Berman, Eli. Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. xi + 300 pages. Cloth, $24.95.
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, there has been an influx of articles and books addressing terrorism. Until the establishment of new journals such as Critical Studies on Terrorism, discussions about that topic in mainstream journals were outfight condemnations of terrorist groups with little or no room for any analytical counterargument. While economist Eli Berman does not provide an in-depth analysis of the history of global terrorism, he investigates a genuine, critical approach to understanding terrorist groups.
This eight-chapter book chronologically examines three main ingredients of terrorism: violence, religion, and radicalization. Using some designated terrorist groups (e.g., Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Mahdi Army) in the literature, the author provides counterarguments by means of field research--conducted by psychologist Ariel Merari--to debunk the common view that terrorists are primarily religious radicals and extremists. Berman utilizes international data dating back to the 1980s, along with other research studies on suicide attacks by terrorists, to argue that terrorism has very "little to do with theology" (p. 25). Such qualitative and meta-analytical approaches in gathering information show that terrorists are not solely fighting on behalf of religious righteousness, as portrayed in the literature, but are also concerned with their independence, community, and sovereignty.
Despite global acceptance of the violent nature of terrorist groups, Berman finds that terrorists are not merely theological brainwashers or psychopathic killers, but are also "people who are effective at providing humanitarian assistance, education, and healthcare to their own constituency" (p. 123). Using Hamas as a case study, he traces the genesis of the group and maintains that most terrorist groups start as humble organizations that provide social services, education, and other social amenities to the poor (pp. 121-44). "They all share a history of social service provision" (p. 58).
Berman posits that "the attackers (terrorists) truly believe that their courageous act will bring great benefit to some cause, and that their neighbors, community, or country will benefit" (p. 11). He maintains that there is a global animosity toward occupying and oppressive governments...