The Dangerous Red Herring Linking Poverty and Terrorism

There is a commonly held thought that if society understood the root cause of a problem, it would be able to arrive at solutions. Such reasoning implies that diagnosis is an essential part of solving the problem.

One of the major problems confronting the world in the 21st century is terrorism. Innocent civilians are being murdered and maimed in such diverse places as: Bangladesh; Turkey; France; United States; Nigeria; Israel; India; England and Libya. Stopping such violence is a global priority.

In attempting to stop the scourge, the United Nations and the United States made a common diagnosis and prescription for stopping terrorism: poverty leads to despair and violence, so solving global poverty would eradicate terrorism.

The problem with the diagnosis is that it has no basis in fact.

The United Nations on Poverty and Terrorism

The UN developed a global counter terrorism strategy which called on all of its member states to take a series of steps to eradicate terrorism. It stated:

Affirming Member States’ determination to continue to do all they can to resolve conflict, end foreign occupation, confront oppression, eradicate poverty, promote sustained economic growth, sustainable development, global prosperity, good governance, human rights for all and rule of law, improve intercultural understanding and ensure respect for all religions, religious values, beliefs or cultures” would promote stability and end terrorism.

The UN repeated its call for economic opportunity for all as a cure for stopping the mass murder of innocents in its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy:

“To reiterate our determination to ensure the timely and full realization of the development goals and objectives agreed at the major United Nations conferences and summits, including the Millennium Development Goals. We reaffirm our commitment to eradicate poverty and promote sustained economic growth, sustainable development and global prosperity for all.”

While no one would suggest that poverty is positive, it also true that pollution and disease are problems plaguing our global society. Yet the UN had enough sense to not include those issues in a document meant to specifically address terrorism (yet- is global warming coming?).

The Obama Administration was in sync with this line of thinking.

The United States on Poverty and Terrorism

In February 2015, after terrorists beheaded Christians on a beach in Libya, the US State Department’s spokesperson Marie Harf said that the root cause of extremism was poverty:

“the root causes that lead people to join these [terrorist] groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs…we can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance, we can help them build their economy so they can have job opportunities for these people….If we can help countries work at the root causes of this- what makes a 17-year old kid pick up an AK-47 instead of trying to start a business, maybe we can try to chip away at this problem.”

President Obama made similar remarks about Countering Violent Extremism at a summit at the same time where he said:

“we must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.  As I said yesterday, poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes someone to become a criminal.  There are millions, billions of people who are poor and are law-abiding and peaceful and tolerant, and are trying to advance their lives and the opportunities for their families. 

But when people — especially young people — feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliations of corruption — that feeds instability and disorder, and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.  And we have seen that across the Middle East and we’ve seen it across North Africa.  So if we’re serious about countering violent extremism, we have to get serious about confronting these economic grievances.”

obama-1
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism at the State Department in Washington
February 19, 2015. (Photo: Reuters / Joshua Roberts)

The United Nations and the Obama administration were lock-step in finding the root cause of terrorism.  Insanity had company.

No Connection Between Poverty and Terrorism

The UN and the Obama Administration have repeated this poverty propaganda without any evidence, or more specifically, despite the evidence.

Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 was from a wealthly family, as were many of the hijackers on the planes.

The terrorism that struck Bangladesh in July 2016 was perpetrated by wealthy men that attended elite universities.

This is often the norm.

The National Bureau of Economic Research did a study in September 2002 that found no connection between poverty and terrorism.  Among its findings was that racism and nationalism was behind the widespread support for killing Israeli Jewish civilians among Palestinian Arabs of all income levels.

A report by the Brookings Institute in 2010 authored by Corinne Graff noted that:

“since 9/11, terrorism experts have invoked empirical evidence that poverty does not correlate with a higher incidence of terrorist attacks and participation. The consensus appears to be that poverty does not motivate individuals to participate in terrorism, and that development assistance, therefore, has no place in a longer-term counter-terrorism strategy.”

The New York Times also came around to reporting this conclusion on March 27, 2016, in an article called “Who Will Become a Terrorist? Research Yields Few Clues.” The article discussed how there is little correlation between an a person’s education and poverty level with the probability he will engage in acts of terrorism. For example, the shooters in San Bernardino, CA in December 2015 were a middle class couple.

