Posted by: ourvoicestogether | July 17, 2007

Voices in the Media: A Letter to the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal Logo

The July 5, 2007 edition of The Wall Street Journal posed some interesting questions about the link between poverty and terrorism. Journalist David Wessel, citing recent research by Princeton University’s Alan Krueger, challenges the “conventional wisdom that poverty and lack of education breed terrorism”.

Steuerle FamilyOur Voices Together co-founder Gene Steuerle responded with a letter to the editor that was published on July 17 in The Wall Street Journal noting that, while Krueger’s basic analysis may be correct, there are compelling reasons for focusing on poverty when responding to terrorism.

Read the letter below and tell me what you think: What are other responses to terrorism that offer alternative visions of a better world?

Mr. Krueger has taken a simple set of statistics on income and said that we should reject “material deprivation or inadequate education as an important cause of support for terrorism.” This, unfortunately, ignores what economists know to be group vs. individual effects and has the unfortunate side effect of being interpreted in the political realm as suggesting that there is no relationship between fighting poverty and terrorism. Of course, Mr. Krueger’s basic data are correct. Terrorists are often from the middle class. But they also use the humiliation of poverty as a powerful recruiting tool.

There are two reasons to fight poverty as a response to terrorism. First, it offers an alternative vision of how to work for a better society and how to unite those who are divided. Second, terrorists depend upon the emotional support of their communities, and these communities are much less likely to exhibit hatred toward those who are actively engaging with them to construct better lives.

I work with a group of families who have lost loved ones to terrorism and are trying to make a difference by devoting their own resources to activities like building schools or clinics in poor areas of the world, often those communities most affected by terrorists. Our work complements, not competes with, the sacrifices of those who serve as police or firefighters or military. We work with a lot of charities. Pick your own, Mr. Krueger, and become one of our stories. Run some empirical tests later on how well terrorists are recruited from the families of those whom you served vs. other families. In any case, don’t sit on the sideline. Show that your comments weren’t meant to encourage other people, or our government, to sit on that sideline, because until you act or say otherwise, that is how you are being interpreted.

Gene Steuerle
Our Voices Together



  1. From Howard R. Christofersen:

    There are causes for terrorism as it is an effort of people who feel that they have no other way to combat our imperial attitudes. First of all, we have to listen to them and talk to them. We need to withdraw out troops from foreign bases where they are seen to be an effort on our part to control and to dictate our way. Secondly, we need to make trade agreements that are fair to all participants. Thirdly we must not try to control resources from other countries to our benefit.

  2. From Netsanet Nafekew Desta:

    at this time the nature of terrorism is changing. since many poor ( African) people are hating the Bush Administration because of supporting un democratic and dictator governments in Africa especially Ethiopians currently supporting any movements against US. since it is the Bush administration that supports the un elected government of Ethiopia. oddly enough the Bush administration gave bullets and armaments to ethiopian government to kill the innocent child and elders and to jail the elected leaders. so, by nature Ethiopians do not support terrorism but by the wrong act of Bush Administration many people are inclined to think any attack against the Bush administration is right.

  3. From Barry Hart:

    Along with alleviating poverty as a means of combating terrorism,there’s struggling/working to make societies & economies across the planet more equitable,democratic & just.

    Governments,corporations & institutions must also be made more accountable to the masses of ordinary people.The lack of popular control & accountability contribute to feeling of frustration,hopelessness & misdirected rage among various individuals & groups on our planet.

  4. From Dee Halzack:

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Steuerle’s letter to the Wall Street Journal. Something that needed saying.

    You asked for other ways to fight terrorism. I don’t know how we’d change it, but the arrogance and inequities of this country’s foreign policies (and, let’s face it, some of its citizens who travel abroad) contribute greatly to the ill feeling that encourages people to want to attack us. The depersonalization and stereotypes that arise when not enough individuals from the various countries are dealing with each other one on one in a respectful way does not help. People to people encounters might help to eliminate the depersonalization. Volunteer efforts that are guided by the people being helped, rather than foreigners, and involve volunteers who are respectful of local culture and customs and are there to put their energy and resources where the locals see a need, rather than deciding what they need, would also help. I think too often we Americans give the people of other countries, particularly the less developed countries, the impression that we look down our noses on them. It is even worse now with an administration in place that does not believe in win-win negotiating because they think EVERYTHING should be done their way and that they have the power to force things to happen that way.

  5. From Chuck Van Wey:

    A fine, concise statement of belief, and a belief I share. Many thanks!

  6. From Lopamudra Giri:

    Hi Cecilia,

    The alternative solution to your question is kindly ask terrorists brothers and sisters to think about Global Environmental problems which has been created by human beings and if they can keep themselves busy to protect the world’s Environment which they haven’t understood yet.Thanks.

  7. From Paul Diamond:

    While it is true that the leadership of terrorism comes from the middle class that is only because the middle class youth are more educated and are more aware of the exploitation of the poor by the rich. The more educated middle and upper class youth are more so than the poor aware of the hypocrisy of the rich. Their control and undo influence of the government that is supposed to protect the people from exploitation and doesn’t because of the influence of their money.

    In India, a country suffering from the effects of poverty and overpopulation, there is a state in the southern part of the country where everyone is educated to college level. In that state there is little crime, less discontent, and the prosperity level is considerably higher than the norm in the rest of the country. The population is lower than the average in the rest of the country. Hmmmm!

  8. From Daphne Parson:

    Dear Cecilia,
    Poverty in to days world is a disgrace, It seems to me more likely that hungry uneducated people would be ready to understand the simple message of those people have to much.

  9. From Kelly Greenfield:

    I believe that 95% of all criminal activities are directly related to poverty. It comes as no surprise that terrorism and poverty stricken nations have links. People have a basic need for food and shelter and they will do anything they have to do to get their basic needs met. No person should be judged if they are taken advantage of in this way, and teaching people how to meet their basic needs without hate crimes or crime is the only way to counter terrorists without creating more violence.

  10. From Peggy Detmers:

    It is not poverty which drives terrorism, but ideology, both here and abroad. We heard that “God’s laws supercede man’s laws” from the likes of Davide Caresh (sp?) and Timothy McViegh. Of course then we have to worry who is doing the interpreting for God to men like them, including the Arab terrorists. We have heard that our US policy of interfering in the Middle East is why they started to hate us to begin with. We need to listen to their dialog, and diffuse their hatred. It is called PEACE TALKS, something that this defense industry laden administration finds unprofitable.

  11. From Berry Lee:

    Yes ! I agree that lack of purpose and a good job surely allows some people to become terrorists-that sound like common sense but how can we help provide those kins of jobs? I had it too easy getting jobs when I was young and had engineering degree but never got a job after getting MBA degree from UNC-Greensboro in 1980(too much belief in education under GIBill) Best, berry

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