St. Petersburg
On April 3, 2017, 14 people died and 64 were injured when an explosive device detonated in the St. Petersburg metro. The perpetrator, Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, who also died in the explosion, came to St. Petersburg in 2011 from Osh, Kyrgyzstan to work as a car mechanic. Upon reviewing Dzhalilov’s online record and talking with witnesses, Russia’s Federal Security Services found links to Islamist websites on his social media, as well as evidence that he had become withdrawn and quiet two months before his suicide bombing.

The St. Petersburg attack brought Russia’s approach to counter-extremism to the spotlight. More than 2,000 Russians have gone off to fight for ISIS, making Russia the largest contributor of ISIS fighters. While some of these fighters harbor resentments dating back to ethnic wars in the 1990s, others saw ISIS as an opportunity to escape from poor economic opportunities and blatant discrimination at home.

History of Chaos

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Chechnya, a majority Muslim, southern region of Russia, descended into chaos. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, pushed for a decentralization of government but would not go as far as to legitimize Chechen separatists’ independence movement. Interethnic conflict engulfed the Caucasus region, with hundreds of thousands of Ingush people and Chechens fleeing from the destruction of their communities. This legacy of insurgency and violence is one of the main causes of radicalization in Russia, especially in the Northern Caucasus, which remains Russia’s most radicalized region even today.

Radical Islamists tend to be concentrated in cities with high concentrations of migrant workers, particularly in the oil-producing cities of Tyumen and Khanty-Mansiysk. In fact, close to 200,000 Chechens, Ingush and Dagestanis live in West Siberia.


Labor migrants from Central Asia face xenophobia after arriving in Russia. In August 2016, one poll administered by the Levada Center found that 52 percent of Russians believe in a “Russia for ethnic Russians.” The same poll found that 39 percent of Russians feel that immigrants destroy Russian culture. Feeling out-of-place as a minority, these migrants seek community and protection in local mosques, breeding grounds for recruitment into radical Islamic groups. In fact, mosques are the main sites of recruitment, according to the Search for Common Good Organization.

Law enforcement and security agencies alienate Muslims by promulgating propaganda that belittles their beliefs. A Wilson Center report details how law enforcement officials in Russia plant drugs while searching the homes of Muslims, only to arrest and jail them later. Intimidated by state pressure, these Muslims seek recluse in the ranks of ISIS.

Social Media

In order to target and entice potential recruits, terrorist groups use social media and online forums. VKontakte, a popular Russian social media site, was the go-to for ISIS supporters and recruiters until the company began shutting down content that promoted the terrorist group in September 2014. To work around these restrictions, ISIS now uses its own Furat Media to disseminate propaganda.

Russia has implemented stringent counter-extremism laws, to the point that some critics worry about an invasion of piracy. A 2014 Extremism Law gave authorities the power to ban websites and social media accounts without a court order. In the span of 11 months, between February and December 2015, Russia banned 512 websites. Moreover, the 2016 Yarovaya Law forces digital providers to store clients’ data for a minimum of six months and make these records available to the Federal Security Services.

Financial Woes

Extremist groups recruit financially vulnerable migrants with promises of stable jobs and a network of support. More than 28 percent of interviewees in a survey by the Search for Common Ground organization said that the prospect of stable jobs and salaries attracted them to ISIS recruiters. This issue is compounded for undocumented migrants in Russia, who are much more vulnerable financially.

While the Russian government’s counter-extremism laws are harsh, its official rhetoric against its Muslim population, 11.7 percent according to the Pew Research Center, has the unintended consequence of promoting radicalization.

The time is now for Russia to consider more than just its censorship of extremist content. The country must, first and foremost, eradicate the root causes of radicalization, addressing state-sponsored discrimination, financial insecurity and minority rights.

– Mark Blekherman
Photo: Flickr

Four major socioeconomic factors correlate significantly with the cultivation of extremism in developing nations: youth unemployment, militarization, levels of criminality, access to weapons and corruption.

These factors strengthen the four drivers of radicalization that arise in developed countries: historic conflict, corruption, acceptance of human rights and the marginalization of groups.

Two major categories of socioeconomic conditions that lead to extremism include relative deprivation and general corruption. These ideas largely capture the four elements that are common among both developing and developed nations where radicalization is most common.

Relative Deprivation
Relative deprivation is the discrepancy between individuals’ expectations of justice and the state and an opposing reality and is a precursor to radicalization.

Kartika Bhatia and Hafez Ghanem argue that unemployment and underemployment can increase the likelihood of violent extremism, explaining the positive relationship between relative deprivation and radicalization. Furthermore, those with secondary educations who are unemployed or underemployed have the highest risk of becoming radicalized.

