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Aug 4

Written by: Diana West
Monday, August 04, 2008 7:05 AM 

What ho, Jeeves--Al Qaeda is just like the Drones Club!

So say, in effect, a pair of academics the Washington Post saw fit to showcase in today's paper. It seems that there these two Poindexters have been pondering the big bad world from their particularly picturesqe ivory towers (Stanford and UC Santa Barbara, respectively) and An Idea has come to them (uh oh):

The generic problem is the question of why people having useful knowledge can't be bribed to reveal it," said David Laitin, a political scientist at Stanford University who has studied why terrorist groups that specialize in suicide attacks are so rarely undermined by defectors and turncoats.

Along with Eli Berman, a political scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Laitin has developed a theory to explain why the Hamdans  of the world [i.e., the bin Laden drivers of the world] tend to stay loyal to the bin Ladens.

Hmmm. Does Islam or Allah or 72 virgins or "slay the infidel" have ANYTHING to do with it? Nope. Doesn't even rate a mention in Academy-land. Instead:  

Laitin and Berman argue that it is because a group such as al-Qaeda is really an exclusive club.

Most people think of clubs as recreational groups, but Laitin and Berman are using a more subtle definition. Clubs are groups that tend to be selective about their members. Unlike political parties and book-reading groups, which allow anyone to join, clubs make it difficult for people to sign up. And once admitted, members must make personal sacrifices to stay. In the case of an exclusive golf club, the sacrifice might involve paying sizable dues. In the case of some religious orders, would-be members might have to go through lengthy periods of initiation.

Golf; dues; initiation--what else but Al Qaeda Golf and Tennis!

The "club model" of terrorism explains why cogs such as Hamdan stay loyal. Across all kinds of clubs, when members make sacrifices, they are much more likely to become intensely loyal to fellow members. Berman and Laitin think this is because the sacrifices that members make to join a club reduce their value outside the club. If you devote years to learning a religious text that knowledge can give you social cachet within your club, but your effort counts for little outside the club.

So "sacrifices" make "club" members loyal to each other. But "sacrifices"--such as "learning a religious text" (any religious text)--also devalue "club" members outside the club. Our geniuses expound:

"If you have to spend your life reading the Talmud, you are not very good at software," Laitin said.

Well, that's a little presumptuous, I'd say--but why is his example the Talmud in the first place when "club" members in question study...the Koran? 

"The sacrifices get you social welfare, but if you took a bribe, your value outside of that club would be minuscule."

Whereas software engineers who "defect" from one company to another carry their value with them -- the skills are transferable -- al-Qaeda foot soldiers might enjoy high regard within that club but be worthless outside it. This may help explain why religious cults and organized-crime syndicates reward members for acquiring arcane cultural, scriptural and linguistic skills -- these are skills that cannot be easily transferred to the outside world.

In a detailed analysis of terrorist attacks in Israel, Laitin and Berman showed that the degree of "clubbiness" of terrorist groups predicted how violent they would be, especially when it came to suicide attacks: Elite organizations demanded greater sacrifices and elicited greater loyalty, and it was these groups that could plan and carry out the most lethal attacks with little fear of betrayal.

Islamic fanaticism, anyone? Nah.

The political scientists are not suggesting for a second that clubs are inherently violent -- most, in fact, are harmless.

Phew, thank goodness and isn't it marvelous having an advanced degree?

But what Laitin and Berman are suggesting is that clubs offer the kind of organizational structure that happens to provide the secrecy and loyalty needed to run a terrorist group.

What does this research mean for counterinsurgency efforts and fighting terrorism? Laitin argued that nations that compete with terrorist organizations to provide social benefits make it less likely that their citizens will be willing to make great sacrifices to join clubs that seek to destroy them.

So...if you can't beat them, "club" them--with "social benefits."

Of course, didn't our geniuses began this exercise pondering the non-bribeabilty of "terrorists"?

Tip to profs: Next time  take a look at secret handshakes--and "club" literature.

   

 

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