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Poverty and Terrorism

By Ahmed Khan

Terrorism is a disease that has afflicted all nations, and civilized nations have done their best to eradicate it. However, there are factors that promote terrorism, and the desperation that begets terrorism-- poverty, suffering, and lack of fundamental services. The linkage of poverty with terrorism and violence seems to exist in all places, whether developed or under-developed, and it is easy to see why: people who might not have too much to live for are more willing to take up arms and fight for causes that seem unjust to many, than those of us who live comfortable lives with access to basic services such as healthcare, housing, and steady supply of food and clean water. In addition, some of those in lower socio-economic positions might also feel more committed to fundamental ideologies fostered by lack of education; and more willing to hold on to the ideologies which provide an enemy to target, rather than learn about the teachings of tolerance and peace.

The notion is certainly not a novel one that poverty, disease and the hopelessness of life in much of the world are the root causes of terrorism. But it also deserves mention that the same factors might also influence seemingly "normal" people to commit acts of terror, as they feel they are left with no other choice- i.e., when we feel we are at risk, we take action in our own ways, regardless of country or socio-economic status. The current “War on Terrorism” is a good example of how people who are otherwise untouched by terrorism, all of a sudden are thrust into the middle of a global conflict because of a single act of violence. This same reaction can be attributed to acts of violence and counter-violence prevalent in any conflict. At the World Summit on Poverty held in Monterrey, Mexico in March of this year, the very goal of world leaders was to stamp out poverty as a motivation for terrorism. United Nations Secretary General said "No-one in this world can feel comfortable, or safe, while so many are suffering and deprived." And it is easy to understand these sentiments when you look at the fact the most crime-ridden areas of any major city are those that are also inhabited by the poorest of the city. The world's poorest countries or those areas of a country that are under constant threat can easily be considered breeding grounds for terrorists. However, it also remains the responsibility of an increasingly global society to promote well-being in such areas; for now, we can claim to want to do so not just on humanitarian grounds but also for self-preservation.

Poverty can lead to terrorism very simply because of the lack of options presented to the terrorist. If someone has nothing to lose because that person can claim nothing but ideas, then it is easy to stand up and fight. However, give that person a home, land, and education, the ideals may still remain, but the means by which the person will fight for them will change. And this is the problem facing people today. Lots of people that enter terrorist training camps, join fanatic religious organizations, or extremist political parties, have often times been left with no other option. They are ignorant to the ways of the world, and indeed the ways of their own fellow human beings, but because of their situation, feel they have no other option but to take up arms and fight the ones whom they feel have done them wrong and created that environment in the first place. This is where the industrialized nations of the world need to assist governments to a much greater degree in preventing these havens of instability from forming. It is imperative that civil society become proactive in eradicating disease, famine, and poverty from all corners of the globe. For if there is genuine concern, followed by action, shown by everyone as opposed to a general lack of empathy, there will be less left to fight for, resulting in fewer amounts of conflicts. This is perhaps the greatest responsibility on the world’s shoulders.

However, it is not only the wallet that has to be opened up in order to stem the rot of growing terrorism. People need to also start thinking about the root causes of conflicts and how they started, instead of just trying to end the problem once it looms large. For if the problem has not really been addressed, then a solution can only last as long as people's memories, and history will repeat itself. Whether the conflict is taking place in Kashmir or Northern Ireland, Palestine or Sri Lanka, the problems have to be dealt with swiftly and fairly so these same problems are not only resolved, but also do not boil over and evolve into more severe troubles that cause conflicts in other countries. Now, more than ever before, the world has indeed gotten smaller. With the advances in technology and the widespread use of the Internet, problems that arise in remote areas have the potential to bring about international consequences. For even a purely selfish reason, it behooves everyone to try and prevent the conflict from growing. Ignorance begets conflict, and a major opportunity is thus presented for education programs and on learning about outside cultures. It is easy to only see one side when that is all that is being presented in the school, the media and the government. It remains the duty of not just the so-called developed countries but the educated segments of society to serve their country by improving it at the grassroots level.

Recent arguments about terrorism and war have generated more heat than light. However, we must adopt a more sustainable approach if we are to be in control of our destinies, and avoid the ignorance and desperation that has led so many to commit violent acts. The opportunity has clearly presented itself: if any good can possibly come out of the violent acts of the past year, whether the 9/11 attack or the subsequent protracted war, it will be a direct result of our willingness to invest in poverty alleviation, disease prevention, and basic education- the cornerstones of human development.

Date/Time Last Modified: 9/9/2002 2:50:39 AM

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