EconoMonitor

The Kapali Carsi

The economics of radical religious terrorism

The Charlie Hebdo attack has led many to claim that – or at least question why – Islam is associated with terrorism. I would reverse the order of causality the question implies. We must first try to answer why there are so many terrorist organizations linked to radical Islam.

The attack led me to read, and the summarize in my Hurriyet Daily News (HDN) column, economist Eli Berman’s 2009 book “Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism.”  As always, you can read the whole thing at the HDN website.

I have quite a few additional comments to make.  For starters, Iannaccone’s paper I mention in the column is quite famous, so a google search will reveal quite a few articles talking about it, but my favorite one is the one at Slate.

Moving on, while my column was about mainly about Berman’s book and the Iannaccone paper, which is also discussed in detail in the book, terrorism studies became a popular subject of social scientists after 9/11. A  2010 New Yorker article goes over several social science books on the topic, including Berman’s- highly recommended.

And if you want another stab in Berman’s book, the one by Australian economist Andrew Leigh is a short and fun read. He makes references to other interesting books, including one on suicide attacks and Alan Krueger’s well-known work– of which you can read a review at the AEI website.

BTW, I did manage to squeeze in a little bit of Adam Smith into the column as well. In his response to my column, economist Gavin Kennedy, who seems to be an Adam Smith expert, notes in a blog post that Smith’s writings on religion in the Wealth of Nations are not well-known. He is definitely right: Even though I read the book from cover to cover two times, once in undergrad. and the second time in grad. school, I had totally forgotten those parts- and had to actually look them up when I read those in Berman’s book. BTW, Kennedy does not seem to pleased with my use of “Adam Smith’s invisible hand slapping terrorists”- he notes that it is an overuse, which I honestly did not know, as I do not often find myself quoting from Smith, even though I had once written in an HDN column that the hand would slap Supreme Leader Sultan President Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the First… So I guess Kennedy is right, after all:)…

Finally, a reader shared with me a very interesting paper by Ruud Koopmans that shows “popular explanations for religious fundamentalism among Muslim immigrants are all contradicted by the data: it is not a consequence of immigration-related stress, socio-economic marginalization, or legal exclusion.” He also sent me the presentation of the paper, which you can go through in a few minutes. Sooooo… Who is right? Berman or Koopmans? They could both be right. After all, while Berman’s book is about terrorists in their communities, Koopmans concentrates on emigrants…

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