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March 1, 2015

Responding To: Week 6: Violent Extremism

The Ramifications of Ignoring Poverty

Lauren Corke

Terrorist organizations depend on poverty. They form in voids of security and development where state governments have little reach, and people have little hope; the corners of the world that are often forgotten until a violent attack on civilians makes the headlines. The global community has a responsibility to act, before the headlines hit, providing opportunity and help where local governments cannot.

The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) took root in Syria after protests against President al-Assad, which were ignited by a lack of opportunity, democracy and employment, disseminated into fractionalized fighting and an overall breakdown of centralized order. Similarly, Boko Haram thrives in Northwestern Nigeria, where the National Bureau of Statistics reported in 2012 that 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, and benefits little from Nigeria’s impressive growth rates. Even FARC, the Colombian Marxist group that formed in the 1960’s, grew from a post-civil war economic reorganization, which resulted in impoverished farmers losing their land and falling wages for peasants seeking work. Whether they are religious fundamentalists in the Middle East, or politically motivated radicals in South America, terrorist organizations find success in areas that are ravaged by poverty and trapped in economic stagnation.

Although there are similarities in the conditions in which most terrorist organizations grow and flourish, the ideologies and goals that drive each organization are more complicated and nuanced than most realize. A recent featured article in The Atlantic discussed the dangers of homogenized efforts against terrorist organizations, pointing out the often-ignored rifts between ISIS and al Qaeda, and the misjudgments thus far that have hindered the US campaign against ISIS.

Just as the Ebola epidemic highlighted the global importance of strong health systems, the rise of terrorist organizations should serve as a lesson to the global community about the ramifications of ignoring poverty. These organizations are not solely the result of fundamentalist religious or political views, but are also the result of a global neglect for certain regions of our interconnected world. As advancements in technology continue to improve global communication and transportation networks, it is crucial that we identify these at-risk regions and support efforts to provide development, opportunity and – perhaps most importantly - hope for the people who live there before terrorist organizations are able to take root. The best weapon against terrorism is development - let’s use it.

Lauren Corke is a graduate student in the Global Human Development Program at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. 

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