November 13, 2007

Poverty and terror, again

via memeorandum

This is not news, but there's another academic concluding that terror is not a function of poverty. In this case it is Alan Krueger who explains What makes a terrorist.

Claude Berrebi, now of the RAND Corporation’s Institute for Civil Justice, wrote his dissertation at Princeton on the characteristics of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who were involved in terrorist activities. For example, he compared suicide bombers to the whole male pop­ulation aged 16 to 50 and found that the suicide bombers were less than half as likely to come from families that were below the poverty line. In addi­tion, almost 60 percent of the suicide bombers had more than a high school education, compared with less than 15 percent of the general population.

Jitka Malecková and I performed a similar study of militant members of Hezbollah, a multifaceted organization in Lebanon that has been labeled a ter­rorist organization by the U.S. State Department. We were able to obtain information on the biogra­phies of 129 deceased shahids (martyrs) who had been honored in the group’s newsletter, “Al-Ahd.” We turned translations by Eli Hurvitz at Tel Aviv University into a data­set and then combined it with information on the Lebanese popu­lation from the 1996 Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs Housing Survey of 120,000 peo­ple aged 15 to 38.

These deceased mem­bers of Hezbollah had a lower poverty rate than the Lebanese population: 28 percent versus 33 percent. And Hezbollah members were better educated: 47 percent had a secondary or higher education ver­sus 38 percent of adult Lebanese.

This is also the case, apparently, with al-Qaeda. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officer, has written a book titled Understanding Terror Networks. He found that a high proportion of mem­bers of al-Qaeda were college educated (close to 35 percent) and drawn from skilled professions (almost 45 percent). Research on members of the Israeli extremist group, Gush Emunim, that Malecková and I conducted, also pointed in the same direc­tion. Perhaps most definitively, the Library of Congress produced a summary report for an advi­sory group to the CIA titled, “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?” which also reached this conclusion—two years before 9/11.

(I don't know why Gush Emunim is thrown in. It is not a terror group.)

Another observer, Scott Atran, came to a similar conclusion a few years ago, however his policy prescription leaves much to be desired.

Shows of military strength don't seem to dissuade terrorists: witness the failure of Israel's coercive efforts to end the string of Palestinian suicide bombings. Rather, we need to show the Muslim world the side of our culture that they most respect. Our engagement needs to involve interfaith initiatives, not ethnic profiling. America must address grievances, such as the conflict in the Palestinian territories, whose daily images of violence engender global Muslim resentment.

But as Noah Pollak showed, Israel's "show of military strength" has likely eroded the Palestinian capacity for conducting a terror campaign in the manner of the "Aqsa intdifada" of 2001 - 2003.

Israel’s victory involved several key elements: the killing and imprisonment of large numbers of the Palestinian corps of jihadists, especially the terror leaders; the construction of a security wall that today makes Palestinian penetration of Israel immeasurably more difficult; and a revolution in Israel’s intelligence-gathering and military operations in the West Bank and Gaza. By way of everything from checkpoints and electronic surveillance to the cultivation of networks of informants and the deployment of undercover operatives, the Shabak (the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service and counterintelligence agency) and IDF dramatically have curtailed the ability of Palestinian terror groups to organize themselves and attack Israel.

You wouldn’t know much of this living in the U.S., where the daily heroics of the Israeli security services largely go unnoticed. A lot of people—such as Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl—apparently believe that the suicide bombings of the “second intifada” no longer occur because the Palestinians gave up the tactic, or decided to halt their offensive, or no longer wish to use terrorism to kill Jews. Diehl and his ilk seem to think that such attacks can be resumed at any moment. But they are badly misguided. Anyone who doubts this should read the Israeli press on a daily basis, where stories of suicide bombings thwarted in the West Bank—as opposed to stories of suicide bombers detonating themselves in Tel Aviv—are regular occurrences.

Atran, and those like him look solely at motive, not, as I argued earlier, on means and opportunity.

Krueger, is correct when he writes,

To under­stand who joins terrorist organizations, instead of asking who has a low salary and few opportunities, we should ask: Who holds strong political views and is confident enough to try to impose an extrem­ist vision by violent means? Most terrorists are not so desperately poor that they have nothing to live for. Instead, they are people who care so fervently about a cause that they are willing to die for it.

It's an observation that matches that of Daniel Pipes from a few years ago.

Islamic Jihad, which along with Hamas trains the suicide killers, explains: "We do not take depressed people. If there were a one-in-a-thousand chance that a person was suicidal, we would not allow him to martyr himself. In order to be a martyr bomber, you have to want to live." The same strange logic applies for Hamas, which rejects anyone "who commits suicide because he hates the world."

Convincing healthy individuals to blow themselves up is obviously not easy, but requires ideas and institutions. The process begins with the Palestinian Authority (PA) inculcating two things into its population, starting with the children: a hatred of Jews and a love of death. School curricula, camp activities, TV programming and religious indoctrination all portray Israelis in a Nazi-style way, as sub-human being worthy of killing; and then deprecate the instinct for self-preservation, telling impressionable young people that sacrificing their lives is the most noble of all goals.

Unfortunately Krueger didn't look at indoctrination and concluded that a lack of freedom plays a significant role in terrorism. He may have a point. But I don't think that he'd agree with my view that this is probably one factor in explaining the increase in Palestinian terror against Israel since the Oslo Accords. The Palestinians were freer when occupied by Israel than when ruled by Arafat. (Atran elsewhere has argued that occupation is the root of all terror.) The indoctrination served to direct the terror against Israel. I still think that the indoctrination is more important.

Palestinian terror has worked because it's been successful. It's made otherwise rational people say, "I may differ with their methods, but they have a legitimate grievance." Political support for a state of Palestine grew out of such sentiments that became pervasive in the diplomatic world.

Unfortunately a view that "If these are their methods they undermine even a legitimate grievance" never took hold. If it had, it may have created enough disincentive for the Palestinian to engage in terror. Even now there's still a view that Israel must accommodate Hamas even though it has shown no reciprocal interest and even though it has never moderated its actions (or words) towards Israel.

Regardless of what causes terrorism, what stops it is clearly force. Wishing for change that is not there only serves to promote more terror, rather than appease its practitioners.

Crossposted at Yourish.

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Posted by SoccerDad at November 13, 2007 6:20 AM
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