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Reasons behind Islamic Terrorism:

Illiteracy, Poverty and Deprivation?

by Alamgir Hussain
01 September, 2006
The recent surge in religious violence amongst the Muslims, particularly after the 9/11
(2001) attack in New York, has left the world desperately guessing about the underlying
reasons behind it. In this hair-splitting brainstorming, pundits from all sections of the society,
irrespective of religious backgrounds, have aired their opinions. The four common reasons
that have received overwhelming acceptance are:
1. Illiteracy: Lack of education amongst the Muslims.
2. Poverty: Alleged desperate poverty in Muslim countries.
3. Discrimination: Alleged social and economic deprivation of the Muslim community,
especially in the Western countries.
4. Oppression: Muslims have forwarded another reason which is the oppression against
them such as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fact that 9/11 and many other terrorists attacks took place before the invasion of
Afghanistan and Iraq easily rules out these two wars (4th reason) from the list of alleged
underlying reasons for the surge in Islamic violence. However, Islamist terrorist group have
definitely exploited these wars as an excuse to give a boost to their Jihadist recruitment
drives. This means that these wars are only secondary reasons, if at all, but definitely not the
primary cause of religious violence amongst the Muslims.
In this essay, I will analyze these views of the
pundits in detail to evaluate if those are justifiable
causes underlying the present scourge of Islamic
violence and terrorism.
Lack of education amongst the Muslims has been
put forward as a prime reason for a sudden radical
transformation of the Muslims in recent years with
the concomitant increase in violent and terrorist
acts. If this reasoning is to be taken as valid, then
we must conclude that as compared to now, the
Muslim world was more educated in the 1950s and
60s, when there existed much less religious
violence in the Muslim community anywhere in
the world. But the reality says the opposite. Let us
analyze this in the context of the subcontinent.
During the colonial rule, the Muslims of the
subcontinent resisted undertaking the secular
education instituted by the British rulers despite
desperate efforts by the government. Muslims
considered the learning of English and undertaking
the secular education un-Islamic and largely kept away from it. The Muslims instead insisted
on the religious (Arabic) education so much so that the British rulers were forced to institute
the separate Madrassa education for the Muslims of India. Thus, the Muslim
community there remained relatively uneducated (in secular education) until the British rule
ended in 1947. On the other hand, the Hindus and other religious sections embraced the
secular curricula, comprising of science and literature, more openly. Muslims were left happy
with the very limited scope of Madrassas education to learn Islamic scriptures in Arabic,
which was of little daily- life value. As a result, the Hindus and other non-Muslim
communities flourished in India while the Muslims were left behind as a relatively
uneducated and backward class.
The bottom- line is that Muslims of the subcontinent were a very uneducated people in the
1950s. Whatever education they had was mainly the religious type. However, Muslims
started going to schools in large numbers to study secular curricula in the 1960s onwards in
Pakistan and subsequently in Bangladesh. Schools were built at every nook and corner of the
country which outnumbered the Madrassas to a great extent despite the fact that there were
sharp rise in number of Madrassas after the 1970s, thanks to the oil- money coming from the
Middle East.
When I started going to school in the early 1970s, rarely parents in my village would send
their children to schools. As a young boy, I recall people traveling a mile to find someone
who can read a letter which they might have received from some sources. By the early 1990s,
however, almost every child was going to schools (although many drop out) thanks to the
Governments and various NGOs whole- hearted efforts to bring every child to school. As a
result, there has been a massive increase in the level of education and literacy amongst the
Muslim population in Bangladesh, compared to the situation in the 1950s and 60s. Almost

