Monday, January 14, 2008

Supply & demand for terrorism

Gary Becker argues that terrorism should decline with improved economic development because the supply of terrorist foot-soldiers falls with the implied demographic transition and the opportunity cost of such things as suicide missions rises when you have a good job and good prospects. Becker argues that those who are well-educated and earning high incomes will only participate in ‘special event’, ‘high-profile’ terrorism such as September 11 and that the bulk of terrorists are male, single and poor – sexually-frustrated nobodies whose lives are going nowhere.

I have posted on this idea before.

Richard Posner is not so sure about the role of demographics and economic development. He argues that the demand for terrorism is grievance-driven by fantasy, as well as such things as foreign occupations, and that educated people are likely to be particularly sensitive to such grievances. Extremist Islamic beliefs may be the primary creator of terrorists with economic and demographic factors being secondary. Posner does concede however that demographic transition will increase average age which is a positive factor reducing supply.

Both of these types of arguments have validity. Certainly economic development turns the minds of young Muslims to other things as the Dubai experience indicates. Religious fanatics at high socio-economic levels will be attracted to terrorist pursuits but the cannon-fodder foot-soldiers will probably choose terrorism because of a lack of other worthwhile options. And terrorist fanatics anywhere depend on community support for survival. Foot-soldiers and the community-at-large will be less inclined to support terrorism and suicide missions if they have strong economic opportunities.

I agree with Posner that extreme Islamic beliefs are important independent causes of terrorism – this is impossible to deny. But I am not persuaded that ‘good Islam’ – here defined as the mainstream beliefs of many Muslims - is not also partly to blame. In fact the perennial claims of Muslims that terrorists are only those who have distorted the peaceful message of Islam seems something of an overworn excuse and an exaggeration.

While international support among Muslims for terrorism is on the wane, significant proportions of the population in Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon continue to support terrorist attacks in the US. In Pakistan and Jordan support for bin Laden has actually increased and this growth has been grass roots.

Mainstream beliefs based on a well-established religion cannot be solely viewed as fanaticism.

35 comments:

yawn said...

So how do you account for the overwhelming majority of muslims who don't support terrorism? They may not actively seek to undermine it, you know, like the German people in the 1930s, but that doesn't mean Germans are inherently violent. How do you account for the fact that throughout all of recorded time Muslims have been no more violent than Christians? You don't and you can't.

whyisitso said...

I agree with Harry that there is a lot of sympathy for extreme positions among the mainstream Muslim community (even in Australia), even though the sympathisers are extremely unlikely to engage in extremism themselves. No one really knows what proportion of western immigrant Muslims sympathise with Al Quaida etc. Some claim it's only a tiny, insignificant minority, others claim it's actually a majority. There is no real evidence either way, so we're left with anecdotal impressions. My own view is that it's a significant minority, possibly as much as a third.

Spiros said...

"My own view is that it's a significant minority, possibly as much as a third"

Based on what? Muslims you know personally? The shape of your bowel movements every second Wednesday?

Please explain.

yawn said...

As he said "there's no real evidence" so lets just make stuff up anyway.

having just come back from a muslim country that has a public holiday on christmas day where a "significant minority" of the population wear shorts and singlets, i too xcan turn my personal prejudice into anecdotal evidence into statistics, facts and figures.

whyisitso said...

There's no more evidence supporting the politically correct view that the sympathisers are only a tiny insignificant minority either.

whyisitso said...

"So how do you account for the overwhelming majority of muslims who don't support terrorism?"

My figure is a subjective impression from hearing and reading only without evidence. It's not an assertion, unlike yawn's opening comment that "So how do you account for the overwhelming majority of muslims who don't support terrorism?" How can you assert this - what is your evidence. You should rephrase it by saying that's your unsupported impression.

Bring Back CL's blog said...

there is a smal brand of muslims who can be counted on to be ''fanatics' AQ style.

The former Mufti at Lakemba was even trying to get rid of them.

It isn't hard to find them.

It is easy to find anti-US positions supported amongst Muslims but there are few who actually wish to become terrorists.

Spiros said...

