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Political science for terrorists - Input Junkie
December 1st, 2009
11:34 am

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Political science for terrorists
From Radical, Religious, and Violent:
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.

This fits with a notion of mine that there are proto-governments (street gangs, organized crime, unions-- now I'm adding terrorist groups to the list): organizations which could grow up to be governments if that niche weren't already filled. The distinctive feature isn't the amount of violence (though I believe there's always at least a threat), it's the combination of some control of territory and offering services.

I've heard that failed revolutionary organizations are a primary source of organized crime. Anyone know?

This suggests that terrorist groups might be easier to form among Muslims because of the very strong tradition of charity. If I'm right, it's more likely for a Muslim terrorist leader to think of offering social services than it would be for terrorist leaders from other religions.

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From:madfilkentist
Date:December 1st, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
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That suggests there's more similarity between terrorist organizations and the Mafia than one would think at first.
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From:asakiyume
Date:December 1st, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
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Fascinating. I've often wondered why more of the proto-governments you list (street gangs and organized crime; I hadn't thought of unions, but them too) don't become more government-like, especially when governments are deficient. Certainly that's one thing the Taliban did do: they provided structure in an anarchic situation. Many people--I mean people over there, not outsiders--weren't happy about the style or content of the structure, but it was better than chaos, or so I'm told.
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 1st, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
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I believe that building functioning social organizations (especially when so much trust is required) is hard.

I'd love to see a fantasy novel which covered the formation of one of those very common thieves' guilds or magicians' guilds.
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From:asakiyume
Date:December 1st, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC)
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Oh, me too (to both remark).
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From:siderea
Date:December 1st, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
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I'd love to see a fantasy novel which covered the formation of one of those very common thieves' guilds or magicians' guilds.

Magicians' guild formation: book two in the Caithan Chronicals by Julie Dean Smith. Not entirely what you're looking for, but close.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:December 1st, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
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Part of it is that history is told by the winners. If a group loses, they were bandits or terrorists. If they win, they were revolutionaries. In a borderline case like Pancho Villa, who very briefly occupied the seat of government in Mexico, it depends on whom you listen to.
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From:asakiyume
Date:December 1st, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
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*nods* I'm thinking about what these organizations actually *do* with themselves. AS nancylebov says, it's hard work to set up a government and provide services, so I can understand most groups not wanting to take on that obligation, but the groups have to govern themselves, at the very least, to some degree. And then, having established order (more or less) within themselves, what do they do?

Some, like Hezbollah and the Taliban, really are governments--just not ones the US government likes. But they do think it's their duty, part of the social contract, to provide social services, to collect taxes, maintain infrastructure, etc. And certain sorts of organized crime, if they're operating businesses, at least want those businesses to run smoothly--in other words, they don't want every individual acting randomly and lawlessly. But what about street gangs? I realize I don't know much about them at all. I only ever hear about them in the context of street killings and turf wars. But when they're not fighting, what do they do?
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 1st, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
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My impression is that a lot of them sell drugs, and (from one article) they hang around.
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From:sethg_prime
Date:December 1st, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
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This suggests that terrorist groups might be easier to form among Muslims because of the very strong tradition of charity.

Also:

(a) a number of large Muslim-majority states (e.g., Egypt) have poorly functioning governments that do a crap job at providing social services, so terrorist groups with a social-services arm have a ready niche;

(b) some other Muslim-majority states (e.g., Saudi Arabia) have wealthy elites that can be persuaded to bankroll said groups.
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From:agrumer
Date:December 1st, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
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Have you seen any of the HBO TV series Deadwood? It's a western about the emergence of government from anarchy, set in a bit of land that starts out as Indian land, then (over the course of the series) gets annexed as the Dakota Territory. The main character is a saloon/brothel owner, Al Swearengen, who's perfectly willing to slit throats to get what he wants, but also wants the town to thrive, because he makes more money if everyone around him is doing well. Little by little, he's taking on the powers and responsibilities of government.
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From:nojay
Date:December 1st, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
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The IRA ran a parallel system of terrorism attacks against the Loyalist community and the British government financed in part by extortion among the Nationalists they professed to be protecting from the Loyalist majority. They installed community leaders (thugs or convicted killers who had worked their way up the ranks of the armed wing of Sinn Fein) who regulated social life in Nationalist areas of the major cities in Northern Ireland. They acted as judges in civil disputes and enforced physical punishment for unapproved drug dealers and petty thieves who did not have the sanction of the terrorist leadership or had not paid off the right people. They could issue exclusion orders, giving named individuals 48 hours to leave Northern Ireland "or else". Attempts were made to make such areas "no-go", that is no police or other government forces would be allowed access leaving the Nationalist brute squads in complete control of the populace.

It requires a community with a perceived or real grievance against the ruling powers to create that sort of separation event, where the government is not regarded as legitimate (although the Nationalist areas still required water services, sewage treatment, electric power supplies, road maintenance, social welfare funding etc. from or through government entities as the IRA couldn't supply those). The Muslim analogues to the IRA have the United States and its Western military allies currently thrashing around in the Middle East to thank for the flow of willing volunteers, aided and abetted by religious fundamentalists who can brainwash said volunteers into remaining loyal to the Cause.
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From:richardthinks
Date:December 1st, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)
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Yes, to everything you say here. I'd like to point you to a really good book about all this, but I don't know exactly what it is: Charles Tilly wrote "War Making and State Making as Organized Crime" back in 1985 and it remains a classic: there must be better, less sketchy studies that cite it. There's been a bunch of things about pirate ships as proto-states, but I can't recommend any of them whoelheartedly, partly because they don't generally seem to contain good models of exactly what consitutes a state.

Your proto-state street gang/drug lord can be found in something like its Platonic form in Rio, complete with a whole slew of culturally specific methods for supplying social services in a massive alternative economy, with its own products (including the Carnival) that cross over between economies and are consumed in legitimate, open ways (I find this interesting because it's often easy to write off "drug money" and so forth as somehow "not real economy," even though it gets counted in various places, as consumer spending). Again, sadly, I can't point you to the wonderfully brilliant and comprehensive study that would lay this all out clearly... the research is very hard to do.
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From:richardthinks
Date:December 1st, 2009 11:45 pm (UTC)
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d'oh: forgot the linky:
Tilly

It seems there are some films about the Rio situation. I haven't seen "Dancing with the Devil" but it sounds like it might be interesting. "City of God" was simply brilliant and read "true" to me (though what do I know?). Tropa de Elite has also had much good press, but seems further from your questions - although I note it's apparently "based on Elite da Tropa, a book by sociologist Luiz Eduardo Soares". Dunno how much you'd get from it, but police are probably one of the best (most deeply implicated but also somewhat accountable) sources a scholar could get access to, in asking questions about criminal state-making.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 2nd, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)

Berman: Gangs, mafias, militias

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Good call!
There's a fair amount of evidence to support your notion: successful street gangs, mafias, and militias share many of the characteristics of successful but nonviolent radical religious communities. See pp. 147-149 in chapter 5.
- Eli Berman
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