When New Jersey legislators introduced a bill this month that would ban state pension funds from investing in companies doing business with Iran, it was part of an emerging battle cry across the country for "terror-free investing."
Surveys show that most Americans like the idea of deploying investment dollars to assist in the war on terror. And so a growing number of state officials – and a few at the national level – are promoting divestment from companies dealing with countries that the US considers state sponsors of terror.
"This is an empowering action for Americans who have looked for a way to do their part about terrorism and the countries sponsoring it," says Missouri state treasurer, Sarah Steelman, whose efforts have resulted in what is considered the first state-level "terror-free" financial-management program.
The push for terror-free investing has gained intensity over the past year – both as attention to Iran has grown and as the investing technique has ridden on the coattails of a successful grass-roots campaign to encourage divestment from Sudan.
Local steps to divest from companies doing business with Iran mirror efforts of the international community to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Just this weekend, the United Nations Security Council approved new sanctions intended to force Iran to stop enriching uranium.
And ever since 2004, when the US government implicated the Sudanese government in what it calls genocide in the province of Darfur, human rights groups have pressed states and funds to get out of business with Sudan.
A half-dozen states, including New Jersey, last year adopted measures divesting billions of dollars from companies doing business in Sudan.
The idea of using divestment as a grass-roots political tool has deeper origins. Starting with apartheid in the 1980s, divestment drives spawned by social movements have targeted everything from guns and gambling to global warming. Besides Darfur, international targets include Israel over its settlements in the occupied territories.