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Yonah Alexander, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (January 2012)


"A most welcome addition to the growing literature…is Eli Berman’s book Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism.


…His thesis confirms the findings of some other studies, namely, that terrorist actions are essentially rational rather than insane and that religious-based violence is motivated by cost-benefit considerations rather than theological rationalization.

…Berman outlines a wide range of approaches, such as providing alternatives to terrorist insurgent social services and reducing their available funding. He also argues for supporting poorer governments in expanding their basic services to aid struggling civic societies.

…In researching his book, the author made use of an impressive array of source material and serious students of this subject will find the extensive bibliography useful."



James T. Dunne, Security Management (March 7, 2011)



"The author proposes a persuasive menu of nonviolent counterterrorism strategies. These include enhancing outside options for rebels and potential rebels, competing directly with rebels in social service provisions, and reducing rebel revenues.

...The text...is worthwhile for security professionals in that it offers a novel, intriguing take on a highly complex problem that we all hope to defeat."



Michael McBride, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (September 2010)

“Economic competition rather than military might is the key to weakening politically-motivated violent groups.  This is the lesson that both Western officials Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, there has been tremendous interest in understanding terrorism, and because so many terrorists have religious affiliations, it is natural to suppose that those who study religion should contribute to the conversation. Such is the premise of economist Eli Berman's Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. What makes this book unique is its focus on the organizational side of religion and terrorism. To answer the book's key question, which is also the first chapter's title, “Why are Religious Terrorists so Lethal?” Berman argues that it is not theology that makes religious groups such good terrorists but instead their organizational capacity to limit defection. A religious group's key organizational concern is to limit free-riding in collective activities, and a terrorist group's key concern—to check defection—is similar. Because radical religious groups have developed ways to solve the former, they are well positioned to solve the latter, thereby enabling them to be effective producers of violence. That so many well-known violent groups, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban, began as benign religious groups before branching out into the production of terrorist acts is evidence in support of Berman's claim.

...Though the explicit policy recommendations suggest an audience of government and military officials, the book offers much to social scientists of religion. For example, many social scientists are familiar with the club model of religion but are less aware of the types of evidence in support of the theory produced by economists. Chapters 3 and 4 draw heavily from Berman's prior published work on the topic, including his creative ways to test the club model by looking not at financial contributions to the group but instead at the effects of costly membership on fertility and other behaviors. This evidence lends credibility to the club model specifically but also to rational choice methodology more generally because it demonstrates how incentives matter to religious radicals. Moreover, while economists and many sociologists would be comfortable with conceptualizing suicide bombers as rational actors, others might find the book a compelling introduction to a provocative way of thinking about religious and terrorist behavior. Indeed, the book's focus is about how religious radicals succeed when they undertake terrorist activities; it is not about terrorism per se. For this reason, the book exhibits a social scientific tone that invites a broad readership across various social scientific disciplines.

...For what the book sets out to do, it does quite well in my mind. This is an ambitious book that is highly relevant to a wide audience, including but not limited to all social scientists of religion, religious extremism, and religious violence. The book synthesizes important ideas and evidence from the economics of religion and terrorism while also offering concrete policy advice."



Julien Damon, Enjeux Les Echos (September 2010)


"Très savant sur l’histoire et l'organisation interne du Hamas, du Hezbollah ou des talibans, l'ouvrage ne convainc pas tout le temps. Mais il dérange souvent. Les digressions sur les techniques statistiques ne sont en effet pas forcément utiles, et l’on aurait préféré un tableau plus général de l'économie du terrorisme. Les conclusions sont cependant fondées et amènent, à bien des égards, à nous interroger sur la fragilité de la modernité." 




Leonard Stern, The Ottawa Citizen (May 30, 2010)

“You’d think that military strategists and political scientists would have a lock on the field of terrorism studies. Not so….

…Now economists are getting in on the action. 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.

Berman’s central insight is that radical religious groups have a dual identity. They are communities of believers, but more importantly, they are mutual aid societies. It is only recently researchers have realized just how empowering it is to radical religious groups to be in the social services business. Economists like Berman call this the “club model” of religious movements. The club model is actually an admirable way to organize a community, because it promotes co-operation, solidarity and self-sacrifice.

