The poverty-causes-Jihadism myth is itself an evolution of the original poverty-causes-suicide-bombings myth, or poverty-causes-terrorism-in-general, which became a Leftist cause celeb in 2005 with the publication of agitprop Robert Pape’s “Dying to Win”; itself nothing more than an excuse to attack the Bush Administration, and by extension the “Global War on Terror” and the Iraq War and blame them instead on the United States and capitalism/income inequality. In other words, a political agenda/Leftist Politics, masquerading as scholarship.
The bogus refrain was soon picked up by Russell Ackoff, a Professor at the Wharton School of Business, who claimed to know what caused terrorism in general, which included the phenomenon known as suicide bombing:
The basic problem that spurs terrorism is misdistribution of wealth within the U.S. and around the world.
That was fairly straightforward. According to Ackoff it is poverty and the misdistribution of wealth because of the U.S. that causes “terrorism”. Even Princeton historian Sean Wilentz has observed:
…the “root cause” of suicide bombings is “money, education, and privilege.”
Is it? Is it really?
At least according to all these sources and more, the root causes of both “terrorism” generally, and “suicide bombing” specifically, are poverty, or wealth misdistribution, being born and raised in a slum, or some other type of economic disadvantage.
There is only one problem with this explanation as to the root cause of terrorism and suicide bombers: it is patently and demonstrably untrue! One easily checked set of statistics immediately annihilates the entire underpinning of the “Poverty = Terrorism = Suicide Bombers” meme.
Below is a list of the 50 poorest, or “least developed” countries in the world, according to the World Bank:
Kiribati, Sao Tome and Principe, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Palau, Tonga, Samoa, Samoa, Comoros, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Vanuatu, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Guinea-Bissau, Saint Lucia, Timor-Leste, Cape Verde, Seychelles, Belize, Djibouti, Guyana, Liberia, Maldives, Eritrea, Gambia, Central African Republic, Lesotho, Fiji, Suriname, Bhutan, Burundi, Swaziland, Togo, Sierra Leone, Montenegro, Mauritania, Niger, Bahamas, The, Iceland, Malta, Moldova, Guinea, Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Mongolia, Rwanda, Benin, Namibia, Tajikistan
If “poverty” is the sole determinant in causing terrorism and producing suicide bombers, where are the suicide bombers and terrorists from Haiti, a country known as an economic basket case for decades? Why are not suicide bombers and terrorists from economically disadvantaged countries such as Vanuatu, Fiji and Bhutan, wreaking havoc across Asia, in retribution for their lack of monetary lot in life? Why have not waves of Mongolians, Moldovans and Namibians attacked the United States and its interests around the world? None of these have happened.
Additionally, if poverty and economic deprivation were the primary causes of the suicide bombing and terrorism, then it logically follows that the lower classes and the uneducated would constitute at least a majority, if not the entirety, of the suicide bomber and terrorists ranks. Yet study after study shows that this is in fact not the case. In one study of Palestinian suicide bombers for the RAND corporation, it was noted that they were less than half as likely to come from families below the poverty line compared to the Palestinian population in general, and that more than 60% of Palestinian suicide bombers had at least a high school education, compared to approximately 15% of the Palestinian population at large. A similar study performed by two professors at Princeton University on Hezb’allah suicide bombers found that they had a lover poverty rate (28% versus 33%) than the Lebanese population in general, and a better level of education, with 47% of Hezb;allah members having at least a secondary-level education, compared to just 38% of the Lebanese population.
Even with Al Qaeda, this trend continues. A CIA forensics psychiatrist found that at least 35% of Al Qaeda members have, or had college degrees, and as many as 45% come from skilled professions such as engineers, chemists, etc. Mohammed Atta was not only from a middle class background, he was college educated and an engineer. Ayman az-Zawahiri is a Medical Doctor by background, education and training.