Yet the global body of the United Nations, and the most powerful democracy on the planet, the United States, are working on combatting terrorism with a flawed world view.

Ramifications

There are many ramifications of chasing a myth.  The implications are enormous when the subject is combatting global terrorism.

President Obama was correct when he called out the “warped ideologies espoused by terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL” that use “their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth” to advance a program to kill innocents. He is also correct that “Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back” against these dangerous notions.

All citizens of the world have a similar responsibility to push back against the Obama administration and the United Nations that is pivoting the focus of counter-terrorism to economic development. The tactic to fight against twisted ideologies cannot be to give those communities more jobs and money.  Such thinking led the Obama administration to give the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, an estimated $150 billion and a legal pathway to obtain ballistic missiles, while keeping its nuclear infrastructure in place. The Obama administration logic that the Islamic Republic of Iran will be so happy to have the money and be embraced by the global community, that it will abandon sponsoring terrorism and its twisted ideology, has (yet) to play out.

Meanwhile, the world does little to combat the narrative and ideology itself.

In Gaza, the United Nations has allowed the Hamas government to ban the teaching of the Holocaust in UNRWA schools, and the teaching of global human rights.  Instead, UN Secretary General just talks about providing economic opportunity to Gaza.  When the UNSG said that he stands with Gaza, while never pushing to reform the thinking of the Palestinian Arabs, what message does he think he is conveying?

There was a thin line that separated the “Hope” that characterized the election of Obama in 2008, and the “wishful thinking” without basis in fact, that Obama’s detractors feared.  The trauma of global terrorism that has spread on his watch is anchored in a worldview that often denies uncomfortable truths and replaces it with a propaganda of his own.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Failures of the Obama Doctrine and the Obama Rationale

Obama’s “Values” Red Herring

The Invisible Anti-Semitism in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union

Liberals’ Biggest Enemies of 2015

Absolute and Relative Ideological Terrorism in the United States

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Magnifying the Margins, and the Rise of the Independents

If people really had such compelling arguments, why do they need to always use extreme examples to make their case?

Magnifying the Margins

Both liberal and conservatives often try to argue their points of view by highlighting extreme examples that have little to do with day-to-day reality. Could it be that the basic lines of their arguments are tenuous? Consider some examples:

President Obama took to the airwaves after a terrible mass killing in October 2015, to argue for gun control. The reality is that the number of murders from mass killings is a very small percentage of gun-related deaths. The vast majority of gun deaths – over 60% every year – are in suicides. The over 700 deaths from guns in accidental shootings, is lower than the number of drownings in pools.  Gang and drug-related crimes make up another large segment of gun deaths. Of the over 32,000 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2015, 475 – 1 percent – were in mass shootings.  If Obama really cared about gun deaths, he should take to the airwaves after suicides and gang violence, not from random mass shootings.

Obama tear
Obama sheds a tear during remarks on gun violence, October 2015
(photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

Liberal and pro-abortion activists highlight the need for abortion, and vilify pro-life people that are against abortions in cases of rape and incest. Rape and incest account for just 1% of abortions according to the Guttmacher Institute. Almost all abortions are done for financial or relationship reasons. Why bring up such marginal cases to make a point? If the law states that abortions are legal before the baby is viable outside of the mother, at about 22 weeks (a law driven by time), then the reasons for having the abortion should have no part in the conversation.

Republicans and foreign policy hawks are equally at fault for magnifying the margins. Conservatives continue to pound the table about the threat of Islamic terrorism in the United States. In fact, the number of deaths from Islamic terrorism in the 14 years since September 11, 2001, is less than the number of people who died in lightening strikes.

Denying the Obvious

The convoluted arguments noted above become further estranged from the truth when people also deliberately deny the obvious.

Consider Obama’s refusal to state that there even is something called “radical Islamic terrorism,” which presidential candidate Republican Senator Ted Cruz repeats often.  While Obama may be correct that there many, many Muslims who are not terrorists, that has nothing to do with the scourge of terrorism in the world that is almost exclusively conducted by Islamic radicals.