So how do Islamist groups draw strength from doubling as social service networks? When these groups operate the hospitals, schools, security apparatus and other institutions in unstable regions, members of the local population have no employment, education or welfare options that aren’t dependent on the terrorist group. The terrorist group has a free hand to recruit and exert control.

That is why terrorist and insurgent groups target foreign aid workers and destroy reconstruction projects. “The greater the rebels’ monopoly over the usual functions of government, the more leverage they have over their own members,” writes Berman….

…Yet the connection between a group’s monopoly on the provision of social services and its effectiveness as an agent of destabilizing violence is not widely understood. That terrorist groups have a “charitable” non-violent wing is sometimes invoked in their defence. Humanitarian organizations have even allowed extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to deliver aid for them.

This is a very bad idea, because it strengthens the group. The best counterterrorist strategy is, instead, to compete with the radicals and usurp them as the provider of basic services.

This means the protection of aid organizations, service deliverers and reconstruction workers is crucial. The sad murder of Care International worker Margaret Hassan, in Iraq in 2004, seemed illogical and self-defeating — she wanted to make Iraq a decent country — but the killing made sense. Insurgent groups will do everything to maintain, as Berman writes, their “social service-providing organizational base.”
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.”

If nothing else, Berman’s persuasive depiction of terrorist groups as “economic clubs” makes it impossible to pretend that, in regions plagued by terrorism and insurgency, development can be accomplished without military support and intervention.”

What makes groups like Hamas and Hezbollah more sustainable and more lethal than organizations such as Al Fatah or the Jewish Underground in Israel, which targeted West Bank Palestinians in the early 1980s, is the fact that they trace their origins to being service providers.  Only at a later stage, and sometimes only reluctantly, did they bolt a military apparatus onto their civil activity, which has proven to be more deadly and more sustainable than that of groups that lack a service-provision history.

The social service infrastructure allows groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to build popular support by exploiting government mismanagement of resources, a perceived lack of economic prospect, tribal grievances, and mounting dissatisfaction with authoritarian, corrupt governments often incapable of delivering even the most basic services.  Eli Berman, a former member of the Israeli military's elite Golani brigade-turned-University of California economist, argues in his recently published book, Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism, that in doing so these groups effectively constitute economic clubs.  "Capture, kill and deter is an easy first step" in counterterrorism, he argues.  "It grabs headlines...yet social service provision creates the institutional base for most of the dangerous radical religious rebels.  This implies that long-term reconstruction is a necessary part of any global effort to truly contain international terrorist threats emanating from countries exporting terrorism: building markets, generating tax revenue, improving the quality of government, and most important, helping allied governments compete with religious radicals in providing social services," Berman writes....”



James M. Dorsey, IP Global published by the German Council on Foreign Relations (April 2010)

“Economic competition rather than military might is the key to weakening politically-motivated violent groups.  This is the lesson that both Western officials and groups like Al Qaeda's offshoots in the Gulf and North Africa have drawn from recent experience.  This has enormous implications for global counterterrorism strategy.



Nicholas Lemann , The New Yorker (April 26, 2010)

“…Eli Berman, an economist who has done field work among ultra-orthodox religious groups in Israel, is even more granular in his view of what terrorists want: he stresses the social services that terror and insurgent groups provide to their members. Berman’s book is an extended application to terrorism of an influential 1994 article by the economist Laurence Iannaccone, called “Why Strict Churches Are Strong.” Trying to answer the question of why religious denominations that impose onerous rules and demand large sacrifices of their members seem to thrive better than those which do not, Iannaccone surmised that strict religions function as economic clubs. They appeal to recruits in part because they are able to offer very high levels of benefits—not just spiritual ones but real services—and this involves high “defection constraints.” In denominations where it’s easy for individual members to opt out of an obligation, it is impossible to maintain such benefits. Among the religious groups Iannaccone has written about, impediments to defection can be emotionally painful, such as expulsion or the promise of eternal damnation; in many terrorist groups, the defection constraints reflect less abstract considerations: this-worldly torture, maiming, and murder.