The same RAND study quoted above, found that the older and the better educated the suicide bomber, the greater the chance they had of succeeding in their assigned task. Having at least a high school degree or higher more than doubles the chance of a suicide bomber’s success, and every year in age over the age of 18 increases the suicide bomber’s chance of success by approximately 12% per year. Muhammad Atta, at the age of 33 and with an advanced degree, is cited as the perfect suicide operation leader, because of his age and the education afforded to him because of his middle class background.
As Scott Atran, noted anthropologist and suicide bomber expert, stated the following in the summer of 2007, when research he was conducting found that one village in Morocco, the village of Tetouan, had produced over 30 suicide bombers who had carried out their murderous attacks not only in Morocco, but also in Spain, Iraq and beyond:
Another factor is that the jihad is actually growing throughout North Africa. If you ask somebody why they joined the jihad, say, in Europe, they would give you the story that Islam is under attack. Okay, that’s the general idea. Then, you know, you ask them, well, if this was 10 years ago, would you have joined the jihad? And they say, of course not. The jihad wasn’t there. So, it’s in the landscape of ideas now.
In fact, Atran determined that of all the suicide attacks since 1968, over 80% have occurred since 9/11, and that 31 of the 35 groups responsible for the aforementioned suicide attacks have been Islamic Jihadi Groups; in other words, over 90% of all suicide attacks since 1968 have been carried out by Islamic Jihadi groups. He has pointed out that the suicide bomber phenomenon itself is evolving; prior to 9/11, the majority of suicide attacks were carried out by secular-based groups, but since 9/11, however, the suicide attack phenomenon has been adopted and co-opted by Islamic groups on an historically unprecedented scale.
Thus, the poverty-causes-terrorism/suicide bombing/Jihadism meme is essentially a myth, created by the Left, to attack the United States in general, and income inequality specifically, with the Bush Administration as its main target during that Iraq war, and now that Bush is out of office, generalized to once again attack the United States and capitalism.
However, if you research where most of the terrorist attacks/suicide bombings have taken place, and more importantly who perpetrated them since 9/11, you will find one common thread that is impossible to ignore: the vast majority of suicide bombings/terrorist attacks are carried out in areas controlled by individuals and groups steeped in Sunni Salafiyyah Jihadi culture, or Shiite Apocalyptic Jihadi culture, or carried out by the same individuals and groups outside those areas, such as the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya last year.
This is not to imply that only Islamic Jihadi groups carry out suicide attacks or terrorist attacks, or that the concept of suicide attacks originated from within Islam, or even from Islamic Jihadi groups or associated movements in the past. Recent historical suicide attacks, such as the Kamikaze pilots of Japan, and some instances of German suicide tactics, were certainly not Islamic in nature. In fact, suicide attacks as a modern political weapon can be directly traced back to the assassination of Russian Czar Alexander II in 1881, when he was killed while riding in his carriage by a suicide bomber who was part of a Nihilist plot. Prior to that, there are recorded instances of suicide attacks among Dutch soldiers in Taiwan in the 1660’s and even among the Templar Knights fighting Saladin’s forces during the Crusades. Some even argue that the first recorded instance of a “suicide attack” in warfare is that of Sampson collapsing the Philistine temple upon himself and his enemies as mentioned in the Bible.
But regardless of the past history of suicide attacks/terrorism, and more recently, suicide bombings, there is no doubt that for now at least, the overwhelming face of terrorism/suicide attacks and bombings is the Islamic Jihadi culture. And they are not doing it because of “poverty’ and “social injustice.” They are doing it because they are theologically driven. To maintain otherwise, is to suffer from “category error”, willful blindness, and terminal stupidity, or to driven by a desire to commit societal suicide.
Dale T. Armstrong is a Former United States Marine Corps Major Intelligence Officer. He has spent the greater portion of the past thirty-five years studying and writing about the intricacies of Islamic fundamentalism and its many sects, movements, and Sufi Tariqa. He attended the American University in Cairo, studied Arabic, was in Northern Iraq for Operation Provide Comfort, and was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal as a Marine Corps Captain, for a successful Counter-Intelligence Operation against the Iraqis during the Gulf War that has yet to be declassified.