If it's true there's no evidence then says a lot, none of it good, about the quality of our intelligence services, who have been vast resources, over several years, to gather this evidence.

There probably is quite a lot of evidence, but the spooks are keeping it to themselves, except when they selectively leak it to get more money from governments come budget time.

As for public debate, the burden of proof lies with whyisitso and his ilk to demonstrate that 1/3 of Muslims are supporters of terrorism, not the other way around. Or are we really supposed to think that one in three Turkish bread shops have Al Qaeda DVDs stored in the backroom, to sell with the halafel for selected customers?

ABC said...

Prof Clarke - could I throw you back a quote of yours, and ask a few questions??? If you have time, some answers would be appreciated, if not - fair enough. The tone of the questions is intended to be challenging, not insulting.

The quote:

"But I am not persuaded that ‘good Islam’ – here defined as the mainstream beliefs of many Muslims - is not also partly to blame."

My overarching question is "why"?

More specifically, you're stating that you believe that adherence to a certain mainstream religion causes terrorism. And the burden of proof is on those who believe this not to be the case. Why should the burden of proof lie with us?

Despite the absence of a logical argument or solid evidence that mainstream Islam (rather than other factors like radical religious beliefs, political motives, despair and psychological problems stemming from poverty and oppression) create s terrorists, you're placing the burden of proof on the rest of us to prove it does not. Or have you previously laid out such an argument or such evidence, or shown us where to find it?? (On such an important and nuanced question, where tricky issues of causality and identification are front and center, such an argument or evidence would surely be longer than the casual observations of a blog post... can you point us to any longer studies or books, particularly anything peer-reviewed?)

And finally, if you accept that strong evidence isn't existent, but you still hold the negative belief about this particular religious group, would it be fair to label you as "prejudiced"? Why or why not?

Okay, so your lack of conviction about the ABSENCE of a causal link isn't the same thing as being convinced there IS a causal link. Granted. But in this case, why make a song and dance about this unresolved question?


Can I pose one further question: what evidence would you accept to shed light on whether your prejudices about the effects of Islamic belief are either (a) grounded in reality, or (b) completely mistaken? Can the issue be settled in one way or another, at least for now?

I ask this because my personal belief is that the discussion you're initiating isn't very constructive or healthy, because: (a) the echo-chamber effect is solidifying racist beliefs, (b) increasing racism is alienating Muslims and possibly contributing to further extremism, (c) we're ignoring many more important questions, such as "what fundamental rights should be accorded to religious adherents, irrespective of the actions of zealots with similar beliefs?", and "how can we reduce religious extremism?", for instance.

Thanks.

hc said...

No ABC,

I am not delving into the nature of Islam about which I have little knowledge. I am only observing that significant numbers of people in Islamic countries do support terrorists such as bin Laden and, in particular, support continued terrorist attacks on the US. Of course many - indeed most - do not.

I cannot understand how this comes about for a religion which its supporters say is peaceful unless there is something in the interpretation of the religion that opens it up to exploitation by the supporters of terrorists.

The concept of 'Jihad' is troublesome to me even though some Muslims say it refers to an 'internal struggle' the way the idea is used sounds different to that - more like 'religious crusade'.

I don't understand why so many Islamic countries are completely intolerant of other religions. Why the pathological hatred of Jews and in some cases Christians?

Finally, why not more active opposition in non-Muslim countries to youth and others who follow the path of terrorism.

The reason I raise these issues is that I do not think low rates of economic development or foreign occupations entirely explain the terrorist surge. I agree with Posner - religious beliefs seem to have a role.

Spiros said...

Posner's claim is obvious. Saudi Arabia is economically developed, and yet is the source of Wahhabism, perhaps the worst strain of Islamism.

But that doesn't mean Muslims generally, everywhere and always, have a disposition towards terrorism, any more than the Spanish inquisition means that Catholics have a general disposition towards torturing people to death.

Anonymous said...

Spiros

The death count from the Spanish inquistion totalled about 2,000 people. It should have been zero but lets not lose prespective here. Moreover Christianity has shown it can ballast itself.

I fail to see that happening with islam.

And yes there have been numerous polls conducted amongst Muslim populations that show disturbing levels of suppport for uncivilized behavioour.