Trump muslims
Donald Trump calls for banning all Muslims from the US
until the vetting process is improved, December 2015

It is similarly absurd for pro-choice advocates to claim that abortion is 100% about a women’s privacy, as if the issue was akin to a tattoo or body piercing. Such a position inherently argues that a fetus has zero rights until it is actually born. That line of reasoning is as extreme as people who argue that life begins at the very instant of conception. The US Supreme Court and most thoughtful Americans believe a fetus deserves rights at some point between those two extreme moments in time.

The Beautiful Gray Truth

Reality is often a bit too complicated to fit on a bumper sticker. “Pro Choice” fits neater than “Roe v. Wade is about the stage of development of the fetus, and modern science now enables pre-mature births to survive at 22 weeks as opposed to 24 weeks when the law was passed 50 years ago, so I am in favor of moving the timeframe to the new earlier date as the limit for having a legal abortion.” Definitely too wordy.

The truth is that radical Islam is the source of most of the terrorism in the world and the destabilizing force from the middle east and north Africa through Europe. And it is also true that most Muslims are not terrorists.

But political discourse is now only had at the edges.  Politicians and mainstream media magnify marginal situations, denying the middle any air.  That middle ground is where 99% of the truth lies.

Rise of the Independents and Libertarians

If there is a silver lining to the extreme positions taken by the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, it is that Americans are leaving them both.  The number of people who consider themselves political Independents jumped to 43% in 2014, according to a Gallup poll, the highest level ever.  That figure compares to 30% for Democrats and 26% for Republicans.

Perhaps Americans realize the foolish spin they are given every day.  Maybe Americans are not really being driven to extremes – its just the two party system that has begun to champion marginal rhetoric, and most Americans are still in the middle.  Americans may only be fed up with Washington D.C., because they hate the two parties that occupy it.

Maybe.

Hopefully.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Political Pinatas: Populist Greed Meets Populist Anger

Absolute and Relative Ideological Terrorism in the United States

The Invisible Anti-Semitism in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union

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The United States Joins the Silent Chorus

Nations of the World Are Silent

On October 1, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He rebuked the governments in the room for their indifference to Iran’s call for destruction of the Jewish State. He said that “Iran’s rulers promised to destroy my country, murder my people, and the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here has been absolutely nothing. Utter silence. Deafening silence.”  He then paused for 45 uncomfortable seconds, so that the people in the room could better understand how Israel is outraged by the lack of condemnation from governments around the world, against the outrageous comments from Iran.

Netanyahu at UN 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations
October 2015

The United Nations is Silent

Time and again, the United Nations itself chose to remain silent when Israeli Jews were deliberately attacked. The UN Media Centre wiped the murder of Jews from its records. The global body refused to call the crimes “terrorism.”  The UN ignored deaths within Israel. Overall, the United Nations was silent when Israeli Jews were targeted.  Was it because the UN considered Israel itself to be a terrorist state so any deaths were actually Israel’s fault?  Perhaps the UN was upset that it voted to create a Jewish State in the first place.  Whatever the motivation, the UN remained silent.

The United States is Silent

The United States is home to over 5 million Jews, the largest number of Jews after the State of Israel.  For much of Israel’s existence, the United States has been the country’s main ally.

However, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the United States has softened its support for Israel, such as removing pro-Israel positions in the Democratic platform (the US will never deal with Hamas; future borders of Israel will NOT follow the 1949 Armistice Lines; Palestinian “refugees” would NOT settle in Israel; Jerusalem is the capital of Israel).  Still, the US government supported Israel’s right to defend itself, even while the US distanced itself from Israel, by not actively supporting Israel in combatting Palestinian terror.

In January 2016, the US – once again – had the opportunity to address the incessant nihilistic death chants from Palestinian Arabs.  Not just the incitement from the acting President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and others in the PA government, but in established PA laws.  The decades-old PA law calls for the death penalty for any Arab that sells land to a Jew.  While the New York Times refused to print such basic facts for years, the arrest of radical left-wing “activist” Ezra Nawi put the law in plain public sight for everyone to see: the PA not only demands a Jew-free state (an anti-Semitic demand which Obama supports), but will kill to make sure that such anti-Semitic demands are met.

