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Does Poverty Lead to Terrorism?

Updated on December 18, 2016
Shil1978 profile image

Shil1978 is a science buff with 11 years of experience writing about of psychology and related-topics.

I have often heard people linking poverty and terrorism in a bid to explain the terrorist - as in why a person becomes a terrorist? Why he/she loses his/her humanity and kills without mercy or compassion men, women, and even small children. Could terrorism be, as some people seem to think, a result of poverty? Seems to make a lot of sense on the face of it, but how true is that assertion? Could it be that tomorrow if we rid the world of poverty, that there would be no terrorists or terrorism?

Well, I would have to stick my neck out and emphatically answer that assertion with a definitive "No.". In fact, I think the concept of the “poor terrorist” is the greatest myth that has been perpetuated by certain sections of ill-informed intellectuals. Fact is it is not the “poor terrorist,” but the “rich terrorist” that has been responsible for the most heinous crimes perpetuated on humanity in recent years. The who’s who of the terrorist world are well-educated and in most cases well-off people, who could have lived just as you and me (perhaps much, much better and comfortable lives than us) - had it not been for their warped sense of self and objective in life.

Examples Of Educated, Well-To-Do Terrorists!

These terrorists were neither poor nor illiterates!!


Christmas Day Bomber

The young man who plotted to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009 was a 23-year-old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The 290 people on board that flight are lucky to be alive today - the plot failed after the explosives which he had sewn to his underwear failed to explode.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was born to middle-class parents, studied in a British International School and University College London where he was apparently an engineering student. At the time of the incident, it was reported that he was living in a 2 million pound flat in Britain. Yet, he chose to blow himself up and take 290 innocents along with him and be a “martyr.”

Was he a poor terrorist who had no educational and economic opportunities ahead of him? Certainly, coming from a well-to-do family and studying engineering doesn't fit in with the label of poverty and so this terrorist was certainly not a poor terrorist and poverty certainly wasn't the cause for driving him towards terrorism.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or KSM

KSM as he is mostly referred to was the brains behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Without him, probably the 9/11 attacks would have never happened. KSM was also the person behind the murder of Daniel Pearl, the American reporter who worked for the Wall Street Journal. Daniel Pearl was beheaded and KSM confessed to having personally decapitated Daniel Pearl. That's not all - his list of confessions is a seemingly never-ending list stretching terrorist incidents and various countries. So, was KSM a poor and illiterate man? Certainly not! He studied in the United States and got his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He had a good job as a project engineer with the Qatari Ministry of Electricity and Water. So, what motivated him to become a terrorist? One certainly can't argue that poverty forced KSM into being the terrorist he became!

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Known as the right-hand man to Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wasn’t poor or uneducated either. He in fact has a medical degree and was actually a doctor of all things; albeit a doctor who doesn’t think twice about sending his fellow co-jihadists to commit wanton acts of terror by blowing up other human beings to smithereens. Ayman al-Zawahiri came from a wealthy family. He had everything he could possibly want, including the education - in case his family wealth went down the drains, but still he chose to become a terrorist. So, once again, poverty wasn't the cause!

Mohammad Atta

One of the 9/11 terrorists, 33-year-old Mohammad Atta, went to Hamburg University and certainly was well educated and relatively well-to-do. He certainly wasn’t a poor, deprived, uneducated, hopeless individual looking to escape poverty. He in fact had all the things that a normal person would want to have, but that wasn't enough for him. He wanted to die. Do the poor want to die? They want to better their life, don't they? So, how does poverty cause terrorism? Mohammad Atta was no poor terrorist!

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh

The mastermind behind the abduction and eventual beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, was a person named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. This individual was born in Britain and went to the London School of Economics and graduated from there. From all accounts, he was doing well and certainly didn't need to have become a terrorist, but he did. Could it be that poverty forced him to take up the cause of blowing up and beheading people - well, you decide! The pattern is clear, isn't it? The main guys, the masterminds, are not poor by any means, so why is poverty cited as being one of the main causes of terrorism?

Osama Bin Laden

What about Osama Bin Laden himself? Poor, was he? He came from a wealthy Saudi family and was educated abroad as well. He certainly wasn't impoverished and short of economic opportunities. In fact, he could have lived off of his family wealth his whole life, but he didn't want to do that. He wanted to become a terrorist and poverty certainly wasn't the reason in his case either!

London/Glasgow Bombing Perpetrators

The terrorists convicted of planning the London/Glasgow bombings of the Glasgow International Airport were jihadist doctors, who instead of choosing to care for other people - as their profession teaches them to - chose to become terrorists and commit acts of terror. They were certainly not poor and poverty wasn't the reason they committed this act of terror!

Aafia Siddiqui

Have you heard of Aafia Siddiqui? I doubt many would have. For those who don’t know, she is a Pakistani scientist, educated in the US, having received a PhD in Neuroscience, who was convicted of charges of attempting to kill Americans in Afghanistan. Once again, the familiar pattern, a well-educated woman who had nothing in terms of economic depravity to use as an excuse to plan and plot acts of terrorism.

Ramzi Yousef

Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, studied in the UK and majored in electrical engineering. He also planned the Bojinka plot along with his maternal uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad or KSM, where they planned to assassinate Pope John Paul II, bring down 11 plans and also crash a plane into the CIA headquarters. He obviously used the technical skills he gained studying in the UK to make bombs and kill people. Ramzi Yousef certainly was not poor or illiterate/deprived by any means!

Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi

Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, who carried out a suicide bombing at the CIA base in Afghanistan in 2009 was a Jordanian doctor, again a well-educated man who doesn’t fit into the stereotype of the “poor terrorist.” He graduated with honors and wasn't unemployed or poor, so once again the argument of poverty being the cause of terrorism doesn't quite hold up.

These are just some examples of well-educated, mostly well-off men who chose to become terrorists instead of being good husbands/sons/brothers to their loved ones. These men certainly had no problem feeding themselves, they certainly were not deprived of anything. Isn’t it therefore a fallacy to perpetuate the myth of the “poor terrorist,” or poverty being the cause of terrorism?

Conclusion: So is Poverty to Blame?

The really poor and deprived peoples of the word would like nothing better than to get out of their deprivation and misery. Every day is a constant struggle for them and the ideologies of the terrorists is the last thing on their minds. Yes, some poor do sign up to become the foot soldiers of the rich ideologues like Osama and others because their death would ensure a payment to their families, but are these people really the majority? All the recent, high-profile, serious attacks have been carried out by well-educated, westernized, well-off individuals, as demonstrated by the examples above.

Therefore, I really question this notion of poverty being a cause, or major cause, of terrorism. The reason for terrorism, in my view, is that there are certain individuals who have a certain world view and are fanatically focused on achieving that. Poverty and regional conflicts are excuses to further their narrow agenda. They might speak of oppression and other things to justify their attacks, but what they really want is to see their world order established. It is the sort of Taliban/ISIS/Al-Qaeda mindset that seeks uniformity, that seeks compliance, that brooks no dissension. The fight is between people who want the world to go back a few hundred years and between those who want to live in the present, in peace, and look forward to the future.

© 2010 Shil1978


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