Does Terrorism Have An Economic Motive?

In the world Islamic fundamentalism, most of us believe that terrorism is brought about by religious bias. But the terrorist might in fact have an economic motive. It is abundantly clear that he who risks and often sacrifices his own life in the very act of creating terror does not have a personal economic motive however it is likely that he is motivated to destroy economies. Wealth, abundance and prosperity after all symbolize the ‘evil’ that the Islamist sees as an adversary.

Terrorist attacks occur almost daily in larger and smaller numbers impacting civilians all over the world (Terrorism Research Center) however it is the large scale attacks in major global financial centers that leave the world reeling in shock.  An attack on a town in Afghanistan, Gujarat or Dagestan is quickly forgotten as people resume their daily lives the next day.  But an attack on New York or London destabilizes the country’s entire economic machine for several days, leaving its citizens and those elsewhere in the world fearful and helpless. When the major financial center is Mumbai, the nerve center of an economy that is growing at 9% per annum, the terrorist’s motive is greater. Perhaps because economic growth in a country with which a terrorist can ethnically identify, is a telling sign that the threads of ‘evil’ have become deeply ingrained within his own people.

BBC released a documentary in 2005 entitled “The Power of Nightmares.” It outlines the history of the Neo-Conservative movement in America and interestingly enough it shows how Al-Qaeda and the Neo-Conservatives were rooted in the same ideology: that the economic prosperity of the West represented a decline of social values. For the Neo-Cons this spurred a desire to create state terror in the guise of war.  For Al-Qaeda it spurred a desire to declare war in the guise of terror.

I put the question out to to several people this week after the terror attacks on Mumbai. Mona M. from Hong Kong’s answer summarized most people’s responses:

“Terrorism is perpetrated by those who have no hope for a better life in the future hence it is in my view largely caused by economics. As much of a capitalist that I am, the openly widening gulf between the rich and poor causes jealously especially for the majority of the poor who have no access to free and good health care and schooling. This jealousy in extreme cases leads to violence and terrorism is just one form. I suppose this gap has always existed but it has been private while now with mass media it is open for all to see. Unless we see a bigger trickle down effect I think terrorism will continue to spread.”


9/11: A Clear Case for Economic Terrorism

The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center are probably the most lucid example of the Islamic terrorist’s mindset against economic prosperity. The World Trade Center in New York symbolized the economic prosperity of the West at its peak.  New York City is home to the stock exchange and the Twin Towers were home to the top investment banks and financial companies of America.   The very machine of the U.S. economy that infiltrated the homes and livliehood of people across the nation.

A report to Congress estimated that 130,000 people lost jobs due to the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center. Several industries faced very strong negative effects after 9/11, especially in the airline, hotel and insurance industries. Approximately 18,000 businesses were affected by the 9/11 attacks and because of New York City’s huge losses, the city was provided aid of $11.2 billion for debris removal, $5 billion for economic development incentives, and $5.5 billion for infrastructure projects.

Disaffected Societies In India Engender Home Grown and Imported Terrorism

Recently, India has been the focus of the global media: its economic leaps and bounds, the emergence of its consumerist middle class, and its status as one of the last frontiers for luxury conglomerates looking to consolidate their recent gains. However, in a land of glaring paradoxes, the rich get richer in spite of and often at the cost of a disaffected underclass. In India, this disaffected underclass includes an often neglected Muslim community: economically disenfranchised and increasingly radicalized.

The roots of terror are not always clearly defined. However even if they come from the outside, incidents are often successful due to internal abetting, most often by marginalized communities. Mumbai represents lucre and transaction as Suketu Mehta said in his New York Times Op-Ed yesterday. Hotels such as the terror-struck Taj and Oberoi-Trident are the extended living rooms of Mumbai’s upper classes. This is where India’s top industrialists strike deals and where foreign businesses set up shop as they plan to invest millions in the promise of India. The J.W. Marriott which escaped a terror mission to be razed to rubble, is home to the Bollywood community.The ongoing terrorist assault on Mumbai indicates that sustaining economic growth cannot be accomplished without bringing all of its citizens on board, including, most importantly, its disaffected Muslim underclass.

The fact that India has had a history of war followed by ongoing tension with poor neighbor Pakistan (a key player in America’s war on terror  as well) does not help either. Although the differences between India and Pakistan originally stemmed from religious ideology, today they are perhaps more about socio-economics. The terrorists responsible for last week’s Mumbai attacks are believed to have hailed from Pakistan. Yet rather than having an anti-Hindu agenda, they clearly targeted Mumbai’s elite, its Economic landmarks and its American and British tourists. You might might argue that the Jewish targets were driven by religious fanaticism but consider the fact that the terrorists had targeted them based upon their research that they would be there for a diamond trading conference. For the terrorists, the Jewish community represents economic success perhaps as much as religious differences.

Similar to 9/11, the Mumbai terrorist attacks struck India’s tourist industry at the start of peak season, compounding problems for airlines and hotels that were already facing the slowest growth in visitor numbers in five years.

How Do We Curtail Terrorism Without Curtailing Economic Progress?

And this really is the key question. As an ambitious race that aims to better itself with each generation, economic progress will always be our agenda. Vineet A of Mumbai says we should “remove the incentive to become a terrorist by educating people, removing poverty, have a fair and fast judicial system, countries and governments should stop oppressing people for unjust reasons.

Or is to “dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever” as Suketu Mehta of New York says.

What do you think? In a world where terrorism has become an endemic issue, your opinion can help create a solution. Send us your comments.

You might also enjoy reading:

This is India’s 9/11? Think again

Attacks Strain Indian Pakistan Relationship

Mumbai Terror Attacks Hit India Tourism at Start of Peak Season

Mumbai Terror Update: Terrorists Have Planned This For 6 Months

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Written by Reenita Malhotra

Reenita Malhotra Hora is an Ayurveda clinician, entrepreneur, writer and mom. Her experience has ranged from running Ayoma, an Ayurveda business to running a natural health practice at San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center.

Reenita is a published author of two books books about health and wellness: ‘Ayurveda - the Natural Medicine of India’ and
‘Inner Beauty’. She is also the Editor for Green Options Media's business blogs and a freelance writer for a variety of print and web publications.

In quieter moments, she likes to spend her time hiking, swimming the warm seas, cooking with the family or writing fantasy fiction adventure stories for kids from from 2 to 92.

Check out her wisdom at


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