Federal report finds no link between poverty and radicalization of terrorists
OttawaCitizen.com – news – Study released two years after it was completed
May 13, 2013. By Ian Macleod
There is scant evidence poverty, mental illness and personality disorders are root causes of terrorism, says a newly-released defence agency study.
The analysis for Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) was made public Sunday, almost two years after its completion and just weeks after Justin Trudeau tripped over a political landmine on the same topic.
Hours after April’s Boston Marathon bombings, the new federal Liberal leader said the root causes of terrorism need examining and that perpetrators are motivated by feelings of being “excluded” from society. The comment was interpreted by many as inappropriate and suggested terrorists are somehow victims, too.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a jab at Trudeau a day later, saying the focus should be on rooting out the perpetrators of the attack.
A week later, after the RCMP announced the arrests of two men for allegedly plotting to bomb a VIA Rail train, Harper said it was not the time to “commit sociology” when asked when it’s appropriate to talk about the root causes of terrorism.
But the government, of course, has been doing just that. The study report even notes, “because so little is known about radicalization and de-radicalization, more research is both urgent and necessary.”
The work involved a two-year analysis of existing literature on terrorism and radicalization and explored two elements of routes to terrorism: the psychological processes and the impact of economic factors.
Cultural alienation and disenfranchisement as possible root causes are mentioned only once in the 33,000-word document.
And contrary to the populist view that economic hardship leads to radicalization, the report says researchers in the area seem unequivocal in their conclusion that there is no link between economic factors and radicalization, and that many radicals are, in fact, economically advantaged compared to others in their communities.
“The evolution of a terrorist is more complex than a simple uni-dimensional cause-and-effect relationship.”
The report highlights a 2001 article about the 9/11 hijackers by New York Times writer Jodi Wilgoren (now Jodi Rudoren) to underscore that point:
“They were adults with education and skill … spent years studying and training in the United States, collecting valuable commercial skills and facing many opportunities to change their minds … they were not reckless young men facing dire economic conditions and dim prospects but men as old as 41 enjoying middle-class lives.”
The alternative explanation — that terrorists hate us so much because they have grown up in poverty and lacked the good education and opportunities that we have enjoyed — “finds a willing audience in the first-world, the industrialized West and its allies, but is this merely a convenient explanation that appeals to our sense of superiority due to our relative affluence and sophistication, as well as invalidating the grievances of the terrorists and rendering them little more than criminals.
“Although the simple logic of ‘poverty leads to terrorism’ is still attractive during discussions addressing terrorism, policy-shapers and decision-makers are increasingly shying away from making such simplistic claims about the relationship between poverty and the likelihood of an individual engaging in anti-social or violent activity to draw attention to their ideological agenda.”
The notion that the terrorist is irrational and crazy is wrong, too.
“We might eliminate psychological conditions such as pure psychopathology, schizophrenia and various impulse control disorders which are often associated with criminal, anti-social activities like murder and rape. If nothing else, individuals with these psychological conditions do not have the attention span, commitment, or course of action to conceive of and carry out terrorist activity.”
Terrorism and radicalization also are not, for example, like Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which has a cluster of symptoms that present together, or in predictable circumstances, making it relatively straightforward to study the individual and to diagnose the disorder.
“These are not crazy people with a collection of abnormal psychological elements; they are people who are making decisions on a rational basis who are similar to everyone else around them. They do not present symptoms that they themselves are not aware of or unable to control.
“Radicals are aware that their perspectives and actions differ from those of other people and they make a conscious decision to take that position and hide the fact from those who might threaten their liberty to do so. Radicalization is most likely a process that begins early and is always in action.”
It concludes there is no “smoking gun” regarding the psychological processes involved in radicalization.
DRDC says the public release of the report was delayed because of, “a backlog of reports in our publication process.”
Radicalization in the National Economic Climate: a Literature Review is available at: http://bit.ly/10EpUXN
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