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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 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 is 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.
Preface to the South Asian Edition
Note to Readers
1 Why Are Religious Terrorists So Lethal?
The Lethality of Religious Radicals
What Motivates Terrorists? The Afterlife and Other Myths
Terrorists Organizations—Why So Few?
Internal Economies and Organizational Efficiency
2 The Defection Constraints
Origins of the Taliban
Trade Routes and Defection
Terrorism and Defection—Hamas
The Jewish Underground—Terrorists Who Overreached
Hezbollah and Suicide Attacks
The Mahdi Army in Iraq
3. Sects, Prohibitions and Mutual Aid: The Organizational Secrets of Religious Radicals
Prohibitions and Sacrifices—the Benign Puzzles
Where are the Dads?
Prohibitions and Clubs
Radical Islam and Fertility
4. Sect, Subsidy, and Sacrifice
Subsidized Prohibitions and Fertility
How Many Radical Islamists?
5. The Hamas Model: Why Religious Radicals Are Such Effective Terrorists
The "Hamas Model"
Origins of the Mode
Social Service Provision by the Taliban, Hezbollah, and al-Sadr
Why Religious Radicals Are Such Lethal Terrorists
When Terrorists Fail
Clubs and Violence without Religion
6. Why Suicide Attacks?
Rebels, Insurgents, and Terrorists
Coreligionists Are Soft Targets
The Future of Suicide Attacks?
7. Constructive Counterterrorism
How Terrorist Clubs Succeed
What's Wrong with the Old-Fashioned Methods?
Where to Start?
The Malayan Precedent
8. Religious Radicals and Violence in the Modern World
Radical Christians, Benign and Violent
The Supernatural and Credibility
Markets and Denominations
Jewish and Muslim Denominations
What's Wrong with Religion in Government? Competition and Pluralism
Not about Us
What's Our Role?
The Defection Constraint
Clubs, Loyalty, and Outside Options
Suicide Attacks vs. Hard Targets
Protecting Hard Targets by Improving Outside Options