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

MIT Press
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Applying fresh tools from economics to explain puzzling behaviors of religious radicals: Muslim, Christian, and Jewish; violent and benign.

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 Radical, Religious, and Violent, 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.

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About the author

Eli Berman is Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego, and Research Director of International Security Studies at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.

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Additional Information

Publisher
MIT Press
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Published on
Sep 30, 2011
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Pages
314
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ISBN
9780262258005
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Political Science / Political Economy
Political Science / Public Policy / Economic Policy
Political Science / Terrorism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Suicide terrorism is rising around the world, but there is great confusion as to why. In this paradigm-shifting analysis, University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has collected groundbreaking evidence to explain the strategic, social, and individual factors responsible for this growing threat.

One of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject, Professor Pape has created the first comprehensive database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until today. With striking clarity and precision, Professor Pape uses this unprecedented research to debunk widely held misconceptions about the nature of suicide terrorism and provide a new lens that makes sense of the threat we face.

FACT: Suicide terrorism is not primarily a product of Islamic fundamentalism.

FACT: The world’s leading practitioners of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka–a secular, Marxist-Leninist group drawn from Hindu families.

FACT: Ninety-five percent of suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of coherent campaigns organized by large militant organizations with significant public support.

FACT: Every suicide terrorist campaign has had a clear goal that is secular and political: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.

FACT: Al-Qaeda fits the above pattern. Although Saudi Arabia is not under American military occupation per se, one major objective of al-Qaeda is the expulsion of U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf region, and as a result there have been repeated attacks by terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden against American troops in Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole.

FACT: Despite their rhetoric, democracies–including the United States–have routinely made concessions to suicide terrorists. Suicide terrorism is on the rise because terrorists have learned that it’s effective.

In this wide-ranging analysis, Professor Pape offers the essential tools to forecast when some groups are likely to resort to suicide terrorism and when they are not. He also provides the first comprehensive demographic profile of modern suicide terrorist attackers. With data from more than 460 such attackers–including the names of 333–we now know that these individuals are not mainly poor, desperate criminals or uneducated religious fanatics but are often well-educated, middle-class political activists.

More than simply advancing new theory and facts, these pages also answer key questions about the war on terror:

• Are we safer now than we were before September 11?
• Was the invasion of Iraq a good counterterrorist move?
• Is al-Qaeda stronger now than it was before September 11?

Professor Pape answers these questions with analysis grounded in fact, not politics, and recommends concrete ways for today’s states to fight and prevent terrorist attacks. Military options may disrupt terrorist operations in the short term, but a lasting solution to suicide terrorism will require a comprehensive, long-term approach–one that abandons visions of empire and relies on a combined strategy of vigorous homeland security, nation building in troubled states, and greater energy independence.

For both policy makers and the general public, Dying to Win transcends speculation with systematic scholarship, making it one of the most important political studies of recent time.
How do terrorist groups control their members? Do the tools groups use to monitor their operatives and enforce discipline create security vulnerabilities that governments can exploit? The Terrorist's Dilemma is the first book to systematically examine the great variation in how terrorist groups are structured. Employing a broad range of agency theory, historical case studies, and terrorists' own internal documents, Jacob Shapiro provocatively discusses the core managerial challenges that terrorists face and illustrates how their political goals interact with the operational environment to push them to organize in particular ways.

Shapiro provides a historically informed explanation for why some groups have little hierarchy, while others resemble miniature firms, complete with line charts and written disciplinary codes. Looking at groups in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, he highlights how consistent and widespread the terrorist's dilemma--balancing the desire to maintain control with the need for secrecy--has been since the 1880s. Through an analysis of more than a hundred terrorist autobiographies he shows how prevalent bureaucracy has been, and he utilizes a cache of internal documents from al-Qa'ida in Iraq to outline why this deadly group used so much paperwork to handle its people. Tracing the strategic interaction between terrorist leaders and their operatives, Shapiro closes with a series of comparative case studies, indicating that the differences in how groups in the same conflict approach their dilemmas are consistent with an agency theory perspective.



The Terrorist's Dilemma demonstrates the management constraints inherent to terrorist groups and sheds light on specific organizational details that can be exploited to more efficiently combat terrorist activity.

How a new understanding of warfare can help the military fight today’s conflicts more effectively

The way wars are fought has changed starkly over the past sixty years. International military campaigns used to play out between large armies at central fronts. Today's conflicts find major powers facing rebel insurgencies that deploy elusive methods, from improvised explosives to terrorist attacks. Small Wars, Big Data presents a transformative understanding of these contemporary confrontations and how they should be fought. The authors show that a revolution in the study of conflict--enabled by vast data, rich qualitative evidence, and modern methods—yields new insights into terrorism, civil wars, and foreign interventions. Modern warfare is not about struggles over territory but over people; civilians—and the information they might choose to provide—can turn the tide at critical junctures.

The authors draw practical lessons from the past two decades of conflict in locations ranging from Latin America and the Middle East to Central and Southeast Asia. Building an information-centric understanding of insurgencies, the authors examine the relationships between rebels, the government, and civilians. This approach serves as a springboard for exploring other aspects of modern conflict, including the suppression of rebel activity, the role of mobile communications networks, the links between aid and violence, and why conventional military methods might provide short-term success but undermine lasting peace. Ultimately the authors show how the stronger side can almost always win the villages, but why that does not guarantee winning the war.

Small Wars, Big Data provides groundbreaking perspectives for how small wars can be better strategized and favorably won to the benefit of the local population.

In the post-September 11 world, Al Qaeda is no longer the central organizing force that aids or authorizes terrorist attacks or recruits terrorists. It is now more a source of inspiration for terrorist acts carried out by independent local groups that have branded themselves with the Al Qaeda name. Building on his previous groundbreaking work on the Al Qaeda network, forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman has greatly expanded his research to explain how Islamic terrorism emerges and operates in the twenty-first century.

In Leaderless Jihad, Sageman rejects the views that place responsibility for terrorism on society or a flawed, predisposed individual. Instead, he argues, the individual, outside influence, and group dynamics come together in a four-step process through which Muslim youth become radicalized. First, traumatic events either experienced personally or learned about indirectly spark moral outrage. Individuals interpret this outrage through a specific ideology, more felt and understood than based on doctrine. Usually in a chat room or other Internet-based venues, adherents share this moral outrage, which resonates with the personal experiences of others. The outrage is acted on by a group, either online or offline.

Leaderless Jihad offers a ray of hope. Drawing on historical analogies, Sageman argues that the zeal of jihadism is self-terminating; eventually its followers will turn away from violence as a means of expressing their discontent. The book concludes with Sageman's recommendations for the application of his research to counterterrorism law enforcement efforts.

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