Berman’s main examples are Hamas, Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, in Iraq, and the Taliban, whom Berman calls “some of the most accomplished rebels of modern times.” All these organizations, he points out, are effective providers of services in places where there is dire need of them. Their members are also subject to high defection constraints, because their education and their location don’t put them in the way of a lot of opportunity and because they know they will be treated brutally if they do defect.

Like most other terrorism experts, Berman sees no crevasse between insurgents and terrorists. Instead, he considers them to be members of a single category he calls “rebels,” who use a variety of techniques, depending on the circumstances. Suicide bombing represents merely one end of the spectrum; its use is an indication not of the fanaticism or desperation of the individual bomber (most suicide bombers—recall Muhammad Atta’s professional-class background—are not miserably poor and alienated adolescent males) but of the supremely high cohesion of the group. Suicide bombing, Berman notes, increases when the terrorist group begins to encounter hard targets, like American military bases, that are impervious to everything else. The Taliban used traditional guerrilla-warfare techniques when they fought the Northern Alliance in the mountains. When their enemies became Americans and other Westerners operating from protected positions and with advanced equipment, the Taliban were more likely to resort to suicide bombing. How else could a small group make a big impact?

The idea of approaching terrorists as rational actors and defeating them by a cool recalibration of their incentives extends beyond the academic realm. Its most influential published expression is General David Petraeus’s 2006 manual “Counterinsurgency.” …

…Petraeus has clearly absorbed the theory that terrorist and insurgent groups are sustained by their provision of social services. Great swaths of the manual are devoted to elaborating ways in which counterinsurgents must compete for people’s loyalty by providing better services in the villages and tribal encampments of the deep-rural Middle East. It’s hard to think of a service that the manual doesn’t suggest, except maybe yoga classes. And, like Berman, the manual is skeptical about the utility, in fighting terrorism, of big ideas about morality, policy, or even military operations.…

…One problem with such programs is that they can be too small, and too nice, to win the hearts and minds of the populace away from their traditional leaders. The former civil-affairs officer A. Heather Coyne tells the story, recounted in Berman’s book, of a program that offered people in Sadr City ten dollars a day to clean the streets—something right out of the counterinsurgency manual. The American colonel who was running the program went out to talk to people and find out how effective the program was at meeting its larger goal. This is what he heard: “We are so grateful for the program. And we’re so grateful to Muqtada al-Sadr for doing this program.” Evidently, Sadr had simply let it be known that he was behind this instance of social provision, and people believed him. For Berman, the lesson is “a general principle: economic development and governance can be at odds when the territory is not fully controlled by the government.” That’s a pretty discouraging admission—it implies that helping people peacefully in an area where insurgents are well entrenched may only help the insurgents."



Aziz Huq, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law ( April 22, 2010)


"...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. Although I think Berman’s model explains less than he claims—for reasons I will explore below—his book contains useful insights. It is also a model of clear and accessible writing, accessible to a non-specialist without sacrificing rigor.

The core of Berman’s claim is that religious organizations operate as “economic clubs” that collectively provide social services and support not just to an individual who may commit terrorist acts but to a larger family. To insulate the religious group from free-riders—who mooch off the services without contributing their share—religious clubs enforce costly prohibitions and other rules. Under these circumstances that religious groups generate the trust, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice that enable religious violence. Developing his thesis, Berman focuses on four groups—the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s network—that use violence in quite different ways and that have strikingly different attitudes toward non-violence modalities of political change, in particular elections.

As a threshold matter, it bears noting that Berman’s notion of clubs is similar to, but different in emphasis from James Buchanan’s classic 1965 discussion of “club goods.” Buchanan characterized “club goods” as a variant on public goods: they are excludable (in the sense that some people can be kept out) but non-rivalrous (in the sense that my consumption of the good does not diminish years). It is not clear the phenomena Berman analyzes meet both criteria, and the use of a familiar term in this novel way is a bit disconcerting.

More generally, I am persuaded that Berman has set forth an important contribution to the study of terrorist violence but not that he has generated a universal diagnosis. Berman’s thesis, I think, helps explain how religious structures enable violence. But this is very different from claiming that religious organizations conduce to violence. Indeed, even a casual glance around suggests there were plenty of tightly-knit religious organizations that do not produce terrorist violence. Relations between religious organization and violence seem more contingent and indirect. The relation of American evangelical movements to anti-abortion violence, is neither direct nor simple. Equally, even for the groups Berman studies, violence seems one option among many (including electoral competition), and it would be interesting to know more about how tightly-knit groups select between political strategies under changing circumstances...."


