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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Alan Krueger: Civil Liberties and Terrorism

Princeton University economist Alan Krueger finds an interesting connection between civil liberties and terrorism that undercuts the idea the economic conditions are the driving force behind terrorist acts:

Murdercide, by Michael Shermer, SciAm Skeptic: ... The belief that suicide bombers [murdercide] are poor, uneducated, disaffected or disturbed is contradicted by science. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, found in a study of 400 Al Qaeda members that three quarters of his sample came from the upper or middle class. Moreover, he noted, “the vast majority—90 percent— came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5–6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.” Nor were they sans employment and familial duties. “Far from having no family or job responsibilities, 73 percent were married and the vast majority had children. . . . Three quarters were professionals or semiprofessionals. They are engineers, architects and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion.” ...

[A] necessary condition for suicide is habituation to the fear about the pain involved in the act. How do terrorist organizations infuse this condition in their recruits? One way is through psychological reinforcement. ...[T]he celebration and commemoration of suicide bombings that began in the 1980s changed a culture into one that idolizes martyrdom and its hero. Today murderciders appear in posters like star athletes. Another method of control is “group dynamics.” Says Sageman: “The prospective terrorists joined the jihad through preexisting social bonds with people who were already terrorists or had decided to join as a group. In 65 percent of the cases, preexisting friendship bonds played an important role in this process.” Those personal connections help to override the natural inclination to avoid self immolation. “The suicide bombers in Spain are another perfect example. Seven terrorists sharing an apartment and one saying, ‘Tonight we’re all going to go, guys.’ You can’t betray your friends, and so you go along. Individually, they probably would not have done it.”

One method to attenuate murdercide, then, is to target dangerous groups that influence individuals, such as Al Qaeda. Another method, says Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger, is to increase the civil liberties of the countries that breed terrorist groups. In an analysis of State Department data on terrorism, Krueger discovered that “countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have spawned relatively many terrorists, are economically well off yet lacking in civil liberties. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn suicide terrorists. Evidently, the freedom to assemble and protest peacefully without interference from the government goes a long way to providing an alternative to terrorism.” ...

    Posted by on Saturday, December 17, 2005 at 03:08 PM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7)

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