February 10, 2008


The Poverty Myth: a review of WHAT MAKES A ­TERRORIST: Economics and the Roots of ­Terrorism By Alan B. Krueger (Walter Reich, Winter 2008, Wilson Quarterly)

It turns out that members of Islamist terrorist ­groups—­Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.—tend to be from relatively privileged back­grounds. “As a group,” Krueger notes, “terrorists are better educated and from wealthier families than the typical person in the same age group of the societies from which they originate.” For example, one study compared 48 Palestinian suicide bombers from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad with 18,803 fellow Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and found that the bombers were less than half as likely as the general population to come from families below the poverty line, and that “almost 60 percent of the suicide bombers had more than a high school degree, compared to less than 15 percent of the general population.”

The same general pattern holds for terror’s most avid supporters. Opinion polls, Krueger notes, show that “the ­best-­educated members of society and those in ­higher-­paying occu­pations are often more radicalized and sup­portive of terrorism than the most dis­advan­­taged. The illiterate, under­employed popu­lation is often unwilling to express an opinion about policy issues, probably because they have more pressing matters on their minds.” If anything, it has been the lack of civil liberties in their societies, rather than excessive poverty, that has helped foster terrorism.

Krueger concedes the possibility that ­well-­to-­do terrorists are motivated by the poverty and deprivation that bedevil their societies. But he is skeptical: “A range of socioeconomic ­indicators—­including illiteracy, infant mortality, and gross domestic product per ­capita—­are unrelated to whether people become involved in terrorism.” Besides, if poverty breeds terrorism against the West, why isn’t it being carried out by people from places much poorer than many countries in the Muslim ­world—­large swaths of ­sub-­Saharan Africa, for ­example?

We shouldn’t need Krueger’s book to be persuaded of his conclusions. Arab writers have been making similar arguments for years. Saudi commentator Muhammad Mahfouz, for example, has argued that religious teachings inciting violence, rather than poverty, are the main cause of terrorism among Saudi youth. “These youths,” he writes, “were brought up in a special cultural atmosphere which finds its roots in a stereotyped understanding of religion. This understanding serves as a basic incubator to this group.”

The Lost Art of War: Hollywood’s anti-American war films don’t measure up to the glories of its patriotic era. (Andrew Klavan, Winter 2008, City Journal)
During World War II, Hollywood stars like James Stewart and directors like Frank Capra enlisted in the military to combat dictators as willingly as Sean Penn and Michael Moore now tootle down to Venezuela and Cuba to embrace them. More to the point, yesteryear’s studio heads—many of them conservative Republicans—worked in cooperation with a Democratic administration to produce top-notch entertainment supporting the war effort. The result was not only rousing combat tales like 1943’s Sahara, Bataan, and Action in the North Atlantic—all still watchable today—but also some of the finest motion pictures ever made: 1942’s Casablanca and Mrs. Miniver, for instance, and the terrific yet all-but-forgotten They Were Expendable (1945). It was one of the film industry’s finest hours.

Much has changed in Hollywood since then. The fall of the business-driven studio system has freed creative types to make more personal films, just as the internationalization of markets and multiple methods of distribution protect them from the financial consequences of alienating the nation’s mainstream. If their anti-American labor of love bombs in Peoria, their investors will probably still make their money back in Europe and on the DVDs.

One doesn't like to use a word like "traitors" lightly, but what would we call filmmakers who'd made movies that reinforced the Nazi view of the West during WWII? If your "art" serves the enemy, aren't you the enemy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2008 12:01 AM

Regarding your first point, I think it is telling that few nations in the Middle East (or the world) are more consistently coddled and appeased than the Saudis, yet consider the role they have played in global terrorism:


Posted by: Bill in Chicago at February 10, 2008 2:13 PM