Patrick Clawson, CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries (April 2010)

"In this novel work, Berman (economist, Univ. of California San Diego) argues that the limiting factor for terrorist operations is organization: terrorists seldom act alone, and there are very few effective terrorist organizations. By contrast, the supply of potential suicide terrorists is ample because many people lack empathy for the victims, are altruistic toward their own cause, and are deluded about the importance of their actions. Radical religious organizations, he argues, fit economist Laurence Iannaccone's "club" model, sharing generous mutual aid plus norms that distance community members from mainstream culture. Accepting the group's norms limits one's outside options, signaling that one can be trusted not to defect. Berman spends less time on why such radicals turn to terrorism than on why they make such effective terrorists. In a point expanded on in an analytical appendix, he shows religious terrorists favor suicide attacks because they allow harder targets to be destroyed without fear of defection. Berman applies his approach in detail to Hamas. A chapter draws out implications for counterterrorism: compete with the rebels in social service provision, protect service providers, reduce rebel revenues, and enhance outside options for rebels. Summing Up: Recommended. Academic collections, lower-division undergraduate and up, as well as professional libraries."


Devin Leonard, New York Times (February 6, 2010)

"Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, a soon-to-be familiar figure appeared in the news media. He was a young Muslim who wanted nothing more htan tot strap on a belt laden with explosives and blow himself up in an area crowded with infidels. He thought his reward would be eternity in paradise with 72 virgins. But was he truly the face of Islamic terrorism? Eli Berman, a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, says otherwise in "Radical Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism" (MIT Press, 300 pages).

“The pious Jihadist, programmed with an ideology of hate to be a human guided missile, or dreaming of virgins in heaven, makes for compelling news broadcasts and emotional sound bites, but in concept does not stand up to scrutiny,” he says.

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. In his view, we need to understand the economic forces that govern their behavior.

Professor Berman says that some of the most effective and resilient groups with terrorist links are in some ways economic clubs, run by “radical altruists.” He puts Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban (the United States has tied all three to terrorism) in this category. Some of these militant soldiers of Islam may sometimes commit atrocities. But Professor Berman contends that they genuinely want to help their members. They raise money from foreign governments — or, in the case of the Taliban, by selling opium — and provide social services and jobs to adherents.

The author notes that in South Lebanon, Hezbollah operates two private hospitals and a number of schools. It collects garbage, provides water and even manages an electricity grid. He says the Taliban operate 13 “guerilla law courts” in Afghanistan where locals can have disputes resolved. Granted, the Taliban’s underground judicial system may not be as expensive to operate as a hospital or a garbage pickup service, but it has the same effect of forging a tighter bond of between the operation and its constituents....

...In Professor Berman’s opinion, the United States needs to compete by offering the same kind of social services in Iraq and Afghanistan, though he concedes that terrorist groups will do everything to stop such efforts. He says aid providers must be protected — and he concedes that this will be expensive. But he points out that we are already spending billions of dollars on domestic security.

“In the long run,” Professor Berman writes, “those constructive approaches may well be cost-effective for the United States and other developed countries that are subject to international terrorism, because they are potentially sustainable.” In other words, they could be good investments.

Professor Berman is shrewd enough not to repeat the left-wing fallacy that terrorism itself is a product of economic deprivation. He seems reluctant, however, to explore why Islam is such a breeding ground for these practices.

He says the rise of militant Islam is just another wave of religious extremism, the likes of which have occurred throughout history. As he points out, the peace-loving Mennonites belong to a branch of Christianity that was once considered radical and dangerous.

Then again, today’s terrorists may soon get their hands on a nuclear device. Would Mennonites of old have detonated it? We don’t know. But Professor Berman’s “radical altruists” might."

