Balance Sheet of Terror (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. An economist uses the tools of the dismal science to analyze a dismal subject "Help Wanted: Seeking suicide terrorists. No experience necessary. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a top-flight international terrorism organization looking to fill positions left vacant after a series of successful operations. Applicants should be highly motivated and physically fit. Skills in blending into a crowd while carrying heavy explosives required. Training and indoctrination provided free of charge. No pension plan, but substantial benefits guaranteed in afterlife." Terrorism as an economic activity? Effectively combating the scourge requires understanding the motivations of its perpetrators and how they operate. A great deal has been written about this subject, especially since September 11, 2001, using concepts taken from a wide variety of disciplines. Alan Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton University, has now added the viewpoint of his field of study. In "What Makes A Terrorist," Krueger uses his experience and skill in collecting and analyzing data quantitatively and empirically, making much of what others have done look like arm-chair speculation. For Krueger terrorism is "a market, with a supply side and a demand side." Terrorist organizations have very different goals from profit-seeking firms, but they still need to recruit qualified manpower in order to devise plans, finance them and carry them out. There is, in other words, an economic demand for terrorist operatives: "… participation in terrorism is … a special application of the economics of occupational choice," he writes. "Some people … pursue careers in terrorism." Armed with empirical facts and an economist's instincts, Krueger puts conventional wisdom related to terrorism to the test, and finds it wanting. His first target is the widespread assumption that poor economic conditions and lack of education are directly connected to terrorism. According to this view - expressed in statements made by George W. Bush and Tony Blair - acts of terror are the extreme expression of the grievances of the have-nots of the world. Krueger's research shows the opposite is true. Most studies find very little connection in any country or region at any time between dire economic circumstances and violent hate crimes. On the contrary, public opinion polls in Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories show that generally the higher the income and education level of the respondents, the greater the support for terrorist attacks. That conclusion is supported by studies of the actual participants in terrorist activities. It is well-known that the perpetrators of 9/11 were university educated. Krueger's broad study of Palestinian suicide bombers, Hizballah terrorists - and also the members of the Israeli underground movement of the early 1980s that plotted unsuccessfully to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque - shows again and again that terrorist activists are overwhelmingly drawn from the higher rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, whether measured by educational level, personal and family wealth, or profession. For Krueger, these results indicate that it is wrong to think of terrorism as akin to property crime sparked by material deprivation. The better analogy, he asserts, is to think of terrorism as a malignant and lethal form of political activism. Perpetrators tend to be better educated and of higher than average income, because they have more self-confidence in their ideas, opportunity to think about causes and the free time to devote to them. Could these better-off, better-educated terrorists be inspired by the poverty of their countrymen? Krueger finds that this "Robin Hood terrorism" theory does not stand up in the face of statistics that show that 88 percent of terrorist attacks occur in the perpetrators' country of origin rather than in the wealthiest states. Moreover, there is little terrorism in the world's 50 poorest countries. What is significant is that the perpetrators and victims of attacks often differ in their religious beliefs, and that countries where terrorism arises tend to have low levels of civil liberties. Krueger's findings here second an empirical investigation conducted by Alberto Abadie of Harvard University. This study also shows that terrorist risk is not significantly higher for poorer countries and that it is the degree of political freedom or lack of it that is the most salient explanation of terrorism. It is the countries in an "intermediate range" of political freedom that are most prone to terrorism, as opposed to liberally governed states or highly authoritarian regimes. Terrorist violence thrives where repression is not consistent enough to crush terrorist organizations, and where reforms are insufficient to persuade people that participation in politics can achieve their ends. Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.