Does welfare cause terrorism?

Political commentary and more.
Dec. 17 2001 8:49 AM

Does Welfare Cause Terrorism?

You knew Mickey's Assignment Desk would come to this.

 Here are some suspected terrorists in the news:

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  • Zacarias Moussaoui, the French North African charged with conspiracy in connection with the 9/11 attack, became an Islamic radical living in London "while drawing welfare benefits and studying economics," Newsday reports.

  • Ahmed Ressam, the member of Algeria's Armed Islamic Group who was arrested crossing the U.S. border with bombs designed to blow up L.A.'s airport, moved to Canada in 1994 where he "survived on welfare payments" and petty crime, according to terrorism expert Peter Bergen.

  • Metin Kaplan, who heads a German radical Islamist sect suspected of attempting to fly a plane into the Ataturk mausoleum in Turkey, "claimed social [welfare] benefits in Cologne for many years until 2m Deutschmarks ($1.2m) in cash was found in his flat," reports the BBC.

  • Abu Qatada, the cleric who taught Moussaoui and is accused of having links to al-Qaida agents in six countries, avoided extradition to Jordan on terrorism charges by settling in England, where "[l]ike many other London-based Arab dissidents, [he] has received regular welfare checks from the British government—and government subsidized housing," according to the Washington Post. Abu Qatada's welfare payments were stopped when it was discovered he controlled a secret bank account containing approximately $270,000.

Do you see a pattern? There's a story here! And it's not as crazy or demagogic as it seems.

The point isn't simply that many terrorists take advantage of Western welfare states, the same way they take advantage of Western freedoms and Western technology. The point is that extreme anti-social terrorist ideologies (radical Islam, in particular) seem to breed in "oppositional" cultures supported by various government welfare benefits.

This is particularly evident in France, where—as  this  Los Angeles Times piece describes—unemployed and alienated North African Arab immigrants in subsidized public housing projects turn to crime and violence in a vicious cycle familiar to students of the African-American "underclass." Except that in France, in the "violent neighborhoods, the housing projects where the young men can be recruited" into terrorism, an "ironic thing" happens, according to a French intelligence officer quoted by the Times' Sebastian Rotella:

"When the extremists take control, violence goes down. Islam brings discipline. But then we have to watch that neighborhood for a different reason."

Such North African Arabs make up "the backbone [of] Islamic terrorist groups in Europe" reports Peter Finn of the Washington Post—although the 9/11 hijackers seem to have been a separate, elite al-Qaida group drawn largely from Persian Gulf states.

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