How did the US respond?

Dan Shapiro INSS
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro
January 2016

Dan Shapiro, the US Ambassador to Israel spoke at an Israeli conference while Israelis buried a young mother who was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian Arab in an unprovoked attack.  During his comments Shapiro attacked the Israeli government’s position of allowing Jews to build and buy homes east of the Green Line (EGL), and stated that that Israel was too lax in prosecuting crimes that Israelis commit against Palestinian Arabs.

Shapiro did not comment on the Palestinian law that calls for the death penalty for Arabs that sell land to Jews.  He said nothing about Israel’s arrest of Ezra Nawi who helped the PA catch Palestinian Arabs who sold homes to Jews, for the PA to torture.

When John Kirby of the State Department was asked to comment about Shapiro’s statements, Kirby defended Shapiro as repeating the US’s position on Israeli settlements.  He remained mum on Palestinian law that called for the death penalty on those that sell land to Jews.

 

The United States added a silent echo to the ugly mute chorus.  No condemnation for those who call for the destruction of Israel.  For the killing of Jews.  For the killing of those that work with Jews.

MLK

As Simon and Garfunkel sang in 1964 “Silence, like a cancer grows.


Related First.One.Through articles:

The Invisible Anti-Semitism in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union

Obama’s Select Religious Compassion

The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

Obama’s “Values” Red Herring

International-Domestic Abuse: Obama and Netanyahu

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The Explosion of Immigrants in the United States

Immigration has become a significant topic in the United States and Europe due to comments made by US presidential hopefuls about illegal immigrants and the flight of people from the Middle East due to turmoil in that region. Here is a review of some statistics from past decades and the recent unusual dramatic increase in immigrants while the general population has slowed down.

United States 1880-1930s

The population of the United States grew dramatically over a 50 year-period from 1880 to about 1924 (a period of mass migration, “MM”), at which time the US passed the Immigration Act capping the number of people from any country. From 1880 until 1930, the population of the country grew from 50 million to over 123 million. In each decade over that time, the population grew between 15% and 26%.

Immigrants accounted for a large percentage of the growth. Over that MM time period, foreign born-residents accounted for anywhere from 12% to 15% of the US population. Almost all of these immigrants came from Europe (over 83% in each decade) and a smaller portion from Latin America (from 1 to 6%) and Asia (1 to 2%). While the 1880s had immigrants principally from Germany, United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Ireland, the following decades had immigrants principally from Italy, Russia and the Austria-Hungarian Empire.

Security: The 1880s and the 1900-1909 decade witnessed particularly large number of immigrants. In those decades, immigrants accounted for 20% of the growth in the country’s population (with natural growth accounting for 80%). However, with the outbreak of World War I and enactment of the Immigration Act, the number of immigrants was curtailed, with only 3% and 2% of the population growth stemming from immigrants in the 1910s and 1920s, respectively. Interestingly, while the war raged in Europe, the percentage of immigrants from Europe declined over this period by 4% while the percentage from Latin America grew by 4%.

One would imagine that the number of people trying to emigrate from Europe to the US would have increased during WWI, and the percentage of immigrants would have spiked above the historic 87% European figure. Instead, there was a drop-off. Were Americans concerned about the safety and security of the US? Was it fearful of importing a conflict to its shores? The severe drop-off in immigration and coinciding change of place of origin suggest that may be a factor. Another was the economy.

Economy: The decades of the 1910s and 1920s saw relatively weak average GDP per capita growth rates compared to prior decades: 1.28% and 1.27% for 1910s and 1920s, respectively. These anemic figures compared to prior decades of 1.65%, 2.04% and 2.13% in the 1880s, 1890s and 1900s, respectively. The subsequent stock market crash of 1929 and depression of the 1930s severely hurt the economy. This was probably the principle factor in the US population only growing at 7% compared to prior decades of 15% to 26% growth. Fewer jobs and a weaker economy led to fewer births and a stricter immigration policy set in place in 1924.

Decade Total Population Growth Immigrants % of Growth % Foreign-Born Americans
1880s 26% 20% 15%
1890s 21 8 14
1900s 21 20 15
1910s 15 3 13
1920s 16 2 12
1930s 7%
     
 
 
 

 

 United States 1960 – 2010

The 50 years from 1960 to 2010 saw an inversion of some of the immigration and population trends from the 1880-1930 period.

