What’s Up, Doc?

We shouldn't be surprised when terrorists turn out to be doctors

What was most alarming in the stories last week about the uncovered al-Qaeda terrorist ring in London and Glasgow was the number of doctors involved in the plot. From sensational tabloid covers to news analysis pieces in the big dailies, reporters seemed most to marvel at what were assumed to be unusual backgrounds for a group of terrorists.

Even though, from our first awareness of al-Qaeda in the nineties, it was obvious that the source of its rage was not socio-economic but ideological, it’s still hard for us to accept that people with such high levels of education and upper middle-class incomes could be involved in terrorist actions. This newest development offers yet another chance to remind us that poverty does not figure into the equation. And it comes in a column in The Wall Street Journal that looks at the research of Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist. Krueger has found that, “The evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as an important cause of support for terrorism or of participation in terrorist activities.” Instead, Krueger’s research shows, terrorists are made when civil liberties and political rights are suppressed. “When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed,” he says, “malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics.”

Though he offers no iron-clad proof, it should throw some water on journalists who report with shock every time someone with money and education is implicated in terror.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.