Sir Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs (January/February 2010) 

"...The real gem of recent releases is Berman's brilliant analysis of religious terrorism. The value lies not only in what is learned about this form of violence but also in the elegance of the analysis. This is first-rate social science, with a compelling theory, strong evidence, and an accessible style. The conventional explanations for the success of religious terrorist groups point to the nature of the theology and perhaps fanatical cultural predispositions. Berman identifies the need to avoid defection as essential for the survival of these organizations, a weakness that the authorities can often exploit by making irresistible offers to individual members, in the form of either bribes or threats. To understand why defection is less frequent than might be expected, he explores the nature of religious communities that tend to insist on distinctive dress and social codes, encourage religious education even though it limits opportunities for outside advancement, and provide charitable services to their adherents. They use whatever extra revenues they can get to boost these services and distance members from the most likely alternative culture. In most cases, these religious communities have nothing to do with terrorism -- for example, ultra-Orthodox Jews -- but should such groups become inclined to violent strategies, the tight communal bonds help solve the problem of defection. Their loyalty to their communities, and the aid that will go to their families, helps explain the readiness of some to become suicide bombers and also why the nonsuicidal members of terrorist teams stick with their tasks."



Paula Mejia, Al Majalla (January 25, 2010)

"By providing communities with important benefits in exchange for their support, violent radical groups are able to develop into highly efficient terrorist organizations.  There is thus an important economic factor that comes into play with regards to the success of violent organizations.  These groups are organized in such a way that the relationship to the communities they serve is dependent upon mutual aid, and this has important implications for counter-terrorism strategies that seek to limit their progress. 

Robin Hood, the English Folk story hero, was a skilled archer, and swordsman, but most of all he was known for being an outlaw.  His crime and that of his clan, was robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.  The tale of Robin Hood, and particularly his popularity amongst those he helped, stands to teach us much about the economic foundation behind the support of terrorist organizations. 

In fact, the story of Robin Hood, shares important characteristics with powerful terrorist organizations of the day.  From the FARC in Colombia to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, these organizations have both funded their own efforts, and perhaps more importantly, increased their conscripts and support network, by providing the communities they thrive in with important social benefits.  Despite their ideological and historical differences, these terrorist groups have added this socio-economic dimension to complement their military front--and the finding is that this addition is significant in their successes. 

According to ...Professor 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...."


Professor Andrew Leigh, Australian Financial Review (January 19, 2010)

What Makes Martyrs Tick

"In a Pew poll last year, Muslims in various countries were asked whether suicide bombing against civilian targets is sometimes justified in defence of Islam. Yes, said 68 percent of Palestinians, 15 percent of Egyptians, 13 percent of Indonesians, and 5 percent of Pakistanis.

These figures highlight an intriguing puzzle. Why were hardly any lives lost to suicide bombing in the 1970s, but over 10,000 in the 2000s? What makes suicide bombing so popular in the modern age?

Most people find it impossible to answer this question without using the word ‘crazy’. But a fascinating strand of research has begun to use the tools of economics to try and better understand what drives suicide attacks, and how we might stop them in the future.

In his new book, Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism, economist Eli Berman (University of California, San Diego) takes a cold-blooded look at one of the hottest policy questions today.

He begins by popping a few myths. Interviews with families and friends of suicide bombers, as well as with failed bombers, show that they are not particularly motivated by the afterlife, but by concerns closer to home. This is consistent with the fact that the worst barrage of suicide attacks in the twentieth century were carried out by the nominally atheistic Tamil Tigers. It’s time to stop pinning all suicide attacks on those 72 virgins.

Careful studies of suicide bombers suggest that they are not generally depressed or mentally ill, and would not be the kinds of people who would otherwise kill themselves. Rather than regard suicide bombers as mad zealots, Berman argues, we should think of suicide bombers as misguided altruists, who truly believe that their acts will bring great benefits to their community.

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. Developed nations ‘have sent well-armed, well-equipped forces into battle against low-technology insurgents’. Faced with no other option, ‘rebels counter with suicide attacks’. Thus the rise in suicide bombings over the past quarter-century has a lot to do with the improvements in the military capability deployed against them. We send armoured personnel carriers; terrorists respond by driving car bombs into police stations....

...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."


Religion Watch (January/February 2010)

"Economist EIi Berman approaches the religious dimensions of terrorism in unique and provocative ways in his new book Radical, Religious and Violent (MIT Press, $24.94). Berman uses religious economy theory to explain terrorist activities and how various movements make the transition to espousing violence and suicide. In fact, he makes a connection between violent and non-violent "radical" groups (meaning sects) and how their tendency to maintain strong mutual aid provisions can give them "the potential to be potent providers of coordinated violence, including terrorism, should they so choose."