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every family in Bangladesh now has a member who can read and write. The same should
apply to the Muslims in Pakistan and India. Likewise, literacy rate in Arabic (Madrassa)
education has also gone up significantly. Hence, the present level of religious bigotry,
fanaticism, violence and terrorism should have been substantially less amongst the Muslims
in these countries, as compared to that of the 1950s and 60s. In reality, the opposite has
happened. That is, there has been a massive increase in Islamic fanaticism and violence in
recent years as compared to the 1950s and 60s. Hence, lack of education can no way be
blamed for the increase in fanaticism and terrorism as seen in the Muslim societies at all
corners of the world today.
The next principal reason put forward as the underlying cause of recent worldwide surge in
Islamic terrorism is the alleged desperate poverty amongst the Muslims. To analyze this
point, I will once again compare the relative wealth and prosperity of the Muslims in the
1950s and 60s to those of the present time. When I was a young boy in the early 1970s, my
father was a very ordinary farmer with limited lands and we used to make a hand-to-mouth
living often with difficulty during some periods of the year. The income from the agricultural
farming was such that when we, the 4 siblings, started going to school (2nd 8th grade, free
education); my father was failing to support the family. So, he decided to sell away all the
land to set up a small business, which worked much better to feed the family and support our
During those days, my mother would require some temporary domestic help during the
harvesting season. When she used to send inquiries to the neighborhood about if anyone
available to give her a hand, in a matter of hours a few parents would come to our house to
request my mother to employ their young daughters, sometimes just for subsistence (3 meals
a day). As compared to then, the quality of living in our family has improved no less than ten
folds now. My parents live a kind of luxurious life in a beautiful bungalow house on the
money sent by three of our well-off brothers. Recently, as my mother became frail with age,
she tried to find someone to do the much simpler job of cooking and cleaning the house. She
needed six months to find someone to do those simple chores in exchange of subsistence plus
a good salary.
There is definitely poverty in Bangladesh today. However, the situation has improved a lot as
compared to the desperate poverty and hunger that existed in the 1960s and 70s. The
above example clearly proves this assertion. Hence, if poverty is to be taken as a genuine
cause of the current surge in Islamic extremism, then there should have been more terrorism
in the 1970s than that of the present time in Bangladesh. But in truth, today Bangladesh is
plagued by Islamic intolerance and terrorism almost as much as any other Muslim country in
the world. The same parallel also applies to Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and all of the
Middle East countries. Indeed, the oil-producing Muslim countries have made massive
economic strides with concomitant increase in religious violence. This clearly discounts
poverty as an underlying driver of the recent bubble in Islamic terrorism worldwide.

Deprivation/Disenfranchisement of the Muslims
The issue of deprivation or disenfranchisement is more relevant to the context of the migrant
Muslims in the Western countries or those living in the countries where Muslims constitute a
minority, such as in India. It is true that the Muslim migrants remain relatively poor in the
Western countries when compared with other migrants, such as the Hindus from India and
the Chinese from the various parts of Asia. Yet, the average Muslim house- hold income is
higher than average American house-hold according to a recent report [Washington Post],
which would rules out economic deprivation of the Muslims in the US.
Indeed, there is no concrete evidence of selective discrimination against the Muslims in the
Western countries, at least there wasnt before the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York. Since
the 9/11, there has been an increasing skepticism and concern about t hem as perpetration
of acts of violence and terrorism or attempt to do so continue unabated. Yet, there have
existed many terror cells across Europe and North America since many years before the 9/11
and their acts became coordinated and bold enough to strike the United States at New York
on the 11th of September, 2001.
If we agree that there is some discrimination against the immigrant communities in the West,
such discrimination must apply to all immigrant communities, including the Hindus, the
Chinese and so on. However, there has not been any trace of terror cells established by the
Hindus and Chinese in the West, nor have they committed or attempted to commit any acts of
terrorism to kill unarmed and innocent civilians.
In Australia, however, the Chinese immigrant community, have faced severe hatred and
racism during much of the 1990s and early 2000s, at least on the streets. Other immigrant
communities, such as the Muslims, Hindus/Indians etc. did not face the same in Australia.
Yet, the Chinese who form a big bulk of the immigrants in Australia are not known to have
established any terror cells, nor organized any terror attacks, nor attempted to do so.
So, it is absolutely groundless to claim that there is a selective deprivation or
disenfranchisement of the Muslim community in the West. Yet, they are a relatively poor and
less educated community because of their lack of serious interest in education and working
hard to improve their economic condition. Hindus of India, the Chinese and other immigrant
communities have done better because of their good work-ethics and efforts to excel in
studies and careers. It is a common knowledge in the West, especially in Europe, that when
Hindu parents of Indian origin remain anxious about their childrens ability to enter into a
good university for studying science, engineering or medicine, many Muslim parents of the
Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent pray that their children be obedient and go to
Madrassa to receive religious education.
In regard to the countries where Muslims form a minority community, such as China, India
and Singapore, it will be very difficult to establish that there are serious discriminations
against the Muslims in these countries. In stead, discriminations are much more rife against
non-Muslim communities in Muslim countries, such as in Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh,
Indonesia and those in the Middle East. Discrimination against non-Muslims is a state policy
in some of these countries whilst in others, it is unofficial and rife. If discrimination,
deprivation or disenfranchisement has anything to do with terrorism, then non-Muslim
communities should have overwhelmed the countries like Malaysia, Pakistan, and Saudi
Arabia with massive violence and terrorist attacks for clearly justifiable reasons, which never
Again, Muslims cannot be discriminated, deprived or disenfranchised in countries where they
form the majority. Yet, Muslim countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia etc. have
seem massive rise in intolerance and terrorist activities unleashed not by the severely
discriminated and deprived non-Muslim communities but by the privileged Muslim
community itself. Thus allegation of selective deprivation or disenfranchisement of the
Muslims neither exist, nor can in any way form the basis of the surge in Islamic intolerance
and violence be it in the West or the East, in the Muslim-dominated or Muslim- minority
Education and Economic prosperity: remedy or cause?
Pundits have overwhelming supported the theory that illiteracy and desperate poverty are the
principle reasons behind the recent upsurge in Islamic violence after the relative calm during
past few decades. If this proposal is to be taken as valid, then better education and economic
prosperity would act as the remedy to the Islamic intolerance that we have witnessed in
recent years. But as I have discussed with clearly verifiable examples in the context of the
subcontinent that Muslims are much more educated and much better-off economically today
as compared to the situation of the 1960s and 70s. Yet, countries in that region have
experienced a massive surge in violent activities from the religious- motivated Muslim groups
in recent years as compared to the 1960s and 70s.
Be it Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or any other Muslim country
of the Middle East, the level of education and economic prosperity have significantly
improved across the masses since the 1960s and 70s. We do not see the desperate poverty and
hunger and lack of education that existed in many of these countries in the 1960s and 70s.
With the increase in level of educational and economic prosperity, the level of religious
bigotry and intolerance, accompanying with violence and terrorism, have seen proportional
increase amongst the Muslim populace of these countries. Hence, the more logical theory
would predict that better education and economic prosperity might act as the cause and
definitely not as the remedy for terrorism. That is:
Level of Education & Wealth Islamic intolerance & violence

