(Paul Cruickshank is a Fellow at the NYU Center on Law and Security).
I agree with the other panellists that no link can be demonstrated between poverty and terrorism. This is not to say that socio-economic conditions have no relevance whatsoever. The economic success of the American Muslim community (two thirds earn over $50,000) is one of the reasons why American Muslims have become so well integrated into American society. The fact that 22% of young British Muslims are unemployed does contribute towards feelings of alienation.
I’m currently in London looking into violent extremism in the UK. The dynamics over here have direct implications for the national security of the United States. In 2006 authorities thwarted an Al Qaeda plot by British-born Muslims to bring down up to seven airliners leaving Heathrow for North America. The threat has not gone away. Britain probably has more Al Qaeda supporters than any other western country, two thousand of which now pose a security threat according to MI5.
Many British Islamist terrorists have had relatively privileged upbringings. Here are just a few examples: Mohammed Siddique Khan, the ringleader of the July 7, 2005 London bombings earned a decent salary as a primary school teacher; Shehzad Tanweer, another 7/7 bomber use to cruise around in his father’s Mercedes; Omar Sheikh, the British militant who orchestrated the murder of Danny Pearl attended LSE; Omar Khan Sharif, the British militant who attacked a nightclub in Tel Aviv in 2003 attended elite British schools; Abdullah Ahmed Ali, the alleged ringleader of the ‘Airlines’ plot, came from a solidly middle class background. One of his brothers is an IT consultant, another a property developer and a third a probation officer (!) at Britain’s Home Office.
The evidence from the UK suggests that political grievances and radical-Islamist indoctrination, not socio-economic conditions, have been key to terrorist recruitment. Youngsters who are more affluent and educated are more likely to be motivated by political arguments. The British Muslims that have joined Al Qaeda have all become convinced that the United States and Britain are at war with Islam and that it is their religious duty to fight back. Here, Matt Levitt is right to point out the importance of ‘organized radicalization.’ In Britain a number of radical clerics, such as Abu Hamza al Masri and Omar Bakri Mohammed, operated relatively freely until recently, posing as knowledgeable Islamic scholars. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, whatever the rights and wrongs, helped make their arguments resonate more strongly.
— Paul Cruickshank
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.