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Radical, Religious, and Violent

Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism

Eli Berman
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    Radical, Religious, and Violent
    Book Description:

    How do radical religious sects run such deadly terrorist organizations? Hezbollah, Hamas, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Taliban all began as religious groups dedicated to piety and charity. Yet once they turned to violence, they became horribly potent, executing campaigns of terrorism deadlier than those of their secular rivals. In [title], Eli Berman approaches the question using the economics of organizations. He first dispels some myths: radical religious terrorists are not generally motivated by the promise of rewards in the afterlife (including the infamous seventy-two virgins) or even by religious ideas in general. He argues that these terrorists (even suicide terrorists) are best understood as rational altruists seeking to help their own communities. Yet despite the vast pool of potential recruits--young altruists who feel their communities are repressed or endangered--there are less than a dozen highly lethal terrorist organizations in the world capable of sustained and coordinated violence that threatens governments and makes hundreds of millions of civilians hesitate before boarding an airplane. What's special about these organizations, and why are most of their followers religious radicals?Drawing on parallel research on radical religious Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Berman shows that the most lethal terrorist groups have a common characteristic: their leaders have found a way to control defection. Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban, for example, built loyalty and cohesion by means of mutual aid, weeding out "free riders" and producing a cadre of members they could rely on. The secret of their deadly effectiveness lies in their resilience and cohesion when incentives to defect are strong.These insights suggest that provision of basic social services by competent governments adds a critical, nonviolent component to counterterrorism strategies. It undermines the violent potential of radical religious organizations without disturbing free religious practice, being drawn into theological debates with Jihadists, or endangering civilians.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-25855-5
    Subjects: Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note to Readers
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  5. 1 Why Are Religious Terrorists So Lethal?
    (pp. 1-27)

    In the tense days after the horrific attacks of September 2001 the United States vowed a “global war on terrorism,” with the support of almost all the world’s governments. Since then the United States and most of the world have massively increased their counterterrorism effort. Has the threat from terrorism diminished?

    Counting casualties from terrorism since September 11 provides a clear answer. In the six yearsfollowingthose attacks, starting in October 2001, terrorists killed about 11,800 people worldwide. In the three years and eight months before 9/11, starting from January 1998, when the first comparable data are available, the...

  6. 2 The Defection Constraint
    (pp. 29-59)

    Four decades after the war ended Sam Popkin returned to Vietnam, retracing his steps and asking questions better left unasked on his initial visit. By this time Professor Popkin was an accomplished scholar of political science, an expert on polling, and a sometime consultant to American presidential campaigns. A big, friendly man in his sixties with a shock of white hair and a talent for getting people to talk to him, Sam returned to seek out the South Vietnamese villagers he had interviewed in the late 1960s. Then, as a graduate student, and again as a young assistant professor at...

  7. 3 Sects, Prohibitions, and Mutual Aid: The Organizational Secrets of Religions Radicals
    (pp. 61-93)

    Larry Iannaccone just wouldn’t listen. According to rumor, years after he graduated from the elite University of Chicago economics program he was held out as an example ofhow not to write a doctoral dissertation. A polite young man, he wore slacks and button-down shirts and generally insisted on holding his ground in discussions. Yet what he was proposing was just too much for his dissertation advisors. He wanted to revive an ancient and forgotten academic field, the economics of religion.

    To be sure, University of Chicago economists are hardly a bunch that shy away from controversial ideas. On the...

  8. 4 Sect, Subsidy, and Sacrifice
    (pp. 95-119)

    Iannaccone provided a clever explanation for religious prohibitions with his club model. As we’ve seen, his approach is supported by evidence: religious radicals from different cultures show strong similarities in their prohibitions, mutual aid activities, and fertility, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. Yet we still haven’t explainedsacrifices, yeshiva attendance, or the lethality of clubs at terrorism.

    Let’s return to the puzzle of sacrifices. Sacrifices grate on economists like fingernails on a blackboard, because they involve a most uneconomical destruction of resources. In biblical times, religious sacrifice included burnt offerings, vows of celibacy, and vows of abstinence—all expensive...

  9. 5 The Hamas Model: Why Religious Radicals Are Such Effective Terrorists
    (pp. 121-155)

    In October 2005 a major earthquake shook the mountains and valleys of Kashmir, the disputed region that sits uncomfortably between northwest India and Pakistan. While the epicenter was in Pakistani-administered western Kashmir, the destruction traced a broad arc along the intersections of the Eurasian and Indian plates, from Karachi in southwest Pakistan, north into Afghanistan, east across northern Pakistan, through Kashmir, and into India. Over seventy thousand people died, mostly in Kashmir. Millions were left homeless. In the earthquake’s aftermath humanitarian needs were acute—especially in the poorly governed hinterlands of Kashmir. Remote villages with road access blocked by landslides...

  10. 6 Why Suicide Attacks?
    (pp. 157-181)

    “If they’re so rational and well adjusted, Professor,” asks a young student toward the back of the lecture hall, “then why do they blow themselves up?” He’s got longish black hair, parted to the side, which matches a dark T-shirt. The skateboard propped against the last seat in his row might be his. He’s leaning forward stiffly in his seat, a little nervous to be asking a question in a large class. He is asking anyway, so he must care. My students at UC San Diego sometimes have friends and relatives in the military, some serving in dangerous parts of...

  11. 7 Constructive Counterterrorism
    (pp. 183-209)

    In 1973 PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat had a terrorism problem. The campaign of hijacking and hostage taking and the spectacular attack on athletes at the Munich Olympics had exposed his cause brilliantly to the world. These bloody acts had also made recruitment and political extortion much easier. Now, having achieved international standing, further violence threatened to undermine the new image Arafat sought to project. The PLO was being vilified as a bloodthirsty terrorist organization just when he wanted to become the foremost statesman for the Palestinian cause. Terrorism had become a liability on his path to international legitimacy. It was...

  12. 8 Religious Radicals and Violence in the Modern World
    (pp. 211-240)

    The author of that last quote is not Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, or Sayyid Qutb, the twentieth-century theologian of violent political jihad who inspired Bin Laden. Those words come from the sixteenth century, the period Adam Smith was thinking of when he wrote the first quote above, linking religion and violence. They belong to Menno Simons of the Netherlands, sixteenth-century Christian radical reformer, contemporary of Martin Luther, and the original Mennonite. The Mennonites are pacifists today, though their fellow Anabaptists were often violent in the chaotic environment in which their sects first emerged. Anabaptist sects, even...

  13. Analytical Appendix
    (pp. 241-250)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 251-272)
  15. References
    (pp. 273-284)
  16. Index
    (pp. 285-300)