Education and Wealth as primers of Islamic terrorism
Howsoever, unbelievable this theory may sound; it requires a thorough examination before
accepting or rejecting it. The following points would be helpful in arriving at a conclusion on
this supposedly contentious and incredible hypothesis:
1. Education and Wealth in 1960s and now: The first compelling support to this
theory comes from the fact that when compared with the situation of the 1960s and
70s, Islamic intolerance and violence have proportionally increased with the
improvement of education and economic condition of the Muslims.

2. Terrorism, Asia vs. Africa: When compared with Asia and the Middle East, some
Muslims countries of the African continent has seen a serious decline in economic
condition since the 1970 and early 80s, after the Western colonial powers left those
countries. Yet, those countries have experienced much less increase in violence of the
Islamic nature, if at all. However, there has been an increase in violence between
various factions of tribal nature for the control of economic resources as in Ivory
Coast, Ethiopia and Chad etc. On the other hand, the relatively better-off Muslim
countries or region of Nigeria, Morocco and Sudan have seen an increase in violence
and terrorism of religious nature amongst the Muslim community.
One notable exception is Somalia, which is in desperate poverty and at the same time,
has experienced significant increase in religiously- motivated violence. It needs to be
noted, however, that until 1992, when UN peacekeeping forces were sent to Somalia
to establish law and order, the desperate chaos that exited there was absolutely of
tribal nature for grabbing power and control over regional territories and resources.
Such violence typically emanates from desperate poverty and lack of functioning
Government in a territory. However, after the UN forces landed there in April 1992,
violence and chaos in Somalia took the color of religious variety. This religious turn
in violence there did not originate locally but instead was exported from the overseas
shores by the terrorist groups of the better-off Muslim countries of Asia and the
Middle East. Osama bin- Ladens al-Qaeda group sent money, weapons and fighters
to Somalia to fight the UN peacekeepers in Somalia leading to latters forced
withdrawal after taking heavy casualty. Hence, terrible economic turmoil by itself did
not give rise to violence and terrorism of Islamic nature in Somalia. Poverty cannot be
blamed as the seed of Islamic terrorism as witnessed there.
3. Education and Economics of the Terrorist Masterminds. The most compelling
evidence that supports the Education and Wealth as the primers of Islamic terrorism
thesis is the level of education and economic prosperity of the major terrorist
masterminds across the world. All the leading Islamic terrorist figures including
Osama bin- Laden, his deputy Ayman Al- Zawahiri, Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, Sheikh
Abdur Rahaman & Bangla Bhai (Bangladesh), the militant leaders of Hezbollah,
Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups etc. are all moderate-to-well educated and
belong to moderate-to-highly well-off families. Osama bin- Laden belonged to one of
the richest and highly influential family of Saudi Arabia and is an engineer by
education and training. His deputy al- Zawahiri is medical doctor by training from
Egypt. Sheikh Abdur Rahaman & Bangla Bhai the two terrorist masterminds of
Bangladesh are known to have traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia of education.
Such opportunities are rather uncommon in Bangladesh. Poverty and hunger have
never been an issue in their lives that might have driven them towards terrorism out of
desperation. And their level of education is enviable to the overwhelming majority of
their countrymen.

