The connection between poverty, education, and terrorism may not be what you think.
The Pew Research Centerâ€™s Global Attitudes Project conducted public opinion surveys in February 2004 in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, involving about 1,000 respondents in each country. One of the questions asked was, â€œWhat about suicide bombing carried out against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq? Do you personally believe that this is justifiable or not justifiable?â€ Pew kindly provided me with tabÂulations of these data by respondentsâ€™ personal characteristics.
The clear finding was that people with a higher level of education are in general more likely to say that suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq are justified. I have also broken this pattern down by income level. There is no indication that people with higher incomes are less likely to say that suiÂcide-bombing attacks are justified.
Another source of opinion data is the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headquarÂtered in Ramallah. The center collects data in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One question, asked in December 2001 of 1,300 adults, addressed attitudes toward armed attacks on Israeli tarÂgets. Options were â€œstrongly support,â€ â€œsupport,â€ â€œoppose,â€ â€œstrongly oppose,â€ or â€œno opinion.â€
Support turned out to be stronger among those with a higher level of education. For examÂple, while 26 percent of illiterates and 18 perÂcent of those with only an elementary education opposed or strongly opposed armed attacks, the figure for those with a high school education was just 12 percent. The least supportive group turned out to be the unemployed, 74 percent of whom said they support or strongly back armed attacks. By comparison, the support level for merchants and professionals was 87 percent. ...
Public opinion is one thing; actual participation in terrorism is another. There is striking anecdotal evidence from Nasra Hassan, a United Nations relief worker in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who described interviews with 250 militants and their associates who were involved in the Palestinian cause in the late 1990s. Hassan concluded that â€œnone of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle class and, unless they were fugitives, held paying jobs. Two were the sons of millionaires.â€
And, of course, none of the 9/11 hijackers were poor, oppressed, or uneducated.
I think that it's easier to believe that wealth and education will solve the problem of terrorism than for us to admit that we're in an ideological war that needs to be fought on the battlefield of morality, religion, and philosophy.