- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004


Can you buy peace by building roads? America’s allies are betting millions that the answer is “yes.” This week, Thailand and the Philippines have just announced plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to develop their poor, predominately Muslim southern provinces. They will soon be shocked to learn that peace cannot be bought from al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists.

“By building, we eliminate the casus belli” of terrorism, the speaker of the Philippines’ House of Representatives, Jose de Venecia Jr., told me. He added that his government is about to conclude a peace deal with Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Muslim terror group that received funds and training from al Qaeda.Callitpeace through poured concrete.

In Thailand, the government held an historic cabinet meeting in southern, Muslim-majority provinces — and announced a $30 million spending effort. More poured concrete.

None of this is likely to work. Of course, politicians love pork, and it is high time that these governments did more for their Muslim citizens. But the causes of terrorism are not economic, and neither is the solution.

The grievances of Islamic terrorists are no secret — and poverty is not among them. Consider the revealing interrogation of the mastermind of the Bali bombing, Imam Samuda. “I carry out jihad based on the following background and motives,” he said, listing 13 points: punishing America’s allies, avenging the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan, Australia’s efforts to secure peace in East Timor, Hindu attacks on Muslims in Kashmir, Christian violence against Muslims in Ambon, Poso and elsewhere, the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia, a duty to kill Jews and Christians, a desire to unite Muslims into a single, global state, a passage in the Koran (An Nisa, 74-76) to defend other Muslims, as a “harsh reprimand” to the basing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, to make the West feel the pain that Muslims feel when loved ones die and “to prove to Allah that we have done all we can” to fight oppressors. Exactly which of these motives involves poverty?

Nor is Samuda alone. OsamabinLaden,Dr. Aymanal-Zawahiri,(al Qaeda’s No. 2) and scores of other Islamist leaders have issued nearly identical lists of grievances. Even though the Muslims in Southeast Asia are among the poorest in the world, poverty is almost never mentioned in bin Laden’smanycommuniques, press releases and audio and video tapes. Sorry, al Qaeda is not an NGO.

Poverty, by itself, does not cause terrorism. If it did, the poorest nations wouldbethelargest sourcesofterrorists. They’re not. Chad, by most measures the poorest nation in the world, has supplied exactly zero terrorists to al Qaeda. Indeed, the poorest region in the world — sub-Saharan Africa — produces remarkably few terrorists. There are millions of poor Buddhists in Thailand and poor Christians in the Philippines, yet they do not bomb police stations.

Even poor Muslims are usually not the source of al Qaeda’s troops. Virtually all members of al Qaeda are educated, and many are middle class. Indeed, technical universities are the preferredrecruiting grounds. Why? Terrorism is a complex ideology. According to captured documents, even the foot soldiers of terror are expected to master complex ideologicaltracts,including”Milestones.” Killing oneself or noncombatants, especially Muslim civilians, is so unnatural that it requires indoctrination to do it. Deadly doctrines cannot be defeated by education and prosperity; those are precisely the things its best recruits have rejected.

Wouldn’t poor Muslims welcome civic improvements? They would. But terrorists would not. In any war, one side tries to destroy the other side’s infrastructure. Islamist terrorists wage war against the governments of Thailand and the Philippines. Those costly improvements are just more targets. Thirty government-run schools in Thailand’s Muslim south were torched on the night of Jan. 4 alone.

Secular and Christian humanitarian groups build schools and clinics — and Islamist terrorists consider them prime targets. If poverty causes terrorism, why are the very people who try to mitigate its miseries so often beheaded, bombed or held hostage?

Poverty does not cause terrorism, but terrorism causes poverty — by disrupting what few services poor Muslims receive and by driving away investors and aid workers. This has not elicited even the smallest pangs of regret from al Qaeda. The best way to fight poverty is to fight terrorism first.

Richard Miniter is the author of “Losing bin Laden.”

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