4. Money flow for terrorism: There is no secret in the fact that Islamic terrorism
bubbled across the world as a result of money- flow from the Arab world, which made
stunning economic prosperity through the sales of oil during the last few decades.
Another source of money have been the so-called Muslim charity organizations,
which mushroomed in the Western countries after Muslims arrived there in big
numbers and achieved better economic prosperity than that they have in their home
countries. This once again shows how relative economic prosperity drives the
Muslims towards investment in terrorist organizations.

5. Saddams Pay-checks and the Suicide Bombing in Palestine: When Saddam
Hussein announced big bounties for suicide bombing against Israeli targets, Muslim
militants in Palestine launched waves of sustained suicide bombing against Israel. As
soon as the checks from Iraqi coffer stopped after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in
2003, there has been a sharp decline in the suicide bombing operations against Israel.
Thus, when there are money-checks for organizing terrorist operations, there will be
terrorism. When money dries out, there wont. Another reason is that when these
terrorists get a big check in their hands so that their family can leave in comfort, they
can dedicate themselves to the cause of his/her God. When economic solvency or
security is there, Muslims can dedicate themselves to campaign of mart yrdom for a
straight- landing in Islamic heaven.

Concluding Remarks
The prominent Jihadists in the rank of bin-Laden, al-Zawahiri and al- Zarqawi have
repeatedly and loudly claimed that they are fighting Jihad in way of Allah to defeat the
Western infidels such as the Zionist and Crusader coalition in Palestine as well as to establish
the Koranic law-based and Western influence- free puritanical Islamic society in countries
like Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Somalia and throughout the Middle East. The latest
al-Qaeda video demanded that Americans convert to Islam or suffer, clearly spelling their
desire to expand the domination of Islam to all corners of the world which is line with
Prophet Muhammads incessant effort to spread Islam through ceaseless wars against the
non-Muslim communities and territories in his life-time. Defying these repeated and loud
declarations of the terrorist masterminds, the so-called educated moderate Muslims and their
infidel sympathizers from the Communist, leftist and liberal coalition of the West and
elsewhere, have repeatedly sought to sell the illiteracy and poverty amongst the Muslims and
alleged discrimination and deprivation against them as the underlying causes behind the
massive rise of Islamic violence in recent years. The thorough examination of the
circumstances and facts regarding the Muslim populace, both in the West and elsewhere,
discount these nave excuses as the underlying causes of Islamic violence and terrorism with
absolute certainty.
Better education and wealth seem to have a positive link with the recent surge in violence by
the Muslim groups, instead of being the remedy for it. It can be said with good degree of
certainty that had Osama bin-Laden been a pauper who had to slog round the day to support
his family, in stead of being a wealthy sheikh, he would never have gone on to set up such
huge terror network having cells at every corner of the world. Other big terrorist masterminds
who might have come from relatively humble family have been given huge sums of
money by the richer terrorist leaders, supporters or the so-called Islamic charities, to launch
their Jihadi campaigns. Financial security for the family and financial capability for
organizing terrorists acts clearly seem to work as the primers of terrorism amongst the
And almost invariably, all of the terrorist masterminds have been well-educated in the
community they come from. Education probably helps them analyze their religious duty
better in the contexts of the religious Scriptures and the historical events right from the
beginning of Islam. Prophet Muhammads life was characterized by more 100 wars and
raiding expeditions against the infidel communities, territories and caravans, which are well-
recorded in Islamic annals and literature, support such a hypothesis. Further, the fact that
these terrorist masterminds are well- versed in the religious matters who frequently quote
Koranic verse, Ahadiths (Sunna) and historical events to justify their actions, reinforces the
notion that better education are likely inspirational factors behind Islamic terrorism that we
witness today. On the other hand, the uneducated Muslims, who cannot read the Islamic
Scriptures, the Sunna and the Islamic historical background and who have to slog hard to
support the family, are rarely found to be a founder of any Islamic terror cell anywhere in the
The bottom- line is that better education and prosperity of the Muslim populace is definitely
not a solution to the violence unleashed by the Muslim terrorist groups across the world but
instead, are very likely to work as the recipe for worsening violence and terrorism by them.