Why is no one talking about poverty?

Over the past few weeks the news has been consumed with debates about the root causes of violent and extreme behaviour oversees. Most notably the actions of Mohammed Emwazi (or Jihadi John). CAGE argue that his extremism was accelerated by the interventions and prejudicial actions of the security services. The government argue that he, like all other terrorists, is solely responsible for his beliefs and actions. This exposes a great debate: what causes terrorism; is it prejudice and victimisation, is it personal evil, or is it a natural bi-product of religion? These appear to be the main talking points, but what everyone seems to be ignoring is the influence of the economy. Terrorism has a tendency of cropping up in poor communities or poor countries. Violence of any sort is always more rampant the poorer the area, yet no one is talking about it.

First let’s look at the situation here in the UK. In this country in general, ethnic minorities are worse off than the indigenous white population. This applies to household income: 20% of white citizens live in ‘low-income households’ compare to 60% of Pakistanis and 70% of Bangladeshis. In terms of total wealth owned, ethnic minorities again are at a great disadvantage: a 2009 Wealth and Assets survey found that Bangladeshi households had an average wealth of assets approximately one tenth of white households. Ethnic minorities are also more likely to experience unemployment. As a result of all of this ethnic minorities are more likely to experience the disadvantages that come with existing at the lower end of the economic scale. BME citizens are more likely to suffer from poor health, but are less likely to access health services. BME citizens are also more likely to live in poor areas affected by crime and be direct victims of crime. The fact is that ethnic minorities in the UK are more likely to be affected by low income and poverty. They are more likely to suffer as a result of the new capitalist structure.

Now let’s look abroad, at Isis itself. Isis is a pop up state; one that is violent and extreme in its nature, but it is also a state that was born out of extreme deprivation. In the aftermath of the Iraq war the country was in a terrible state. Vast amounts of money had been spent on fighting US and UK troops. Valuable infrastructure and economically thriving cities were destroyed or became battlegrounds. This has created an Iraq which is poor, even by the standards of the region it is in. In 2009 it had official unemployment of 15.3% (unofficially the figure looked to be 30% only outdone by Libya and Yemen). In 2008 a quarter of the population were living under the poverty line. It has one of the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates. Post-war Iraq was infested with all the flaws that come with poverty.

Isis was born from this; from a people living in throws of abject poverty, and using the language of religious convictions managed to attract those in the UK who shared their economic despondency. Do not misunderstand this article; it does not exist to excuse the actions of terrorists and murderers. Those who kill, do an injustice that goes well beyond the suffering they have experienced as a result of poverty, however the factor must be acknowledged. Poverty and low income can be linked to a variety of social and global evils; terrorism is another example. Terrorism is complex to understand, and I would not seek to explain its route causes solely in poverty, but it cannot be ignored. Maybe increased security will play a part as the government believe, or maybe a more sympathetic and apologetic foreign policy will douse the flames of hatred. We cannot say emphatically. But I would argue that it will all come to naught unless the glaring ethnic and global injustices of our economic system are rectified. Help reduce low income in the UK and provide meaningful economic investment in the middle east and you will, I would argue, see a reduction in the number of people despondent and angry enough to behead people in the desert.

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