The Global Terrorism Index discloses that those who move to Syria to become an ISIL foreign fighter experience relative deprivation in that they typically have high educations but low incomes.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, acts of terror between 1989 and 2014, “93 percent of all terrorist attacks occurred in countries with state-sponsored terror including extra-judicial deaths, torture and imprisonment without trial” versus only 0.5 percent of countries not experiencing political terror suffering from internal terrorist acts.

Poor socioeconomic conditions like widespread poverty can lead to political instability that reinforces antidemocratic values and the disenfranchisement of citizens. This reciprocal relationship between poor socioeconomic circumstances and corruption negatively influence one another, both factors swelling each other’s occurrence.

The report also notes that “when group grievances against the state are high, and the opportunity cost of joining a rebellion is low, groups are most likely to form”.

Today and the Future
Despite it all, there is good news. In 2016, the number of terrorist attacks and deaths from the attacks have both declined by 10 percent.

A decrease in the number of instances is significant and certainly good news. But getting to the root of what is causing radicalization is the best strategy to ameliorate the socioeconomic conditions that lead to extremism in general.

The creation of anti-corruption measures is being enforced globally. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption recognizes the destructive effects that corruption has on citizens. Postulating corruption as a global issue, the convention proposes a set of regulations that fights to eliminate corruption both before and after it occurs.

Matthew Murray, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, takes the position that freedom from official corruption is a human right and international law should reflect that.

The legal advocacy of recognizing corruption as a crime against human rights is a fundamental step toward global initiatives that will combat corruption preying on vulnerable nations.

Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

Conflict in MyanmarSince winning independence from colonial rule in 1948, ethnic conflict in Myanmar has plagued the country. Myanmar endured the world’s longest ongoing civil war, in which the ethnic Bamar Buddhist majority living in the central valley has tried to control other groups living in the mountainous outskirts of the country.

An impressively free election in 2015 gave power to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The foremost goal of the administration is to end the decades of ethnic conflict, but the complexity of these issues does not allow for easy solutions.

The Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process works to promote women’s rights and gender equality as a method to end Myanmar’s ethnic conflict.

Obstacles to women entering decision-making roles include the prevalence of gender violence and entrenched societal expectations that women must play supporting roles in society. Myanmar’s constitution condones discrimination, with section 352 stating “nothing…shall prevent the appointment of men to the positions that are suitable for men only.” Women are frequently characterized as “decorative.”

The conflict affects women, men and children differently since they occupy different roles in society. Men are susceptible to combat-related injuries, while women bear the burden of sexual violence, damage to property, and mental trauma. Despite these obstacles, women take an active role in mitigating the damage done by the conflict in Myanmar.

Women have convinced conflicting groups to fight in locations farther from villages. They have also protected men and children by sending them away or hiding them and stepped up to keep the village functioning as their men fled for safety. Excluding women from the peace process prevents the perspective and experiences of 52 percent of the population.

Women better understand the impact of conflict on women, children, the disabled and the elderly. The role of men in these conflicts effectively prevents them from being able to effectively represent large portions of society in negotiating solutions.

International research has shown that women tend to best represent marginalized groups. According to a study by the United Nations, women participating in the decision-making process is a crucial element for achieving sustainable peace.

Involving women in political processes is also an effective strategy for countering extremism. Extreme religions tend to restrict women’s rights, but funding and supporting women weakens the influence of extremists.

In Myanmar, women have crucial roles in dealing with and responding to conflict, and the efforts supported by the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process are a promising step in the right direction to ending decades of conflict in Myanmar.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Google

Combatting ISISISIS recruits much of its membership in the states where it operates. With the increased debate on why this is an occurrence, providing aid to refugees is effective in combatting ISIS because it decreases the chances of them joining the faction.

In an interview with the Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss, Abu Khaled, an Islamic State defector, calls his organization “a welfare state” because it pays for housing and childcare for fighters and residents alike.

Khaled is alarmingly correct. A 2015 Quantum study found that 12% of surveyed ISIS and surrounding extremist group members joined their entities because of money. The report explains that the same militants who fight for their fortunes are from Syria and Iraq.

As monetary compensation is used as a tool to convert impoverished locals into extremists, humanitarian aid is effective in combating ISIS and other extremist groups. However, the U.N.’s budget for Syrian refugees is 65% short of what is required to provide adequate assistance.

Failing to give substantial support to those who need it most explains why many turn to ISIS. Out of all the people who stayed in Syria, 10 million of them have an insufficient food supply. Joining ISIS is a choice of survival when it is the only way to accommodate hunger.

When developed countries give aid to these countries’ refugees, it reduces the need to choose jihad over starvation. The financial factor of pursuing terrorism diminishes when food is on the plates of 10 million starving Syrians.