Spiros said...

Anon, according to Wikipedia, between 3000 and 5000 people were executed by the SI, but let's not quibble. More interestingly, it ran for 356 years, so the ballast took a long time to kick in. Of course, if you look at the number of people killed in intra-Christian disputes, such as the 20% of Germany's entire population during the 30 Years' War, then you're talking serious death.

Anyway, got a link for those Muslim surveys?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hc said...

Anonymous comment deleted as it personally abused another contributor.

There is no place for personal abuse on this blog.

whyisitso said...

"between 3000 and 5000 people were executed by the SI, but let's not quibble. More interestingly, it ran for 356 years"

That's between 8 and 14 per annum, Spiros. Hardly competes with Islamists does it? They manage that per day.

Spiros said...

That's true, but they have better technology.

Back on topic, I saw a Muslim woman today walking down the street with two kids. They looked harmless enough, but as we know now, at least one of them was a supporter of terrorism.

Anonymous said...

Spiro:

ïf I go the mosque to today, I won't be getting a big surprise"

If this deadender is saying this to the media, what do you reckon are the chances he's saying something a little more provocative when he's preaching and being well accepted?

Run with this one, Spiros.



THREE militants who could be executed for the 2002 Bali bombings acted in good faith to defend Islam, but were wrong to indiscriminately target civilians, says controversial Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

The three – Imam Samudra, Mukhlas and Amrozi, who was dubbed "the smiling bomber" because of his constant grin at his trial – have run out of legal avenues for appeal but could still seek presidential clemency, an option they have already ruled out.

They were sentenced to death for their role in two nightclub blasts on Bali's Kuta strip on October 12, 2002, in which 88 Australians were among the 202 people killed.

"Their intention is good; to defend fellow Muslims who have been terrorised by America and its allies. They didn't seek popularity, they didn't seek worldly possessions, they didn't seek any position.

"All they looked for was Allah's favour," Abu Bakar Bashir told Reuters in an interview at his house in the central Java city of Solo.

Bashir, accused by some foreign governments of once heading the regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah (JI), said the militants had not discussed with him any bombing plans and he could have dissuaded them had they done so.


from today's Australian.

Spiros said...

Abu Bakar Bashir is a very bad man, no question.

Whether we should be afraid of every third guy behind the counter in the suburban Turkish breadshop is a different question.

Anonymous said...

If 5% of Muslims think even a little like Bashir we are in heaps of trouble, Spiro. That would be around 75 million people. If 10% of those had murderous intentions or supported wholesale slaughter that would be just as bad.

Spiros said...

Nobody knows whether its 5%, .5%, .00005% or any other %.

We do know that there hasn't been a single successful terrorist attack in Australia since the Hilton hotel bombing, 30 years ago.

Hopefully the spooks whose job it is to stop people exploding bombs on trains have got it under control. But I'm not going to spend my life wondering whether the bloke sitting next to me on the train is going to blow me to the sky.

Anonymous said...

I think you would agree there is risk. So why import more risk.

And yes, there hasn't been an attack during that time, however that bellies the obvious, doesn't it?

There have been numerous arrests. and intel has been pretty good.

Nearly all Muslims are nice peaceful people that want to get on with life. How do you figure who is who though.

W still don't have a terror detector.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully the spooks whose job it is to stop people exploding bombs on trains have got it under control.

Run us through your strategy on this one. You think sniffer dogs ought to be sent to every station?

Spiros said...

No, but they might hang around the mosques, find out who the hot heads are, join in their groups and clubs, find out what they're up to, and if it turns out that what they're up to is plans to blow things up, then arrest them.

Is this fool proof? Unfortunately not, but it's worked so far. And there is no better way.

Anonymous said...

And there is no better way.

Yes there is. You keep the cards you want and chuck out those you don't want. In other words target immigration with less risky groups such as nom-muslim asians, sth Amercian etc. and steer clear of risky groups.

This way it doesn't cost us more to bulid large illiberal state intel services to watch the citizenry.

I'm applalled that you think it is perfectly ok that intel goes spying on its own citizens at a mosque. this is a shocking admission to make. Wouldn't it be better not to have that risk at all or keep it at a minimum?

