Radical, Religious, and Violent
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.
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.
"Professor Berman has written an engaging book that brings new insight to an extremely polarizing subject. He argues that many terrorists are actually more rational than we might like to think. And that, of course, is a chilling notion. The author is neither a pacifist nor an apologist for terrorists. He says, however, that if we stop looking at them as cartoon characters, we may do a better job of deterring them.", Devin Leonard, New York Times
"Whereas other authors have focused on the obvious but peripheral issue of how religion inspires individual attackers - it is rarely the primary motivation, as many studies have shown - Berman tackles the pertinent question of what makes radical religious organizations so much more deadly than other groups.", Michael Bond, New Scientist
"This is first-rate social science, with a compelling theory, strong evidence, and an accessible style.", Sir Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs
"I felt very privileged to be given an advance copy of Professor Berman's Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. I immensely enjoyed reading it.... At the outset, Professor Berman poses the question: 'Why are religious radicals, who often start out appearing benign and charitable and generally avoid conflict, so effective at violence when they choose to engage in it'? He approaches this question from the perspective of the discipline of economics - not in the sense of the influence of material or economic considerations, but from economics as a mode of reasoning.", Adrian Guelke, Critical Studies on Terrorism
"To understand why suicide bombing has become more common, Berman contends, we need to stop focusing only on the motivations of bombers, and consider the ‘hardness’ of their target. As it becomes more difficult for terrorists to do damage, they are more likely to switch to suicide bombing...Unusually for a book about terrorism, Berman keeps it in perspective. Global terrorism is not the greatest threat to the world. Adam Smith’s combination of markets, religious pluralism and tolerance are a winning combination. The more we can help poor governments provide basic services to their citizens, the less space we allow for radical rebels to fill the void.", Professor Andrew Leigh, Australian Financial Review
"According to Eli Berman, author of Radical Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism, violent radical religious organizations thrive by taking advantage of the absence of the State. By providing communities with important benefits in exchange for their loyalty, and at times their involvement, they are able to develop into highly efficient terrorist organizations. Interestingly, we find that various violent organizations shaping the politics of the Middle East today also rely on this very policy., Paula Mejia, The Majalla
"Professor Eli Berman deserves large credit for essaying a dispassionate analysis of the connection between religion and terrorism. Using the tools of his trade (microeconomics), he develops a plausible model for understanding some of those connections...[A] model of clear and accessible writing, accessible to a non-specialist without sacrificing rigor.", Aziz Huq, Just Books (Brennan Center for Justice)
"The most impressive effort yet comes from Eli Berman of the University of California, San Diego. In his new book, Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism, Berman says we need to start looking at how terrorist groups function as economic clubs...Berman sets out to understand what makes for an effective terrorist outfit, and, no surprise, he learns more often than not these are radical religious groups. However, the effectiveness of these groups is not a function of theology but of economic organization....Competing with terrorist groups in the service-provision business is hugely expensive, but by Berman’s calculation it might be cheaper than the untold billions spent by western governments “protecting domestic targets from the terrorist fallout of rebellions abroad.", Leonard Stern, The Ottawa Citizen
"A brilliant study of terrorist violence, Radical, Religious, and Violent offers an innovative and powerful explanation for the lethality of violent religious groups. This is an important and compelling work by an outstanding scholar."
Richard English, author of Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA
"The media are saturated with stories about various aspects of terrorism. That alone establishes the significance of this well-written and cogently argued book. Eli Berman identifies the motivations of terrorist groups, explains why some are so effective, and debunks several myths that have led counterterrorist campaigns astray. Fascinating throughout, Radical, Religious, and Violent can be read profitably by academics and policy makers, but also the wider public."
Timur Kuran, Professor of Economics and Political Science, and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University
"Eli Berman has tackled a timely and contentious question: why are some religious radicals so resilient and so effective at terrorism, especially suicide attacks? His intriguing answer is that such organizations are able to maintain intense group solidarity, weeding out defectors and informers, through well-developed mutual aid systems of social service provision. Berman's clearly-argued and inventive analysis is based on wide-ranging historical references and rigorous economic logic. The book is a model of thoughtful academic inquiry that should engage policy makers and the public."
Martha Crenshaw, Senior Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, author of Terrorism in Context