Appealing to the poor is not a new tactic of radicalism. The ETA, a Basque nationalist group, grew its membership among lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

While poverty is not the only source of extremism, policymakers widely accept it as a valid component. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledges it as “a root cause of terrorism.” Humanitarian efforts by the U.N. are stagnant, but the United States is leading the world in giving to Syrian refugees, providing $419 million in additional aid.

Despite more funding being present, America alone cannot endure success in alleviating Syria’s poverty and combatting ISIS. Foreign policy expert Helen Milner of Princeton University writes that there is “support for the hypothesis that multilateral aid is preferred to bilateral.” Most respondents also classified multilateral aid as the most effective solution.

America has more in its budget than most countries, yet there is still a disparity between the how much the U.S. donates and how much it actually could donate to the Syrian crisis.

Middle Eastern refugees are incentivized to follow the cash flow of prosperity. Western nations can fill the void before ISIS and other extremist groups beat them to it.

Noah Levy

Photo: Flickr

As terrorist networks around the world continue to intensify their activeness in places like Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan and Pakistan, it is worth analyzing the impact that foreign aid might have on reducing extremism.

It is no secret that despite decades and billions of dollars in foreign aid influx into these countries, extremist groups have continuously exploited security gaps and endemic corruption to further their activities. This has allowed for illicit traffic of weapons and the expansion of extremist ideologies across borders.

For instance, in the case of Mali, despite a decade of US assistance, in 2012 it went from a fairly stable democracy to the explosive stage of long simmering insurrections. Also, in Nigeria recent kidnappings and insurgencies by Boko Haram have greatly destabilized the country and brought into question the Nigerian government’s ability to contain the situation. Also, heightened activity by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only remains a threat to locals, but a constant threat to US national security.

Since major attacks by the Al-Qaeda network began in the late 1980s, the US has invested billions of dollars to combat the threat of terrorism. Policymakers at the time converged in the belief that economic development was key to ending terrorism. This is because poorer people are more susceptible to extremist ideas and the appeal of violent groups. Therefore, raising incomes through economic development was the key to diminishing support for militant activities.

Yet, according to a survey by Blair, there is no strong evidence to support this argument. According to the finding, the link between support for militancy activities and socioeconomic status is weak at best, and the policies that derive from such assumption should be revised. This study is supported by extensive scholarship. For instance, a number of scholars have found that people who join terrorist groups predominantly come from middle-income families. Also, a study of extremism in Iraq has found that large-scale development programs do not necessarily impact the level of militant activities. But small-scale programs implemented with active local participation actually do.

The stakes are extremely and understanding the relation between poverty and terrorism is a pressing issue. This does not mean that assistance aimed at poverty alleviation should be stopped or reduced until we know more. There are plenty of development needs to be met such as education, health aid and economic growth, among others.

Perhaps, in order to increase the effectiveness of counter-radicalization, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency related foreign assistance, it is necessary to rethink international and regional programs beyond a simple linkage between poverty and extremism.

Read more about poverty and national security.

Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Institute,  Foreign Affairs
Photo: Africatime

In an interview with the British publication The Guardian, Philippe Douste-Blazy, special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on innovative finance for development, and chairman of the global health partnership Unitaid,  discussed his interest in development, its relationship to poverty and extremism, and the goals of his organization.

Douste-Blazy recounted how his interest in development was sparked by a conversation he had with former French President Chirac, who emphasized for him the  political importance of caring for the 1.5 billion people living in extreme poverty. Chirac’s arguments helped convince Douste-Blazy that the more the world becomes interconnected, the more inequality there is, and that “breed[s] ground for conflict.” Douste-Blazy personalized these issues by stating that if he were an 18-year old living in a developing country and he had to watch his family die from malaria because “the world could not give them less than a pound while knowing that in London or Paris a couple may spend 100 [euros] on dinner, [he could] understand how poverty can be a catalyst for extremist views.”

In his interview Douste-Blazy also described how Unitaid, which uses innovative financing to help facilitate accessibility to the diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis in developing countries, started off with the concept of raising plane ticket prices by 1 euro and donating that 1 to raise these funds. Unitaid was established in 2006 by Brazil, Chile, France, Norway, and the U.K. Today, various members support this mission, including organizations from the global south. Douste-Blazy asserted that this mission’s key goal is to show the international community that this “levy tax on plane tickets” can produce solid results through new financing models further beyond the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. To address the financial problems of development, he said that there is a need for “new sources of innovative financing,” that invest in the poor of today so that they can become the “economic actors of tomorrow” cutting off the ties between poverty and extremism.

Leen Abdallah

Source: Guardian