With the exception of the 1950s, every decade had a population growth that was less than from the MM period (10%-14% growth versus 15-26% in MM). Foreign-born people in the US became a rarity from the 1950s through the 1970s when they accounted for only 5-6% of the population (compared to 12-15% during the MM period).

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 removed the former quota system that capped immigration from each country.  As such the 1970s and 1980s started to see a dramatic change in the make-up of the US population. While very few immigrants came to the US in the 1960s, the 1970s and 1980s had 17% and 26% of the total population growth come from immigrants, respectively.  The 1965 Act also resulted in a dramatic change in the ethnic origins of new immigrants: they were no longer coming from Europe, but from Latin America and Asia.

Source of US Immigrants (from US Census Bureau)

Decade Europe Asia Latin America
1950s 75% 5% 9%
1960s 62 9 19
1970s 39 19 33
1980s 23 26 44

Economy: The economy in the 1960s and 1980s were the best in US history. The average per capita GDP grew 2.88% and 2.26% each year, on average, during the 1960s and 1980s, respectively. As such, the growth in the immigrant population and the changing origin of those people did not generate considerable debate or concern from Americans or politicians.

That situation changed dramatically in the 2000-2009 decade.

Security and Economy: The US population growth in the 2000-2009 decade was the slowest in American history, growing by only 6% (even lower than the 1930s). That decade witnessed the attacks of September 11, 2001, stock market internet bubble collapse of 2000, and a large scale economic meltdown and financial crisis in 2008.

Decade Total Population Growth Immigrants % of Growth % Foreign-Born Americans
1950s 19% 5%
1960s 13 5
1970s 11 17% 6
1980s 10 26 8
1990s 13 37 11
2000s 6 41 13
     
 
   

Yet, against this backdrop, the foreign-born population in the United States in 2010 grew to 13% – the same percentage as existed during the peaceful growth mode of the mass migration.  This percentage is over twice the level that existed in the country just 30 years earlier, in 1980. Astonishingly, almost half of the growth in the US is now from immigrants – a rate not realized since the founding of the country hundreds of years ago.

Consider further, that most of the new immigrants are coming from Latin America that principally speaks a single language (Spanish) in comparison to immigration from Europe or Asia that brought a diverse number of languages. Such an enormous influx of a single language could create a bilingual country.

Conclusion

In the 50 years of the mass migration 1880-1930, the country took steps to curtail immigration as the economy slowed and from World War I. Today, the US has an aggressive immigration policy during a weak economy and has significant security concerns.

It is natural for a country that focuses on its quality-of-life and feels insecure about its safety and economy to see the population have fewer children and urge for curtailing immigration.

While the US economy improved from the 2008 financial meltdown to 2015, consumer sentiment remained weak, as many Americans remained unemployed and under-employed. In addition to the weak economy, Americans watched the collapse of the Middle East through videos of the horror on their smartphones. The fear of terror coming back to the US is real.

One could argue that America had the “benefit” of slowing GDP growth in the 1910s and 1920s which pushed the country to accept many fewer immigrants. By the time the depression of the 1930s hit, there was already a 1924 immigration law in place and the reality of a slowdown in accepting new “foreigners” for a couple of decades. However, in the US today, the number of foreigners are growing at an accelerated rate for the last few decades, just as the country experienced incredible turmoil.


When a person sees the plight of refugees in the Middle East, the human and moral reaction is to extend a hand. Indeed, President Obama decided to increase the quota of Syrian immigrants from that region to 10,000 in 2016. On top of humanitarian concerns, the Democratic president scored big with Hispanics (71% to 27% in the 2012 presidential election). These facts make Obama look very in favor of accelerating immigration.

However, it is unfair to paint all people who argue for a limit on refugees and immigrants at this time as xenophobic and racist. There is a natural ebb-and-flow to immigration, which often follows the status of the economy and perceived safety concerns. Considering the current double-impact of the economy and security, and the dramatic increase in immigration over the past three decades, a review of immigration policy would appear warranted.