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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  1. Before we all get too caught up in international, foreign affairs in India..Let’s find out what all the Real facts are…

    1st of all….

    why India?

    ..There is war and “terrorism ” all over the world!(under the definition of terrorism)…Some much worse than India’s unfortunate situation!..I try to stay away from conspiracy theories(lol).But somertimes ,If used properly ,”out there theories”..Can help you distinqush between B.S. and true facts!…..Here’s what could have happened ….Dissprove it…!

    A small number of people hangin out at the taj had some fire works…One of the guys lit a firework as a joke in his buddies hand…The fire work went off in the hotel causing panic in an already nervous,high tension area…Caused a riot..Military, not knowing exactly what the situation was, moved in causing further chaos..Other gangs of poor,possibly drugged up “wanna be militants” took advantage of the sitiuation ,and exploited it even further ..They jumped into the fire and began to piledge the village ..Take advantage of the wealthy area around them..People ran the streets in confusion not quite sure, which way to run,,Not aware of what was REALLY happening..Explosions could be heard everywhere as Militants went around the block, and from room to room, using flash bangs to clear each area..firing at anyone who looked Gulity of something!.After chaos had taken control..WHO KNOWS WHAT REALY HAPPENED!!!….200 people dead.! 10% from other countries around the world ..

    OF course there were tourists staying at the tourist resort!..A resort that has to start to watch who it lets in its doors.Just need some added security.Could be As simple as that…

    We continue to let a small ammount of thugs, disrupt peace, in the whole world..OR ..Terror wins.!!…Assumptions get you nowhere without facts to base them on …Need Something to back up FAR OUT stories !!!..Real Questions have to be asked to gather REAL Factual information!!.To find a real solution!!..Reasearch is needed before assumptions are aloud to rule over our “terror aftermath” policies..

    We all have issues to deal with in our countries!..Crime being a big one!…But India delt with this riot well!….Better than security dealt with oil pirates…

    Watch what you believe..!..

    Who were these terrorist for sure???…..In all the mass confusion, how can anyone know ,for sure, what happened..???.!!….

    You know ,I can’t be sure ,but from some footage I saw …One militant …Apparently some kind of a leader..Maybe you saw him ?…He was the guy with the gold rimmed glasses…With the little trimmed mustach you could see under his face scarf ..didn’t he Kinda look like a prince from somewhere?..Think I saw him on the news the other week talking about the global crisis?…Can’t be positive but I think he said” Are we adults of terrorists”..Maybe I am wrong..Coulda made it up..not sure..can’t find the article to back my story!..

    Hope you get my point!!

    Won’t Obama be naming more people to his team soon?..Wonder who they’ll be?….Just an innocent question!..Was till all this terror talk started!!..


    I am Probably wrong.So without any facts don’t take my word for it..I would hate to spark an unnecessary situation.If it can be prevented!..

    The congo is getting hostile , as well as many other areas around the world ..There are alot of situations Far worse than india’s!!..India handled this situation well!..There are others who need american and allied world support ,in far more turbulant and disstressed places than India!

    …If we look to solve the problems in the name of peace.We will stop stirring up dust and help prevent small “bangs” from becoming bombs!!…..

    Think in peace, gain peace..Think war, bring war!!!!……

    All this coverage and political intereference over a very small ,controllable situation.. Is not warranted…It is sad to loose anyone to violence..but let’s wait till the smoke clears before we UNJUSTLY and UNFAIRLY jump to conclusions…Let’s hear all the facts!!!..Ask the big questions and Withhold damaging speculation till ..WE KNOW 4 SURE..!…

    How many died?

    How many died directly related to hostage takers??

    Why were so many hostages set free?.

    Were these really radical terrorists?..

    What were “Terrorists” trying to accomplish?

    DID they accomplish what they set out to accomplish ?

    How many died by accident in the confusion?

    Where was the “1st class” security.. Top paying tourists deserve?

    Does the whole world really have to be involved in this?

    Why would radical terrorists kill random people on the street and not ALL the hostages??

    A good journalist ( I am assuming)will look for Real facts not speculation…Assumptions will get us nowhere positive ,in such sitiuations …

    No one will benefit ,in the long run ,if we choose to continuously exploit other peoples problems and weaknesses for our own self interests!!

    Again “terrorists”,”Gangs” will win!

    Having said that, again I feel India handled this situation well…I don’t think this relatively small occurance(in comparison to bigger problems in the world) should be turned into anything bigger than a sparked riot!!…location,location,location!….

    It is a sad world if so few are able to spark war..and terror…Over two big adult leaders like India, Pakistan, and the world!!..

    It’s like being poked in the foot with a pin but not being sure who did it!…

    Who was around at the time?

    Who is the first person you blame ?? …A friend or an enemy??

    It is like letting your unruly child get his way!….You are the adult ..Use your brain to educate/disipline you children..Peacefully..Without VIOLENCE!…

    No one learns peace surrounded in abusive violence…THIS IS A FACT!!!

    Are we adults or Terrorists???..What do we teach our children about terrorism?

