If the very workings of the economic system are denying people the opportunity to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, is it any wonder that a small number among the disenfranchised are drawn to terrorism?
According to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, there is no connection between the economic marginalization of large numbers of young people and the apparent ease with which groups like Al Qaeda are able to recruit. In an interview with the BBC to mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he said, “The reason why these people are radicalized is not because of something we’re doing to them. They believe in what they believe in because they believe their religion compels them to believe in it.”
Had he been talking about the psychopathic leaders of such movements, Blair may have had a point. But such individuals are rare. Without the ability to recruit and inspire foot soldiers they would be powerless to attack western targets. People don’t turn to terror because they were born evil, or because their religion compels them; they become involved in such activities because they have nothing to lose. When they take a look at their economic prospects, they quickly see that life as law-abiding citizens offers very little.
It’s difficult to prove a direct causal link between economic disenfranchisement and the involvement of growing numbers in terrorism, but we can say with some certainty that young people who enjoy a good education and emerge into adulthood to find an economy that provides them with opportunities to make something of their lives are unlikely to become suicide bombers. Countries targeted by terrorists have a right to defend themselves, but would it not be better to tackle the economic exclusion that clearly contributes to the creation of terrorists, rather than reacting only after many lives have been lost?
The organized violence that features nightly on our news channels is not restricted to extremist groups. The military interventions of western powers over the last two decades have caused more suffering and loss of life, and far greater damage to economic infrastructure, than terrorist acts. We tend not to discuss this because we are encouraged to believe that such engagements are well-motivated, usually by concern for the oppressed citizens of the foreign country we are about to attack. The fact that western powers often cultivate good relations with despotic leaders before bombing their countries into submission suggests their motivation is not benevolent, but is closely connected with the economic interests of a small section of their own populations. If this isn’t apparent to most people in western countries, it is blindingly obvious to nearly everyone in countries like Iraq.
– Excerpt from Four Horsemen – The Survival Manual