Pakistan's Middle Class Extremists
July 20, 2011 10:52 PM   Subscribe

Why Development Aid won't solve Radicalism "The data revealed four findings that undermine common wisdom about support for militancy in Pakistan...Overall, the findings suggest that arguments tying support for militancy to individuals’ socioeconomic status -- and the policy recommendations that often flow from this assumption -- require substantial revision."
posted by stroke_count (6 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't the broader understanding the opposite - that it is the well-off people who can afford to have an ideology and finance a pursuit of ideological goals? These are the people who can create a terrorist movement out of often-legitimate grievances of the broader population. The poor are little more than cannon fodder. That's why a lot of counter-terrorism effort is spent on trying to trace and cut-off the financial supply lines of terrorist organizations. I always thought the purpose of development aid was to cut-off the cannon fodder supply chain by creating and supporting legitimate means of earning a livelihood, and by trying to take care of those often-legitimate grievances. In addition to those two approaches, there is also the ideological refutation of terrorism. Fighting terrorism is, and has always been, a multi-pronged effort IMO.
posted by vidur at 11:28 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hmmm, I find the unspoken premises of this piece mind-boggling, namely:

"Over time, policymakers converged on economic development as a key to ending terrorism, in the belief that poorer people are more susceptible to the appeals of violent groups or more likely to perpetrate violence themselves. "

This is referenced by a few choice quotes from Obama, and little else. Last I read, invading other countries was seen as a major root cause for islamic terrorism in Israel/Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That's the first problem, but there are others.

Secondly, the article really, really suffers by a) lumping in a huge panoply of countries together, as if one variable (poverty) is going to be the sole influencer on terrorism.

Thirdly, the idea that terrorism is interchangeable between countries, causes and classes is really myopic and shows a disturbing othering tendency from people who are meant to be professional researchers. Terrorists are people, and like people they do different things for different reasons at different times. These findings are not as broadly applicable as they assume, and I am honestly puzzled why anything thought Pakistanis would have the same opinion of quite radically different terrorist groups.

Fourth, the research method - asking responsdents opinions on policy, and then splitting up respondents and telling some that certain terrorist groups approved of the policy, and calculating the difference in approval rates between terror-approved and non-terror-approved, does not do what the article intimates it does. People often divert from political and social identification groups, especially in minor ways. Sidestepping questions about terrorist organisations also sidesteps opinions on them to a degree. Also, there's lots of statistical complications in getting good samples by splitting this way. It's by no means impossible, but challenging.

Finally, The idea that poor people dislike terrorists more than middle class people does not prove that widespread poverty has no influence on terrorism. Widespread poverty may indeed encourage more middle class people to terrorism, whether they personally are poor or not - or it may not, I don't know and I'm very leary that this research does either. I notice in their checklist of countries at the start, the authors are careful not to mention Somalia, or Yemen - countries with a shit tonne of poverty and shit tonnes of poor terrorists. Palestine is also not mentioned.

So TL;DR, the article is tilting at windmills; presidential soundbites withstanding, few people are seriously arguing that poverty alleviation alleviates terrorism, and even if they were, the article doesn't prove them right or wrong, in my opinion, anyway.
posted by smoke at 11:54 PM on July 20, 2011 [13 favorites]

I thought developmen't aid won't solve radicalism because it's not the same thing as not messing with a foreign country's politics to turn it into a regional puppet for your world-wide economic and militarry interests, did the study discover anything about that?
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:13 AM on July 21, 2011

Yeah. We should try not bombing them. That would help. Other then that, it does seem like improving people's economic outlook will actually increase terrorism. In particular, you need an education to be an effective terrorist (look at how many terrorists are actually engineers, for example)
posted by delmoi at 6:22 AM on July 21, 2011

If the subject is terrorism by al Qaeda and the Taliban, the root is not poverty. It's politics. al Qaeda and the Taliban are in Pakistan, not because the poverty allows them to be, but because the Pakistani government is harboring them.

The Pakistani government has made a deal with the devil. They hope to use these groups to maintain influence in - and, maybe more importantly, keep Indian influence out of - Afghanistan.

Economic assistance can be a wonderful thing, but it will never stop this kind of thing, IMO.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:24 AM on July 21, 2011

It's been long known that economic determinism as an explanation for political violence is wrong. Being wrong and being widely accepted by academics working in policy circles is pretty normal.

James Aho pointed this out in the 1990s that there was no correlation at all between domestic terrorism and economic data.

Al Qaida, meet the Tea Party. Similar demographics, similar grievances. The difference is that the Tea Party has outlets for expression through electoral politics.

It's the disengagement and feeling of powerlessness and humiliation that makes terrorism, not economic demographics.
posted by warbaby at 7:05 AM on July 21, 2011

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