|Not Marie Harf's official photo, but close|
As a cheerleader for the Obama administration, Marie has only one job. It's stupid, but she's going to do it. I have to admire that kind of focus.
Frankly, I wish everybody would leave Marie alone. All she did was repeat a very common bit of conventional wisdom about the "root causes that lead people to join these groups" such as ISIL. You know, root causes, like joblessness and a lack of economic opportunity.
The notion that poverty drives terrorism has been debunked repeatedly, but that hasn't made the idea go away. And it isn't just Marie who insists otherwise. Here's another believer in those root causes:
“We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror” – George W. Bush, remarks at the International Conference on Financing for Development (2002)
Republicans, among others, have pushed the poverty-leads-to-terrorism equation when they were selling foreign economic development programs to the American public. In the case of George Bush in 2002, it was the Millennium Challenge Corporation that was going to undermine those economic root causes of terrorism.
Joshua Keating, today in Slate, demolishes the idea that terrorists are just angry about being unemployed:
The idea of terrorists as desperate young men lacking in economic opportunity is not borne out by empirical evidence. A well-known 2002 paper by economists Alan Krueger (later an assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Obama administration) and Jitka Maleckova found that support for violence among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza was not any higher among those with lower living standards or levels of education. In Lebanon, participation in Hezbollah was actually associated with higher living standards and levels of education. The same was true for Israeli settlers who participated in attacks against Palestinians.
A 2012 survey in Pakistan reached a similar conclusion: Poorer Pakistanis were less likely to support militants than the middle class. The political scientists conducting the study hypothesized that “the urban poor suffer most from militants’ violent activities and so most intensely dislike them.” A 2004 study by Harvard economist Alberto Abadie, looking at country level data, found that “terrorist risk is not significantly higher for poorer countries.” Abadie found political freedom to be a more important factor: Countries in the kinda-free range had more terrorism than highly democratic or highly autocratic countries.
Actual terrorists are often better educated than most in their societies, and, indeed, in ours. From a 2005 New York Times Op-Ed
We examined the educational backgrounds of 75 terrorists behind some of the most significant recent terrorist attacks against Westerners. We found that a majority of them are college-educated, often in technical subjects like engineering. In the four attacks for which the most complete information about the perpetrators' educational levels is available - the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the 9/11 attacks, and the Bali bombings in 2002 - 53 percent of the terrorists had either attended college or had received a college degree. As a point of reference, only 52 percent of Americans have been to college. The terrorists in our study thus appear, on average, to be as well educated as many Americans.
The 1993 World Trade Center attack involved 12 men, all of whom had a college education. The 9/11 pilots, as well as the secondary planners identified by the 9/11 commission, all attended Western universities, a prestigious and elite endeavor for anyone from the Middle East. Indeed, the lead 9/11 pilot, Mohamed Atta, had a degree from a German university in, of all things, urban preservation, while the operational planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, studied engineering in North Carolina. We also found that two-thirds of the 25 hijackers and planners involved in 9/11 had attended college.
Pew Research surveyed Where Terrorism Finds Support in the Muslim World and found it has exactly as much support among low-income as among high-income Muslims.
The University of Chicago's project to study suicide bombers found, where information is known about the attackers, that three times as many suicide bombers had professional or skilled occupations, or were students, than were unemployed or low-skilled. As for education, almost three times as many had post-secondary education as had only secondary education or less.
Quite a few filthy-rich kids have become terrorists. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 'underpants bomber' who failed to detonate his weaponized BVDs over Detroit, is the youngest child of a wealthy Nigerian banker and businessman, reputedly one of the richest men in Africa, and a former Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria and former Nigerian Federal Commissioner for Economic Development. He was also educated, having earned a degree in mechanical engineering from a University in London.
The four suicide bombers who committed the July 7, 2005, attacks in London did not lack economic or other opportunities. They were all second generation immigrants with university educations, jobs, and families. Why did they commit one of the more heinous terrorist attacks in recent British history?
The ringleader of the four, Mohammad Sidique Khan, explained their motive in a very articulate martyrdom video:
I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our drive and motivation doesn't come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam, obedience to the one true God and following the footsteps of the final prophet messenger. Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.
Is there any reason to doubt that was his motive? He was thirty, educated, employed, and married with a child. He did not lack opportunity. As he said, he chose to forsake that opportunity in order to take revenge upon Britons at large for their democratically expressed support for wars against his fellow Muslims. He was not distracted from this mission by tangible commodities, no matter what Washington figures from George W. Bush to Marie Harf may think. Could Khan have made that any more clear?