MILF soldiers have killed government troops in irregular situations or beheaded victims, then the MILF conveniently disowns them by claiming that they are rogue elements or even Abu Sayyaf members.

Muslim politicians should realize that they cannot have it both ways, i.e. claim to support Manila and then be in bed with the militants at the same time. That is a dangerous game to play, and one that is already being exposed by military officials fed up with the never-ending cat-and-mouse games in Mindanao. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Sides have to be taken and sometimes that can be the hardest thing to do in the world.

/ Comments or questions? E-mail me at rasheed@arabnews.com. Visitmy blog at http:// rasheedsworld.blogspot.com.

So, we have terrorism and counter terrorism. But there is always a third party to every controversy. There is the part of society that stares to its left as well as to its right. Very little noticed, the world has always been an interaction not only of two but of all the three. I talk of ordinary Filipinos. In legal political struggle they simply throw weights for or against candidates. In illegal politics they can act in similar manner. /RLTJ

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5 Responses

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  3. Sweemomep,

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  4. […] On Allan Kruegers “What Makes a Terrorist“ Share

  5. […] 2007, President Gloria M. Arroyo actually announced the end to Moro cessation and NPA rebellion by year 2010. Well, if she knew what she was talking about, as we are now […]

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