    Sorry I know it’s a big message..Please pardon my spew…!!.But this is being overkilled, and People are overdosing on this story.It is a little overwhelming ..Over done!!!

    When will it be over?

    Outta here! ..Not from over there.!..



  2. You explained a part of the terrorist attack, but not the whole. You forgot to explain the attack on Victoria Terminus (the railway station). Why would the terrorist, driven by their economic motive, attack a railway station? Because of the prominent members of India’s elite, who frequent the trains? Also, why would they ask all Muslim hostages to leave (as it happened with the Turkish couple)? Also, why did they specifically ask K. Ramamurthy, one of the hostages at the hotel attacks, whether he was a brahmin?

  3. I know what liberals are thinking about how this could have happen ed, they’re thinking there must have been a conspiracy between the Indian government and the U.S. right wingers and it’s all about oil.
    Hollywood,ACLU, and the democrats are still not convinced this is terrorism, it can’t be, and even if it is, India deserves it, just ask the university of Columbia faculty members or any liberal American University professors, and liberal preachers if I may add.

  4. @Vish, any railway station especially one as large and prominent as VT station represents commerce. Same goes for the train attacks in July 2006 and the London subway attacks. Another possible threat on the NYC subway attack recently…

    While there is no doubt that religion is always at the heart of the matter, consider that in Indian, an economy that grows at 9%, success is largely represented by non Muslim communities.

  5. I feel like this article juxtaposes the terms prosperity and inequality in a confusing way. If I read the article correctly it seems that the premise starts off suggesting that terrorists are targeting prosperity both as a means to sabotage the resource base of “enemies” and because it represents an ideological target. The article then relates that perhaps extremists are motivated by inequality and are lashing out because of it. I think this article is insightful but confusing because of all the religious and cultural issues that are infused with any economic rational terrorists might have. I think we can mitigate some of these issues by examining terrorism as a tactic used by groups and move away from the term “terrorist’ (which has come to mean Islamic Fundamentalist groups who utilize terrorism).

    If one looks more generally acts of terrorism by many unaffiliated groups have often had a basis in economics as well as ideology. On one side Terrorism in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Nepal all had both a political and economic basis. I am more inclined to believe that income equality through the empowerment of disenfranchised groups will do more to help than to simply “dream bigger” as Suketu Mehta suggests. Even well developed economies suffer under a worsening Gini Coefficient and have seen sporadic violence. While not an act of organized terrorism, the Los Angeles riots as well as the more recent unrest in Paris have shown that economic inequality and lack of opportunity can lead to civil unrest even in wealthy countries.

    There is a bigger conversation here and I hope that we can start discussing the root causes of violence and hopefully find solutions.

  6. As this article presents in excellent fashion, the face of terrorism is multifaceted. As such, the motivations are many and the interplay of motivations sometimes complex. Religion and morals play a part, as does politics, culture and finance.

    With regards to “Does terror have an economic motive?”

    Most viewed the 9/11 attacks as an act of hatred directed toward Western capitalism with the intent of inflicting both human and economic damage. While the human causalities were largely limited to the event itself, the economic effects will be with us for decades, if not forever.

    From a different perspective, many throughout the world considered the invasion of Iraq a clear act of terrorism committed by the United States, with a motivation of greed and survival – there is lots of money to be made from the oil business, and without access to Middle East oil our country would collapse.

    I find it interesting that in both cases capitalism is a key factor. Not that capitalism itself is bad, but the ways in which capitalism is practiced have profound consequences on different societies and may not harmonize with their local customs, culture or religion.

    One of the fundamental issues raised in the article concerns the growing spread between haves and have-nots which too often occurs whenever Western style capitalism is employed. In many cases what the world sees is the rich getting richer while the poor are viewed as being trapped within a type of economic slavery.

    Until we have capitalism with a heart, capitalism with a conscience, capitalism with social justice, capitalism with compassion, capitalism with respect – we will continue to breed resentment throughout the world.

    That does not justify acts of terrorism as a valid response, but we do need to understand basic human nature, and there has always been a correlation between greed on the one hand, and violence on the other.

  7. @Global Patriot: Well said about inequality distribution of capital and wealth but will you agree that If most of other religious followers give birth to 1 or 2 children will be richer or those specially muslims who give birth to 8-10 children.My wealth goes to my 2 children and theirs is distributed to 8-10 children. It is them to be blamed rather than to blame the whole system.This is the only root cause of their problems and nothing else. Their ageold 14th century teachings can not be adjusted with 21st century computer age and the young muslim masses who had been jealous of other religions try to blame others rather than introinspect their own dumb teachings and beleifs.

  8. We can see lot of things in India which are related to war and violence but the thing is this that is their any solution of this Terrorism or violence and war and you can also say India and Pakistan.Yes. A solution to these perennial problems can be found in ancient knowledge of Vedic defence. Veda means pure knowledge. Because pure knowledge is non-religious and universal, the Vedic solution of Invincible Defence Technology can be universally applied by the followers all religious beliefs or non-believers for the benefit of humankind.So I think by all this we can change a little bit violence in India.

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