***** Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. By Eli Berman; Published by MIT Press, mitpress.mit.edu; 280 pages; $24.95.
As terrorism has evolved in the decades since it first emerged as a global issue, so too has the social science that seeks to explain it. Eli Berman’s Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism is unquestionably worth reading for two primary reasons. First, it joins a host of other new books emphasizing the view that terrorist actions, although wrong, are mostly rational rather than insane or fanatical. Second, it is a remarkable study of terrorism from an authority with added expertise in a separate field: economics.
Berman argues that terrorists are motivated less by religious fervor or ideology than by cost-benefit analysis. A terrorist assigned to attack a facility, for example, weighs the gains from successfully completing a mission, such as higher status within the group, against the gains from defecting and providing inside information to legal authorities who may grant a reward or provide witness-protection benefits. Similarly, terrorist group leaders choosing an individual to carry out a suicide bombing must avoid selecting someone who might defect. Terrorist groups, according to Berman, aim chiefly to control defection in their ranks and above all seek maximum “defection constraint.”
Terrorists apply cost-benefit analysis not only to life and death decisions but also to issues of daily sustenance. Berman cites Hamas as a terrorist group held together substantially by the glue of mutual aid and social services. The “club model” of terrorist groups includes the notion that providing social services—such as food, education, and medical care—in return for loyalty to the group is effective, especially when other opportunities, such as leaving the group to enter the job market, are reduced or eliminated.
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.