A better way to keep a tab on immigration is to have all people buy their way in through a fee and a higher rate of tax and limited social services such as pensions etc.

Spiros said...

So you waouldn't have any Bosnians or Albanians? They are European, completely westernised, but their religion is Muslim.

And even if you stopped all Muslim immigration, you have the ones that are already here. Most of the (alleged) terrorists who got nabbed in the joint Sydney and Melbourne raids, were born here.

What would you do, expel them all, the way Idi Amin expelled in 1971 all the Ugandans of Indian descent?

It's unfortunate that some of our "citizenry" are up to no good and that the intel services have to spy on them, but it's not a perfect world.

Anonymous said...

So you wouldn't have any Bosnians or Albanians? They are European, completely westernised, but their religion is Muslim.

So let Europe deal with them, it’s not as though there are a huge numbers of them. And what exactly has the fact that they are European got to do with it, Spiro. Nice to see you’re quick to make racial distinctions here.

Islam has a problem, so let muslims deal with it and when they have cleaned their act they would be treated equally with those groups that don’t present an issue.

And even if you stopped all Muslim immigration, you have the ones that are already here. Most of the (alleged) terrorists who got nabbed in the joint Sydney and Melbourne raids, were born here.

Immigration for Australia has been an astounding success, though I think a lot to do with it was blind luck. One example of that success is that the level of intermarriage after the 1st generation is about 76%. However the intermarriage rate for muslims is about 15%.

And yea, well those who are here are here. Which is the point I’m making. We don’t want to get into situations where the government is snooping on the people so the way to eliminate that problem is to have as little of those groups as possible.

What would you do, expel them all, the way Idi Amin expelled in 1971 all the Ugandans of Indian descent?

No. Don’t play straw man with me , fella.

It's unfortunate that some of our "citizenry" are up to no good and that the intel services have to spy on them, but it's not a perfect world.

Yea, so have less of it. So what’s your point we should have more Muslim immigration even though it means more security controls. How exactly is that a good thing even for muslims. Isn’t it better for them to live in an environment that doesn’t cause that much suspicion?

Spiros said...

JC, you are missing the point as always. You say Muslims are all the same. They are not. There's no evidence that the recent arrivals are the problem or that they will become a problem. There is a small number of people who were born and raised here and who for whatever reason want to join in the jihad.

The spooks have to spy on a lot of people, not just Muslims. There's the Croats who are thinking about killing a few Serbs, and vice versa; there's the white supremacists whose ancestors came from England 150 years ago; there's all sorts of dangerous people.

The Muslims get all the air time, but don't kid yourself that they are only problem.

Anonymous said...

Spiro

You yourself think were ought to be supervising the mosques with secret police. Why, if you don't think they pose a problem? Do they?

And I never said they were the only problem, but why add it.

I wouldn't say Muslims aren't without risk. 200 Aussies got bombed in Bali not so long ago. I can't really see why you think that sorta thing can't be transported down here. Help me out here.

You're avoiding the obvious here, Spiro. Why?

Spiros said...

So far, we don't have the problems apparently associated with London's Finsbury mosque, but you never know, So, they might pose a problem. And the only way to find out is to have a Captain Cook. If the spooks conclude that there is nothing to worry about, then that's great. They can then do something really useful like spying on that nest of traitors, the libertarians.


Why is this so hard for you to understand?

Anonymous said...

Spiros:

Why do want to increase state power to spook on citizens? Or rather have more of it going on.

Isn't it best not to import that problem in the first place or do you think we can't fill our annual immigration quota?

Anonymous said...

More importanly, how do you reach the copnclusion that the probabilyt estimates for a good sized attack would small if we continued with Muslim immigration.

Have you created a pobability estimate? Show us the numbers if you have.

Spiros said...

JC, all this was explained by the head of ASIO when he appeared before the Senate Estimates committee. You can look it up on the parliament house web site.

Spiros said...

For now, JC, good bye. You have become even more boring and tedious than usual, which is no mean feat. I'm off to watch the cricket.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

Anonymous said...

That's consistency, harry.