TEMECULA, California — There are circumstances that drive desperation; conditions such as poverty, disease and lack of education can create an environment where decisions are based on a need for survival. It is desperate people who do desperate things, and poverty creates a breeding ground for violence and extremist groups to grow.
Poverty is more than monetary disadvantages, or the absence of necessary sources for survival; it confines those who do not possess the opportunity to create a meaningful life and those who don’t have the tools to improve upon it.
“I came face to face with an unnecessary evil that takes more lives each day than are lost in Fallujah, Gaza, Kandahar, Mogadishu and Jaffna combined,” said Jake Harriman, NY Times opinion writer and ex-military personnel. “An evil that is directly connected to the proliferation of the terrorism and insurgency that we were fighting: the evil of extreme poverty.”
Extremist groups often have influence in regions where many live in extreme poverty and people are desperate enough to join.
A Violent Safe House
Extremist groups are defined as a terrorist collective, violent organization or militant movement who achieve political aims through violent means. In order to gain followers and support, extremist groups may create a sort of safe-house for impoverished people where they provide services for the poor in exchange for money and allegiance. If a person is desperate to feed his or her family, joining the group may seem like the only possible solution.
For example, Hamas provides education, money and welfare for its members. Similarly, Hezbollah implements schools and hospitals and provides agricultural resources to the country’s poor. The Taliban, operating throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, builds schools and extends free education to those in need.
“Terrorist groups are all too happy to step into a void. They offer salaries to their foot soldiers so they can support their families. Sometimes they offer social services—schools, health clinics—to do what local governments cannot or will not do,” U.S. President Barack Obama said.
However, the reality of these contributions is that they come at a price, and it is often a violent one. Extremist groups oftentimes commit acts for political aims and use violence as a means for change. Ultimately, the social services provided create leverage that guarantees members.
Inside Extremist Groups
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan stated in a previous report that those recruited into extremist groups “may be uneducated, ignorant, impressionable, brainwashed, and seeking money for their families.”
Former ISIS member Abu Ibrahim, who remained anonymous, revealed to CBS News what life was like under the extremist group.
Ibrahim said that life for members of extremist groups such as ISIS is, for the most part, paid for. The group provides its members with food, shelter and even a monthly stipend.
“Initially it was approximately 50 dollars a month,” Ibrahim said. “During winter it went up to 100 dollars so people could purchase warm clothing or items for the house. They provided heaters for each house and for married couples they provided housing for them—furniture, the essentials.”
With monetary incentive, ISIS and other extremist group leaders recruit those who are in need of financial aid, more specially, the poor.
In a recent CNN interview, former ISIS member Suleiman confessed that he joined ISIS out of fear for his family. He got paid an estimated 3,600 dollars for a job, money he said was needed for survival.
“They took advantage of our minds and our poverty,” Suleiman said.
Poverty and Violence
Although poverty is not the sole contributor to extremist groups and violent behavior, it is still important to recognize that poverty is an influential factor of terrorist activity. Statistics reveal that extremists groups are a possible byproduct of low-income economies and high poverty rates, linking poverty and violence. Oftentimes in certain contexts, terrorism brought on by extremist groups is connected to poverty.
Findings in the Global Terrorism Index reveal that an estimated 82 percent of killings as a result of terrorist attacks occurred in five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. Additionally, 13 other countries are at a greater risk of terrorist activity including Iran, Uganda, Mexico and Ethiopia. Of the five countries facing a high percentage of terrorist attacks and the 13 countries at risk of terrorist movements, 17 out of 18 are developing nations; meaning that 94 percent of countries at risk of terrorist activity have a Gross Nation Income of 11,905 dollars or less, according to the World Bank.
Ultimately, a nation’s socioeconomic status can enable an environment for extremist groups; individuals who live in poor countries are more likely to fall prey to terrorist influence than those who live in countries with a more stable economic condition.
Living in poverty means, among other things, facing food insecurity and having limited options to better one’s situation, so when a person living in poverty is presented with a choice to either feed their family or starve, he or she is more likely to take any help offered, regardless of what the ultimate penalty may be. Ending global poverty influences much more than the people living in it, it changes the world as a whole. A world without poverty will ultimately be a more stable and safe world for all.
– Nada Sewidan
Sources: CBS News, CNN, Core Economics, Institute for Economics & Peace, The International Statistical Institute, The National Bureau of Economic Research, The New York Times, The World Bank, The Yale Review of International Studies, Think Progress