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Profile of a terrorist

Published: 
Thursday, February 16, 2017

In July 2005, after a terrorist attack in London which left 52 dead and 700 injured, 39 Muslim leaders in Britain issued statement attributing radicalisation to Islamophobia, racism, unemployment, economic deprivation and social exclusion.

But, writes economist Alan B Krueger, “the evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as an important cause of support for terrorism or of participation in terrorist activities.” In the London attack, for instance, the four bombers were from Pakistani and Jamaican families. “These explanations have been based on faith, not scientific evidence,” Krueger writes.

His book, which is sub-titled “Economics and the Roots of Terrorism” is based on three lectures given at the Lionel Robbins Memorial Lecture Series in 2006. Initially, Krueger was supposed to talk about his main research area, education, but he was at the time engaged in research on terrorism and, given world events at the time, he focused on that topic instead. The three chapters deal with the profile of terrorists, the economic and political conditions that impel terrorist acts, and whether terrorism is effective or not.

Undoubtedly, Krueger’s most counter-intuitive assertion is that “Terrorists tend to be drawn from well-educated, middle-class or high-income families.” He points out that, “If poverty and inadequate education were causes of terrorism, even minor ones, the world would be teeming with terrorists eager to destroy our way of life.”

But why is this? Krueger offers two broad explanations. First of all, poor people are too busy trying to survive day to day to concern themselves with ideological causes. Secondly, educated persons tend to be more dogmatic in their views, precisely because they believe their tertiary degrees means they don’t need to think rigorously. “Most terrorists are not so desperately poor that they have nothing to live for. Instead, they are people who care so deeply and fervently about a cause that they are willing to die for it,” he writes.

A related counter-intuitive finding is that, in respect to countries, poverty is not the key linkage to producing terrorists. “International terrorists are more likely to come from moderate-income countries than poor ones,” Krueger says the finding, which certainly applies to Trinidad, has produced highest per capita number of fighters for Isis in the Western hemisphere. It is countries which suppress civil liberties, Krueger notes, which have the most terrorists.

He sums up the factors that lead to terrorism as follows: “What makes a terrorist, then, is the availability of a person with a fanatical commitment to pursuing a grievance combined with the perception that there are few alternatives available other than terrorism for pursuing that grievance and the availability of a terrorist organisation or cell willing to equip and deploy the would-be terrorist.”

Since Trinidad apparently has enough of these conditions to facilitate radicalisation, this book should be required reading for national security officials, concerned citizens and leaders in the Muslim community here.

​What Makes A Terrorist

Alan B Krueger.

Princeton University Press, 2007

ASIN: B007K1FS22; 248 pages.

Review by Kevin Baldeosingh