Deterrents to Terror that Very Rich People Can’t Comprehend


As people gain in wealth, they depend less on others, and thus they have less reason to understand the feelings and needs of the less fortunate.

That makes it difficult to relate to people without jobs, and without proper housing, and without prospects for the future. It makes it difficult to understand that their states of deprivation and desperation can make them lash out against those they consider responsible for the injustices of extreme inequality.

The following are some of the reasons for violent ‘blowback’ reactions that are often called ‘terrorism.’ These reactions occur both globally and locally. By addressing them, we may be able to reduce some of the worst effects of our perverse wealth distribution.

Young Foreign Radicals Feel Cheated and Terrorized

Barack Obama said, “When millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future…resentments fester.”

But ISIS members are generally middle- or upper-class males in their 20s. Security expert Ömer Taspinar explains: “It is certainly true that breeding grounds for radicalism and terrorist recruitment emerge not necessarily under conditions of abject poverty and deprivation…It is precisely when people develop high expectations, aspirations and hopes for upward mobility that we have to pay more attention to the potential for frustration, humiliation and ideological radicalization.”

As a recent report by Mercy Corps put it, “Young people take up the gun not because they are poor, but because they are angry.”

A key factor is “relative deprivation.” Educated young men with little chance for advancement are “frustrated achievers” who frequently turn to radicalism to express their discontent. In Tunisia, for example, a largely democratic state with relatively high literacy rates, thousands of young men once enamored by “Arab Spring” optimism have joined ISIS, in an apparent attempt to escape corruption and discrimination and a lack of meaningful job opportunities.

Why They Feel Cheated: Their Countries Have Been Stripped of Wealth

Educated young Middle-East men frustrated by diminished expectations have good reason to feel deprived: Muslim-majority countries, according to Pew Research, are “among the poorest in the world,” with a median GDP per capita of $4,000, about one-eighth of the $33,700 median for more-developed countries. Young adults in the Middle East are likely aware of the fact that just 62 individuals — one intimate luxury yacht party — own as much wealth as HALF THE WORLD, or 3.6 billion people.

Why They Feel Terrorized: Our Military is Bombing Their Women and Children

In the past week US-led airstrikes on a Syrian village killed at least 73 civilians, including 35 children and 20 women. That’s approximately the same number of people killed in Nice, France last week, but the mainstream media says little about U.S. atrocities.

The U.S. military uses algorithms to kill. Computer calculations determine the location of enemy targets, and then lists are compiled to schedule their killings. The whistleblower for “The Drone Papers” spoke of “This outrageous explosion…of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield..” Up to 90 percent of the people killed over one 5-month period were not the intended targets.

Drone operator Brandon Bryant, sitting at a computer terminal in Nevada, was ordered to level a suspected al Qaeda building in Afghanistan. Just before pressing the button, he detected a movement at the side of the compound. “This figure runs around the corner, the outside, toward the front of the building. And it looked like a little kid to me. Like a little human person.” A silent white flash filled the computer screen. Bryant paused, then turned to his partner: “Did that look like a child to you?”

Here in America: Muslims are Educated and Accomplished and Assimilated….and FEARED

In the U.S., Muslims are more likely than average Americans to hold college degrees, and they make up five times more of the physician population than they do the general population. It is estimated that only about 250 Americans have tried to join ISIS — that’s one out of a million. But irrational fears persist. 16-year-old Hebh Jamal of New York City is used to being called a terrorist. Sometimes, she says, “you feel like the whole world is against you.”

Our Nation’s Short-Sighted Response to Terror

Polls show that Americans are more afraid of a terrorist attack than at any other time since 9/11, even though the rate of violent crime has been consistently dropping since 1993. Our wealthy nation’s short-term response has been to KEEP FIGHTING the ill-defined and widely disseminated forces of “terrorism.” Our long-term response should be to focus on the future living conditions of our young people.


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As an advocate for social and economic justice, Paul Buchheit has authored numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "Disposable Americans" (2017). Contact email: paul (at)