Terrorism, A Study in Cause & Effect

Posted on July 9, 2007 In Blog

In his Capital column, the WSJ’s David Wessel writes up Princeton econ guru Alan Krueger’s thesis that poverty has nothing to do with breeding terrorists or terrorism.

While the contention is debated, including by Harvard’s Jessica Stern, a “terrorism scholar” (who knew there was such a thing), whose own studies find poor areas better for recruitment, Krueger’s analysis is summed up in this: “When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed, malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics”. Meaning that free societies are less likely to see terror and unfree societies should breed more terrorists. Logically, we tend to think that lack of hope in the future that one would see in a slum or a less developed nation would be easy pickings for all kinds of crime and other bad behavior (like terror). What then to make of the recent news that Islamist doctors were involved in the thwarted terror attacks in the UK, or that the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudis, asks Krueger?

We suppose Krueger would say British efforts at offering local control to Northern Ireland played a role in defusing the “troubles” there – otherwise, that’s a big hole in his argument. Krueger’s analysis lines him up squarely with the likes of former Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky, who has been arguing for years that negotiating with regimes that crush dissent and have no freedom of dissent will lead nowhere fast.

Does this mean any change in tactics or strategy? Likely not, although it does perhaps warrant a change in focus from the uncontroversial anti-poverty work to far more tedious, challenging, and suspect regime change efforts. Efforts to bring about Glasnost in the Gulf or Solidarity in Damascus could be the next big thing in anti-terror work.