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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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    • Springboard profile image


      4 years ago from Wisconsin

      I'm with you. It is an issue of ideology and culture more than anything. Income has nothing to do with it. Heck, even in our own country we have top athletes and musicians and movie stars with multi-million dollar bank accounts who still get into awful trouble and cause harm to others.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      8 years ago from the PNW

      Bravo on your article. Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Carlos the Jackal and many terror leaders all grew up in very comfortable circumstances and feel they need to "help" the oppressed. Good job for pointing out the folly of that false notion.

    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      M Lawal, thank you for your comments. I appreciate them, although I don't agree with it. Firstly, in my relatively young life, I've been exposed to only terrorism emanating from Islamic countries. So, perhaps you can understand why I stress on it.

      Let me tell you, in a personal capacity, I have quite a number of good muslim friends and I am certainly not someone who hates Islam. So, I don't intend offending anyone.

      I don't think there'd be peace ever, might be a pessimistic view, but I say so because some of the terrorist ideologues aren't fighting for real issues of territories like Palestine, etc. They are more interested in colonizing the world with their narrow ideologies, which I am sure you also don't agree with.

      The puritanical and obtrusive moralistic views they posesss and seek to impose on others won't allow them to "be at peace" with others (like us) who like to live a much different life.

    • profile image

      M Lawal 

      11 years ago

      Well you certainly did a good job profiling muslim terrorist but what I don't understand is the myth that is currently assumed and accepted globally that all TERRORIST are muslims while infact there are a lot of non-muslims worldwide. But I guess they dont just fit the bill so we ignore them. America is out there openely fighting sovereign islamic nations in the name of war against terror and people are all over the internet as well as the trying to justify the terrorist American Government. Why do you think muslims primary target is America and its allies. Until America and Americans stop crusading in east they will never have peace, atleast until one of the two sides is completely anahilated. Peace

    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      Thanks cashmere for your insights. Yes, I do agree!! We need to get out of this fallacy though. Its been a myth that has been propagated about, without any conclusive study to establish the veracity of the claim.

      Unless we know the problem, we can't tackle it or at least take the first few steps towards solving it. Thanks again for dropping by :)

    • cashmere profile image


      11 years ago from India

      There is a strong connection between terrorism and power. And yes the ones who seek power by wielding terror as a weapon are seldom poor. Yet the minions of these "rich" terrorists are people who have little choice and little money. That;s why the image of the poor terrorist who had no other option to survive gets prominence.

    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 

      11 years ago

      This was a really interesting hub blowing the myth out of the water. Whilst Muslim terrorists clearly make the biggest headlines there are also other terrorist groups such as ETA in Spain and Republican and Loyalist groups in Northern Ireland. A dissident Republican group is thought to be behind the car bomb which exploded in Northern Ireland yesterday evening (22 February 2010). Amber

    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      Thank you samboiam for your appreciation of this hub! Glad you found it interesting!!

    • samboiam profile image


      11 years ago from Texas

      Shil, thank you for posting a very interesting hub. It was well thought and out and researched. Great job.

    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      Thanks LaVieja for your comments. Yes, most people don't realize this, yet one can'd deny the facts, which is there for all to see, if only they are open to see them!!

      Dearest Al,

      I couldn't agree more with you. If you were to study the behavior of the Taliban in Afghanistan during their heydays, they did seek to play God. They enjoyed standing on a pedestal and pronouncing guilt on their populace, beheading them for reasons from alleged adultery to what have you, without a trial. Although, they seek to do what they do in God's name, they are in fact just playing God. Nothing justifies what they do in God's name. Nothing justifies killing another human being!!


      The problem is that they think something good awaits them, after they've done their job on Earth by killing a few humans. The problem is that they don't want to live in the present, but want to take them and us all to the medieval ages. The problem may be that they are just confused about what their role in the world is, maybe they are just bored with their lives!!

    • gusripper profile image


      11 years ago

      I believe that the problem with terorists is that they have a lot of time for thinking(and not working).Nice thoughts of you.

    • Mystique1957 profile image


      11 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

      My dearest Shil...

      Above all that you mentioned in your article, there is an undeniable desire of playing an infamous god. Deciding who´s right, who´s wrong and who dies and who doesn´t. In addition, no hardship is a motivation to take away the life of others. Particularly myself, I think suicide is the best example of cowardliness there is. It is the easy way out! rather than coping, struggling and succeeding in the long wrong. That´s their choice, their free will! Nevertheless, it does not justify pulling everybody else under, and stepping on our God given right of our own free will.

      Great reflection!

      Thumbs up!

      warmest regards and blessings,


    • LaVieja profile image


      11 years ago from London

      Really interesting hub. Hadn't thought of it before, but I think you are right.

    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      Thank you Larry for dropping by and for your comments. I agree, this myth has been put forward far too long by the media and some sections of the intelligentsia. I hope the reality would dawn on them sooner rather than later! As you say, some of this could be done intentionally for political reasons perhaps!!

    • maven101 profile image

      Larry Conners 

      11 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Thank you for this well-researched and well-written Hub...This myth of the poor or poverty stricken terrorist has been long overplayed by the intellectually lazy media...or perhaps its intentional, not wanting to admit that most terrorists, domestic and international, are college educated, upper-middle class folks that have agendas that conflict with the rule of law...

      Another couple of terrorists that fit your argument would be Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, both from well-to-do families and college educated...Larry


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