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Mind-blowing first paragraph, academic paper

[ by Charles Cameron — this motive for terror in Mumbai totally blindsided me ]

Young Ajmal Kasab, from the village of Faridkot in the Punjab, in Mumbai, now deceased


Consider this:

Strapped to a gurney and visibly shaken by the bloodied bodies of his fellow terrorists strewn about, Mohammed Jamal Amir Kasab, aged twenty-one, begged his police interrogators to turn off their cameras. They refused, and Kasab’s recorded confession provided the world with a glimpse into the individual motivations of the young men behind the four days of attacks in Mumbai, India. Kasab explained that he “joined the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba only for money.”1 His was not solely an individual decision, however, and the money he earned from participating in the attacks was not intended to be discretionary income. According to Kasab, his father had urged him to join so that Kasab and his siblings could afford to marry.2 Kasab recounted that his father had told him that his participation would mean that the family would no longer be poor and that they would be able to pay the costs required to finalize a marriage contract. One of the police officers, seemingly ignoring Kasab’s response, pressed, “So you came here for jihad? Is that right?” Crying, Kasab asked, “What jihad?” Lashkar-e-Taiba deposited the promised money in his father’s account after the successful attack; for his participation, Kasab was hanged in 2012 by the Indian government. Whether his siblings were subsequently able to contract marriages as a result of the funds provided by Lashkar-e-Taiba remains unknown.

The paper, by Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess, is published by MIT Press in International Security, Volume 42 Issue 1, Summer 2017, p.7-40 under the title, In Plain Sight: The Neglected Linkage between Brideprice and Violent Conflict.

How little we know, how little we suspect, how diverse the world is, how varied the motives at play, even in matters that we study and feel we’ve grasped.


The paragraph above stands as a fitting anecdotal confirmation of Will McCants:

The disappoint stems from the desire to attribute the jihadist phenomenon to a single cause rather than to several causes that work in tandem to produce it. To my mind, the most salient are these: a religious heritage that lauds fighting abroad to establish states and to protect one’s fellow Muslims; ultraconservative religious ideas and networks exploited by militant recruiters; peer pressure (if you know someone involved, you’re more likely to get involved); fear of religious persecution; poor governance (not type of government); youth unemployment or underemployment in large cities; and civil war. All of these factors are more at play in the Arab world now than at any other time in recent memory, which is fueling a jihadist resurgence around the world.

If anyone elevates one of those factors above the others to diagnose the problem, you can be certain the resulting prescription will not work. It may even backfire, leading to more jihadist recruitment, not less.

7 Responses to “Mind-blowing first paragraph, academic paper”

  1. Timothy Furnish Says:

    I’m not sure ONE “confession” even qualifies as anecdotal. This reminds me of the story trumpeted by AP yesterday: “UN Study: Extremist [sic] Fighters Lack Good Education and Jobs” (https://www.apnews.com/7a01326713494a978907586380e0b960/UN-study:-Extremist-fighters-lack-good-education-and-jobs?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=c1f3110d02-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_08_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-c1f3110d02-400159213O). Over 18,000 foreign fighters have volunteered for ISIS, so a study of 43 of them is statistically useless. But since it seems to reinforce the media’s refusal to see Islamic ideology behind jihadism, it’s promoted. I’m sorry, but one sad story from a terrorist does not a pattern make.

  2. morgan Says:

    Excellent point Tim. Blaming Islamic ideology doesn’t fit the media’s world view.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    As you both know, I’ve been warning against Islamic eschatology’s potential for providing divine sanction for violence since 1998, when I met David Cook at a CMS conference, at least.
    Morgan, I’d just point out that the para I quoted comes from an academic study, not a media piece. Of course, academia by and large may well be more blind to connections between the classical doctrine of jihad and contemporary instances of the same — but that’s not my position.
    Tim, I don’t see Kasab’s explanation as denying the importance of Islam and specifically jihad in understanding Islamist terror — but I think there are dolls within dolls (so to speak) to be explored here. One starting point is the body, and here various parts of the endocrine and nervous systems are causal — electrochemistry is the basis for human violence in these terms, not terrorism or Islamist terrorism only. Other specialists will note the mental and emotional equivalents — fear and insecurity masked by anger, frustration building to rage, and so forth.
    When we come to ideational drivers, they ride on these underlying physical and psychological bases, it seems to me. Various cultural aspects figure in here, economics, education, gender and age and so forth, each of which has a cluster of experts tracking modes of influence more or less exclusively — with McCants’ paragraph a lucid statement of theiur interprenetration.
    And to my way of thinking, whatever the endocrine arousal, history of fanily trauma or economic difficulties may have played some part in an individual’s radicalization, it seems to me that Islam — as interpreted by jihadist recruiters and or friends, in a more or a less informaed manner — is the gate through which all other drives are herded, giving the poqwerful boosts of conmpanionship and devine sanction to the eventual terrorist.
    I personally think that ISIS and AQ are both best understood as Islamic in much the same way the Khawarij were Islamic — Islamic to the point of excess, of exceding Islam — but not being a Muslim I put that forward not as my theological opinion but as a suggestive exploratory concept in “religious studies” — a somewhat abstract field, distinct from theologically freighted opinion.

  4. zen Says:

    I think in terms of motivation to fight and die there are ideological catalysts, moral cohesion to sustain and personal attractants.
    Getting the jihad ball rolling and starting an irregular war requires a high degree of ideological militancy. While the ideology remains the professed cause of the group it gets tempered in most armed groups by the day to day realities of brutal conflict and survival. By mid point in the conflict, some of the original fanatical core are long dead too unless there is a mechanism to replace them continually with new, equally motivated zealots. Fighters begin in part, fighting for their comrades as much as the original cause.
    Then there are the aberrant psyches attracted to war and violence because they enjoy it out of psychopathology and rootless alienation from normal society – these are “the armed bohemians” and “warlord personalities” who can be ideological chameleons. The German Communist who became an SS Man, the Tsarist Mad Baron who became a Buddhist warlord in Mongolia, General Dostum of Afghanistan who has been successively a Communist, a Mujahedin, an Uzbek rebel, an Afghan nationalist all the while maintaining his private army and fiefdom. ISIS did a great job of attracting European Muslim “hip-hop” jihadis who never cracked a Quran but were the Euro equivalent of petty gangbangers in French and Belgian ghettos.

  5. carl Says:

    Even if we were to take his explanation at face value, Mr. Kasab in the end was willing to commit mass murder for money. He was willing to go through a lot of trouble to get to pull the trigger also. We can most logically conclude he was an evil man who liked doing what he did, as Zen said. It is too bad the Indians could not hang him more than once despite his tears.
    There are numbers of guys like this available for use by the likes, in this case, of the ISI. It is too bad the Indians couldn’t catch some of the ISI handlers too.

  6. Charles Cameron Says:


    Mr. Kasab in the end was willing to commit mass murder for money.

    It sure seems so — but that leaves out both the overtly religious ideological component and also the specific bride-price issue in this instance — and what I’m wanting to do is to get a richar sense of how such thiungs work together, and indeed, what the range of possible factors is — so as to be able to have “oversight” on the possibilities without blinders, and to give as close an approximation to what we might need to watch out for as possible in words. Ideally, I’d like to bring that into a concept-map..
    I guess I’d benefit from being a way better anthropologist.
    I guess I’d benefit from being a way better historian.
    As so often, you enrich my thinking powerfully. Thank you.

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

    I had no idea how big an issue I was dipping into…

    Do bride prices drive terrorism?
    Terrorism experts have long known that poverty is a factor in tempting young men to join radical terrorist groups, but what about bride prices?
    A new article in MIT Press Journal argues that many young, male recruits who are driven to terrorist organizations for financial reasons are actually aspiring to use the money to help themselves and their brothers get married.
    Many nations, including Saudi Arabia, give financial assistance to grooms as a national security strategy. The authors of the article argue that countries actively funding the war against terror, like the United States, should consider helping men get married as a tool in their arsenal.

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