A recent article by Richard Lloyd Parry claims that, “Poverty, not Isis, [sic] radicalises Muslim Filipinos.” To put it bluntly, Parry is wrong. To include poverty whilst excluding a number of other, perceivably more relevant, factors, is reductionism at its finest. Let me explain how he is wrong in greater detail below.
There are two overarching theories relating lack of economic and material gain (e.g. poverty, lack of opportunities, economic-related power struggles) to terrorism. They are known as Absolute Deprivation Theory (ADT) and Relative Deprivation Theory (RDT).
Absolute deprivation theory is someone’s actual, real and lived, negative position. For example, actual poverty through their lived experience. This poverty is seen globally, but especially so in third-world countries. Although these states exist, there is no consistently observable trend between being poor and engaging in political violence.
Relative deprivation theory is the lack of things that someone has become accustomed to or that they expect to happen. This theory emphasizes the individual experience over that of some ever-present collective bracket of society (i.e. the poor). The individual experience matters. An Islamic terrorist, for example, may see the lack of religious progress or their view of religious freedom (or expansion), as a catalyst that lead them to terror – as opposed to poverty, which may have never been experienced at all.
Parry’s reasoning goes something like this:
- My ideas ≠ reality. Personal presumptions of the world included.
- Assumption: people follow power and money, especially the vulnerable poor – ideas, religion and other factors are less important in present day terrorism.
- My ideas ⃠ evidence. Proof is obvious, my ideas of the world substitute reality.
- Assumption: opinion counts as evidence.
- I submit that ⃠ should be the international sign of no evidence, no idea. When will we ever learn?
When you substitute reality, and what the terrorists tell you, for make believe, you get yourself into a kerfuffle. This reductionism in the light of economic depravity is Marxist-esque and far too simplistic to be pushed as a common pathway to terrorism (in fact, it is an uncommon pathway). Consider recent propaganda videos by Filipino terrorist groups. Next-to-nothing relates to poverty. Also consider for a second other countries with similar poverty levels, oppression and power-related politics. We do not see the same trends of terrorism in these groups.
As one of the top comments puts it perfectly:
So why doesn’t poverty “radicalise” Tibetans? Or Christian Filipinos, for that matter, most of whom are poor? Or Coptic Christians in Egypt? And how do billionaire Saudis like Bin Laden get “radicalised”?
This has been a repeating argument for years and years. Numerous articles have discussed it. There is no correlation between poverty and terrorism in the absolute sense. It’s as simple as that. The poor can be exploited more readily in hostile situations as we have seen recently in Mali. Fight for us, and we’ll pay you – or kill you now where you stand. Poverty, therefore, can indirectly affect terrorist group strategy.
The individual’s experience is relative. One may grow up poor but earn a degree and get a well paid job but still be motivated to commit political violence. This isn’t rocket science, but it is science – see below.
- Poverty = terrorism ＝ myth!
- See Piazza, James A. “Rooted in Poverty?: Terrorism, Poor Economic Development, and Social Cleavages.” 2006.
- Abadie, Alberto. “Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism.” 2006.
- Krueger Alan, and Jitka Maleckova. “Education, poverty and terrorism: ls there a causal connection?.” 2003.
Parry was right on something: when you have a poor country who are not (observably) doing anything for the poor, terrorists can use this as a narrative to recruit and justify mobilization of their forces. They can even offer the “perfect solution,” such as Communism or Islamism, to their personal problems. Their system can fix the current, so fight along side them. This is a credible narrative terrorists do exploit.