The Campaign Spot

Obama’s Unchanging View that Poverty Breeds Terrorists

Many will mock Obama’s post-9/11 column in the Hyde Park Herald. What’s a bit more disturbing is how wrong the conclusions about the attackers were, and how Obama continues to believe these things to this day.

Obama writes:

The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others.

Thank you, Sherlock. How many empathetic terrorists has the world seen?

Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity.

While any culture is capable of generating evil, certain cultures seem to generate more suicide bombers than others. You just don’t find many Amish wearing explosive vests.

It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty…

While Osama bin Laden’s current net worth is unclear, “U.S. officials found information in early 2000 indicating that from 1970 to 1994 bin Laden received $1 million a year.” Most of the 19 hijackers were middle class Saudis. Beyond that:

It is not too difficult to examine whether there is such a correlation between poverty and terrorism, and all the investigations have shown that this is not the case. The experts have maintained for a long time that poverty does not cause terrorism and prosperity does not cure it. In the world’s 50 poorest countries there is little or no terrorism. A study by scholars Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova reached the conclusion that the terrorists are not poor people and do not come from poor societies. A Harvard economist has shown that economic growth is closely related to a society’s ability to manage conflicts. More recently, a study of India has demonstrated that terrorism in the subcontinent has occurred in the most prosperous (Punjab) and most egalitarian (Kashmir, with a poverty ratio of 3.5 compared with the national average of 26 percent) regions and that, on the other hand, the poorest regions such as North Bihar have been free of terrorism. In the Arab countries (such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also in North Africa), the terrorists originated not in the poorest and most neglected districts but hailed from places with concentrations of radical preachers. The backwardness, if any, was intellectual and cultural — not economic and social.

Obama continues:

…and ignorance…

Ayman al-Zawahiri, doctor. Osama bin Laden, engineer. Khalid Sheik Muhammad, mechanical engineering degree, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, former project engineer for the Qatari Ministry of Electricity and Water…


…Mohammad Atta, son of a middle-class Egyptian attorney, studied architecture in Cairo, had a graduate degree… The ring of doctors and medical students who tried to attack targets in the UK …

…and despair.

Some of the 9/11 hijackers managed to drown their sorrows in booze and strip clubs. Masking their clinical depression, no doubt.
Okay, Jim, so Obama said somethings about terrorists that were wrong after 9/11. A lot of people said things after that horrific crisis that didn’t pan out. Why should we care?
Because Obama is still asserting that terrorists are motivated by poverty.

Al Qaeda’s new recruits come from Africa and Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Many come from disaffected communities and disconnected corners of our interconnected world. And it makes you stop and wonder: when those faces look up at an American helicopter, do they feel hope, or do they feel hate?
We know where extremists thrive. In conflict zones that are incubators of resentment and anarchy. In weak states that cannot control their borders or territory, or meet the basic needs of their people. From Africa to central Asia to the Pacific Rim – nearly 60 countries stand on the brink of conflict or collapse. The extremists encourage the exploitation of these hopeless places on their hate-filled websites.

UPDATE: From a reader: “It’s not surprising then that the poverty stricken terrorists get bitter, they cling to planes used as missiles or radical religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, such as innocent American citizens.”

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