(Stephanie Kaplan is a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center).
We seem to have reached the consensus that poverty–along with other grievances such as political oppression and cultural alienation–are not reliable indicators of future terrorist activity. Given the prevalence of these conditions throughout the Muslim world, the “root causes” approach overpredicts the level of terrorist activity that we should expect to observe. As Quintan Wiktorowicz notes in Islamic Activism, “[w]hile grievances are ubiquitous, movements are not.” The question remains, then, why almost seven years after 9/11, does the root causes debate still shape the counterterrorism discourse?
From a policy perspective, the approach is a seductive one: if we can identify the causes of terrorism, then we can eradicate the conditions that allow terror to take root. At one time or the other, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have found comfort in this formulation. As Peter mentions, this does not mean that global poverty reduction or similar measures shouldn’t be a goal of U.S. foreign policy, but the expectation that they will reduce terrorism may be misplaced.
— Stephanie Kaplan
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.