Why People Turn to Bombs

Posted on January 28, 2008 by Tommy McGuire
Labels: books
The 14 December 2007 issue of Science contains a review ("Why People Turn to Bombs") by Ethan Bueno de Mesquita of What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism by Alan B. Krueger (ISBN 9780691134383). The reviewer writes that Krueger suggests two root causes of terrorism: "First..., the absence of political freedom is positively correlated with terror attacks....Second, democracies are more often the victims of terrorism than autocracies...[because] democratic leaders are more responsive than autocratic leaders to public opinion...."

Am I wrong in thinking that these two root causes are contradictory? The "absence of political freedom" would seem to indicate a government *not* "responsive...to public opinion", and vice versa. While I suspect that the two statements can be made compatible in some fashion (perhaps the countries with a lack of political freedom are exporting their terrorists to those with democratic leaders, or perhaps Krueger is concerned with countries with a combination of democratic leaders and an absence of political freedom; a false democracy), I think this issue is fundamental in the question of whether Krueger's work is worthwhile.

The reviewer, however, focuses on potential methodological problems and takes issue with Krueger's policy implications. (I have significantly less of a problem with Krueger's described policy conclusions: "The importance of guaranteeing civil liberties has been underemphasized as a means of prosecuting the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq," and terrorism "only matters in a big way if we let it matter." On the other hand, I do agree with the reviewer that it is plausible that there is a significant relationship between poverty and terrorist recruitment, and that Krueger's analysis may have avoided this relationship.)


Unfortunatly I haven't read this book (if it is one) but I thought the reason for people turning to bombs was simply because they are desperate to draw attention to their own political plight?

What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism is indeed a book, although I haven't read it. I was commenting on the review of it in Science magazine.

Drawing attention is a necessary response to the absence of political freedom, hence the importance of guaranteeing civil liberties as a port of anti-terror campaigns.
Tommy McGuire
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