In attempting to come to grips with Islamist terrorism, some observers, particularly in the West, have suggested that poverty provides the ultimate explanation. Islamist terrorism thrives, the argument goes, because Muslim societies are poor; if Muslim societies experienced economic growth – through trade with the outside world, for example – terrorism would be much less a problem. In an excellent new paper, Terrorism and Trade: A Reply to Professor Bhala, Robert Delahunty (St. Thomas – Minnesota) debunks this argument. He notes that studies repeatedly fail to show a significant empirical link between terrorism and poverty, particularly the poverty which results from a lack of trade with the outside world. In fact, Islamist terrorism in the twenty-first century, like communist terrorism in the nineteenth century, is principally a middle-class phenomenon. Both the leadership and ranks of jihadist movements are made up of educated, upwardly-mobile professionals with ties to the global economy. Like other economic explanations, Delahunty suggests at the end of his paper, the “counter-terrorism through trade” argument may be a way for secular-minded Westerners to avoid coming to terms with the ultimate explanation for religious and ideological terrorism, namely, that its motivations are primarily religious and ideological. There is much more in the paper which, as usual with Delahunty, is remarkably erudite and lucid.

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