Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 67
  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2010

5 - Kto Kogo?: A Cross-Country Study of the Origins and Targets of Terrorism



Popular wisdom in the burgeoning literature on terrorism focuses on the economic motivations of terrorists. “We fight against poverty,” President George W. Bush explained in Monterrey, Mexico, on March 23, 2002, “because hope is an answer to terror.” Stern (2003) also draws a direct connection between poverty and terrorism. Though poverty is an attractive answer to the question of “why terrorism?”, the data do not lend much support for it. Macroeconomic shifts generally fail to map on to changes in terrorist activity. For example, in the late 1990s and 2000, when terrorism reached new heights against Israeli citizens, the typical Palestinian was reporting a rosier economic forecast and unemployment was declining. Using a longer time series, Berrebi (2003) finds little correlation between economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the number of terrorist incidents against Israel. An even more perplexing problem for the poverty thesis arises on the microlevel. Several studies at the individual level of analysis have failed to find any direct connection between education, poverty, and the propensity to participate in terrorism (Russell and Miller 1983; Taylor 1988; Hudson 1999; Krueger and Maleckova 2003; Berrebi 2003; Atran 2003). If anything, those who participate in terrorism tend to come from the ranks of the better off in society.

Those who claim a connection between poverty and terrorism could respond that at least on the microlevel, well-to-do citizens become terrorists out of public spiritedness for their impoverished fellow citizens, and organizations choose them to perform these tasks because of their reliability and skill.

Abadie, Alberto. 2004. “Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 10859, Cambridge, MA.
Atran, Scott. 2003. “Genesis of Suicide Terrorism.” Science 299: 1534–1539.
Azam, Jean-Paul. 2003. “Suicide-Bombing as Inter-Generational Investment.” Public Choice 122(1): 177–198 (January).
Berman, Eli, and David D. Laitin. 2005. “Hard Targets: Theory and Evidence on Suicide Attacks.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 11740, Cambridge, MA.
Berrebi, Claude. 2003. “Evidence About the Link Between Education, Poverty and Terrorism Among Palestinians.” Princeton University Industrial Relations Section Working Paper No. 477 (September).
Berrebi, Claude, and Esteban Klor. 2003. “On Terrorism and Electoral Outcomes: Theory and Evidence from the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” mimeo., Princeton University.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2003. “The Quality of Terror,” mimeo., Dept. of Political Science, Washington University, St. Louis, MO.
Burgoon, Brian. 2006. “On Welfare and Terror: Social Welfare Policies and Political-Economic Roots of Terrorism.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50(4): 176–203.
Bush, George, W. 2002. “Remarks by the President at United Nations Financing for Development Conference,” Cintermex Convention Center, Monterrey, Mexico. March 22.
Fearon, James, and Laitin, David. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War.” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75–90.
Gupta, Dipak, and Mudra, Kusum. 2005. “Suicide Bombing as a Strategic Instrument of Protest: An Empirical Investigation.” Terrorism and Political Violence 17(4): 573–598.
Hassan, Nasra. 2001. “An Arsenal of Believers.” The New Yorker (November 19): 36–41.
Hudson, Rex A. 1999. “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?” Report prepared under Interagency Agreement by the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Krueger, Alan, and Maleckova, Jitka. 2003. “Education, Poverty, and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?Journal of Economic Perspectives 17(4): 119–144 (Fall).
Kydd, Andrew, and Walter, Barbara. 2002. “Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence.” International Organization 56(2): 263–96.
Li, Quan, and Schaub, Drew. 2004. “Economic Globalization and Transnational Terrorism: A Pooled Time-Series Analysis.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 48(4): 230–258.
Pape, Robert A. 2003. “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.” American Political Science Review 97(3): 343–61.
Piazza, James A. 2003. “Rooted in Poverty?: Terrorism, Poor Economic Development and Social Change,” mimeo., Meredith College, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Russell, Charles, and Miller, Bowman. 1983. “Profile of a Terrorist,” reprinted in Perspectives on Terrorism, 45–60. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc.
Stern, Jessica. 2003. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Ecco-HarperCollins.
Taylor, Maxwell. 1988. The Terrorist. London: Brassey's Defence Publishers.
Wintrobe, Ronald. 2006. Rational Extremism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.