Poverty does not lead to terrorism

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MANY writers and analysts, writing about the rise of terrorism and violence unleashed in the name of religion, often quote poverty as one of its main reasons. A cursory look at such arguments is enough to debunk this notion. Not only is this argument a disservice to the poor but it also creates negative connotations about both, the poor and poverty. Religious extremism and terrorism is a more complex issue and can be attributed to a whole host of reasons. In India, the communal violence since 1947 has claimed thousands of lives, mostly belonging to the minority communities like Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. In most cases these acts of violence were well thought out and the State machinery was often complicit. The major incidents of communal violence like the 1984 anti Sikh pogrom in Delhi or the 2002 anti Muslim pogrom in Gujarat were well orchestrated and many of the culprits were well ‘educated’ and financially stable middle class people. Even the general atmosphere of xenophobia and hate against minority communities that has seen heightened levels in the last couple of years in India is predominantly a middle class phenomenon. In fact the religious right, the Hindutva forces in India has become a mainstream force in India after the economic liberalisation process got underway in India in 1990. The BJP with its allies formed its first Govt in 1998 and subsequently came back to power with a thumping majority in the 2014 general elections, the first time that a political party had achieved a majority in the last 30 years in Indian elections.

Across the border, in Pakistan, violence in the name of religion has claimed thousands of lives and has achieved menacing proportions. Though the situation vis a vis religious violence is different in the two countries, but in both cases, it is broadly unrelated to the underlying poverty of the masses. A look at conversations on social media and comment section in news stories, among both Indian and Pakistani ‘educated’ and middle class youth is a good indicator that it is this section of the society that is more prone to using violence against others. Even the terrorists involved in the 9/11 bombing or the 7/7 bombing in London did not come from any poor background. Most of them had professional degrees, were educated from prominent institutions and belonged to middle and upper middle class families. There is no need to feel shocked when most people involved in such violent incidents don’t fit our preconceived notion of a poor terrorist or a hate monger.

Many academic studies have debunked the correlation between extremism, violence and poverty and illiteracy. Extremism and violent ideas don’t necessarily perpetuate in adverse socio economic conditions. The reality is that the poor dislike militancy and terrorism more than their affluent counterparts. Perhaps the poor and the marginalized are more vulnerable to the negative effects of violence and terrorism, given that they need a more stable and peaceful society to improve their economic condition. Poverty is a precursor to militancy and religious violence is a myth that needs to be debunked.  

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