Berman discounts the main theories of terrorism, which stress psychological and theological motivations, and focuses on their practices of altruism and sacrifice for an in-group of fellow believers. He looks at a whole range of peaceful and non-peaceful groups, including Hamas, the Jewish Underground, Old Order Amish and the Hell's Angels, attempting to demonstrate that they all tend to demand sacrifice from members and also give them benefits, while seeking to control defections. Berman argues that these groups' ability to create "defection-resistant mutual aid organizations" gives them an advantage in recruiting people who aim at high-value targets, specifically in the case of suicide attacks. Berman concludes his readable book by recommending policies to thwart religious terrorism, such as advising governments to provide welfare alternatives that break up the exclusive hold of some radical mutual-aid organizations."


Michael Bond, New Scientist (November 2009)

"NOT only did the 9/11 attacks undermine global security and transform the world view of millions, they also spawned an entire publishing genre dedicated to understanding the minds of terrorists. Almost all these books are built on false premises and conjecture, but here is one based on solid evidence.

In Radical, Religious and Violent, economist Eli Berman uses extensive sociological and economic data to examine the operations and internal dynamics of the few effective and resilient groups that mount attacks on civilians, and what they have in common. 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 organisations so much more deadly than other groups.

His empirical approach leads to some surprising findings. For example, one key measure of the potential effectiveness or lethality of a group - Berman's examples include Hamas and Hezbollah - is the extent to which it provides social services within its community. It's worth reading the book just to find out why that is. The only downside is that his focus on organisational structure causes him to skate over some difficult questions about personal motivation, such as how some suicide bombers have become radicalised almost entirely online.

Those whose job is to protect citizens from such attacks should note his conclusion: that the groups behind them are rational operators whose tactics are best countered socially, economically and politically, not with violence."


Professor Adrian Guelke, Critical Studies on Terrorism (August 2009) 

"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. There was a great deal in the book that I liked and appreciated. An example is this passage from his conclusion:

"Understanding the historical process allows us the perspective to put the Islamist terrorist threat in context. Radical Islam does not threaten Western civilization. Its proponents are a minority in most Muslim countries. Western countries can protect their citizens without themselves amplifying the rhetoric of radical Islamists by overstating the threat or demonizing the perpetrators. Compared to other major challenges facing humankind, global terrorism is far less dangerous than poverty, climate change, disease, uncontrolled civil wars, environmental degradation, violent crime or nuclear proliferation."

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. Its application to politics is not new. At the risk of sounding ancient, I should confess my admiration for Anthony Downs's pioneering 1957 work, An Economic Theory of Democracy. Downs was seeking to explain the contemporary tendency for policy convergence in two-party systems. He argued that convergence was a product of the parties' efforts to maximise their votes and followed from how voters were distributed across the political spectrum.

The opening chapter of Professor Berman's book is entitled, 'Why are religious radicals so lethal'? and he uses the cases of Hezbollah, the Taliban, and Hamas to illustrate their lethality. Though his examples are all of Islamist groups, he is careful to argue that their lethality has nothing to do with the doctrines of Islam per se. To reinforce the point, he gives many examples of other religious groups operating on the basis of the same logic he establishes in his chosen cases. He contends that how religious communities organise themselves, rather their dogmas, explain their capacity for violence. The key is the mutual aid that these groups provide to their members and their consequent solidarity.

The book deals at length with the capacity of religiously based terrorist organisations or insurgencies to overcome problems that violent movements typically face. In particular, he applies the robust logic of cost/benefit analysis to an issue that we are very familiar with in Northern Ireland: defection. He discusses the likelihood of defection by individuals asked by the organisation to provide protection to a convoy at a roadblock in a lawless society such as Afghanistan. He argues that the risk of their going into business on their own generally increases in line with the value of the convoy. And he discusses collective efforts to secure high-value targets, such as capturing a well-guarded hill from an opposing force, in a similar vein. He concludes that organisations characterised by mutual aid among their members are less prone to defections in such circumstances...."