- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have become breeding grounds for terrorists because economic progress there is being held back by political repression, provoking an extremist reaction among the educated elites in those nations.
That is the conclusion of a handful of economists who have recently studied whether terrorism is an outgrowth of the poor economic conditions that prevail through the Middle East and South Asia.
Many Western leaders have suggested that poverty and illiteracy might be the root causes of terrorism, including World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks said terrorism will not end until poverty is eliminated.
But a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research by economists Alan Kreuger and Jitka Maleckova found the opposite to be true: Most terrorists are relatively well off and educated, and are reacting to political conditions such as corruption that they abhor within their societies.
"Instead of viewing terrorism as a direct response to low market opportunities or ignorance, we suggest it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings of indignity and frustration," the economists said.
"More educated people from privileged backgrounds are more likely to participate in politics," they noted, while terrorist organizations prefer to use highly educated individuals as operatives to carry out acts of international terrorism.
The bureau's study relies heavily on experience with Palestinian terrorists and the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon, as well as with the Israeli Jewish underground, which conducted numerous violent attacks against Palestinians in the 1970s and 1980s.
A second study by Kenan Institute analysts Jennifer Bremer and John D. Kasarda goes even further to say that terrorists are more likely to surface and thrive in Third World countries where the political regime is corrupt, repressive and holding back economic progress.
The Kenan economists, writing in the Milken Institute Review, said several key U.S. allies in its "war on terrorism" are in actuality the prime breeding grounds for terrorism because of their backward political states: Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya and Saudi Arabia.
Iraq also is a prime example, they said, of a Middle Eastern state where economic progress stalled after the nation started to develop industrially because the powerful authoritarian government there colluded to keep wealth in the hands of a small elite.
The stalled economic development in many of these countries is just as threatening to world peace and stability as that which led to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the authors said.
"The origins of this new terror have been dangerously misread. Neither Afghan poverty nor Islam is the problem," they said. "Afghanistan's weak state and rugged terrain simply make it the perfect cave of convenience for a movement whose origins lie in the stalled transitions of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
"As in the previous century, bomb-throwing anarchists are led by charismatic, educated men drawn from largely middle and upper-class backgrounds," they said. Instead of taking inspiration from Karl Marx, "the new anarchists have drawn on a perverted reading of the Koran."
While the United States has made fitful starts at prodding its Middle Eastern allies to adopt the principles of democracy and political freedom that eventually would defuse the extremists in their midsts, it so far is relying primarily on military action to try to rid the world of terrorism. The authors say this approach will fail.
"The next stage of this battle cannot be won in Afghanistan, but must focus on the much greater dangers posed by the educated, unemployed young men in the coffee shops of Cairo, Karachi and Jakarta."
Another strategy that would help to defuse terrorism would be to help countries in the region that are further along in their quest for democracy and prosperity, so they can be examples to the countries that lag behind, the authors said.


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