On Terrorism and Clerics

When it comes to terrorism, an interesting question is who takes up the terrorist cause. The puzzle is that terrorists usually do not come from the lowest socioeconomic groups despite the fact that macroeconomics seems to play a part in terrorism: economic downturns are associated with increased terrorist activity. In class we discussed that Ethan Bueno de Mesquita argues in a model that the reason for this can be that terrorist groups take the most able volunteers on board. So even if the group of volunteers belong to lower strata of society, the screening by the terrorist group means that the most educated and most able out of this relatively low pool are chosen for terrorist missions.

In a similar vein, Rich Nielsen’s interesting research investigates the micro-decision about which clerics become radicalized. He argues and finds that it depends on the career opportunities of the clerics whether they adopt Jihadi ideology. Well-connected clerics find good career opportunities in the state-run system, while clerics with a less influential network leave the state-system and signal their opposition to the state by taking up a Jihadist stance. An interesting question that arises then is what the incentives of the state are: does the state always abhor Jihadi ideology or is it strategically rational for the state to adopt that ideology? Another issue to ponder is that Rich’s idea is that clerics use Jihadi ideology as a costly signal of their independence, but what makes signalling lead to a separating equilibrium is not simply that a signal is costly, but that it would be prohibitively costly for other types of clerics to send the same signal. But wouldn’t well-connected clerics actually have a lower cost of signalling given that they can always gain support from their networks? Finally, what would be the role of a terrorist organization in this case and what type of screening would occur?


About politakos

Hello, my name is Akos. I am a Ph.D. student in the Political Economy and Government program at Harvard. I am originally from the world superpower called Hungary, which explains why I currently teach a sophomore tutorial on international security. More specifically, the tutorial is on game-theoretic models of war (econ 970-AL). The primary purpose of this blog is to share interesting links with my students that are connected to the material we are covering in class.
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