Sunday, February 7, 2010

Would Haredim Make Good Terrorists? Some Thoughts on Radical Religious and Violent (Part II)

 (Part I)

It occurred to me that this argument, that successful terrorist organizations require agents with high defection constraints and this is best accomplished by recruiting candidates with long histories of service to the group's social welfare network even before they became terrorists, would explain why certain terrorist and counter-terrorism strategies used in television shows might not work in practice. In season two of 24, one of the major twists is the revelation that the point man in a plot by Islamic terrorists to use a nuclear device over Los Angeles is a blond haired blue eyed American female raised as a Protestant and whose family is unaware that she converted to Islam let alone has become an Islamic terrorist. If I were running a terrorist organization and had the good fortune to come into possession of a nuclear bomb (supplied by a conservative cabal looking to push the United States into a war with specific unnamed Muslim countries), would I be willing to trust this bomb to an American woman who was not raised in the system and has not even made the sacrifice of coming out to her family about her extremist beliefs? This would undermine the anti-profiling premise of this sequence of episodes. Certainly, if the government is looking for Middle-Eastern men I could recruit an all American white female, but do I have any that I can trust? If terrorists are dependent on people from very specific backgrounds then they would be vulnerable to profiling.

On the flip side, the show MI-5 (a British version of 24) has an episode devoted to a project designed to undermine Islamic terrorist cells in England by getting active members to turn and then agree to attempt to turn other members. The story focuses on the recruitment of a black convert to Islam by using his ex-girlfriend from his pre-Muslim days to get to him. If real life terrorist groups behave like Berman assumes they do then it is unlikely that they would ever allow a black convert to be in a position of serious responsibility where he could turn on the group. On the flip side, if I were a terrorist mastermind, I would look at the MI-5 episode as an excellent example of why I do not want to trust converts, no matter how sincere they sound and instead stick to people who have come up through the system.

Ultimately, there is both a liberal and a conservative side to Berman's argument. On the conservative side, he demolishes the common apologetic argument for groups like Hamas that they are primarily a social service network that only incidentally also maintains a militant wing. From Berman's perspective, it is precisely this social service network that is the foundation for terrorist activity so no separation can be made. This though also has a liberal face as Berman argues that counter-terrorism, instead of a military approach, should be focusing precisely on these social services by offering alternatives.

To step away from terrorism, this book is primarily about the economics of religion, particularly of the Haredi system, which is the inspiration for Berman's more general ideas. This book could be read as a study of the Haredi system, sidestepping any concerns about terrorism. Personally, I find Berman's study of Haredim to be a useful refutation of the sort of Haredi apologetics offered by Jonathan Rosenblum. Barring spectacular individuals, the Haredi yeshiva system is not useful as an alternative to secular college in preparation for competing in the job market. As Berman notes:

Israeli secular education in the 1990s had a return of 9.4 percent, a pretty good investment (a little higher than the U.S. return). Ultra-Orthodox education, on the other hand, was a terrible investment, at 1.8 percent. In other words, for every year in yeshiva a student was forgoing a permanent raise of about 7.6 percent, which they could have realized by spending that same year in a secular school. (pg. 73)

It is important that Haredi groups like Satmar do not get credit for their social services. The usual defense for Satmar is to point to their admittedly extensive social services, both in and even outside their own community. Kiryat Joel has the highest rate of poverty in the United States. Their philosophy of attempting to shut out the world is the greatest mass system of poverty creation that remains legal. As with the case of terrorism, the social service network is not something distinct from the extremism; it is the very foundation of the entire system that creates radicals and allows them to continue in their beliefs. (One of the reasons why I am a Libertarian and wish to eliminate government welfare is the knowledge that such policies will be the destruction of the Haredi community as they are faced with having to adopt Modern Orthodox policies or starving to death.)

This brings me to the big question that I came away from this book asking; for all this talk about the similarities between the social systems used by Haredim and Islamic radicals, would Haredim make good terrorists? In fact, Berman's major example of a failed terrorist organization is the Jewish underground that came from the Jewish settler movement. They lacked a system of culling out potentially untrustworthy recruits and were all too easily infiltrated by the Israeli government and neutralized. The Haredi system is very useful if you want to send out riotous youths to smash traffic lights and burn garbage cans or even to harass immodestly dressed women. This does not require any great planning, there is no valuable intelligence to sell, nor does it threaten any high-value targets. Imagine a Haredi youth calling the Israeli police: "hay I have a tip on a planned demonstration against chilul Shabbos. All I want is that you get me out of this life and give me a full year of college tuition with room and board." With something so basic, one could rely on moderately committed youths, motivated more by boredom than ideology.

As I see it, the Haredi system would not be effective for higher defection constant jobs like terrorism. It is not that they lack an effective social welfare system. The problem is that their system is almost too successful and is able to survive and even rely on free riders. The Haredi world is loaded with people who have been trapped into the system and would leave if only they were not dependent on the Haredi social system. (One of the few things that Unchosen got right.) In theory, these would be precisely the sorts of people who would turn traitor the moment they had something to sell. Would these people even be useful as drones, to be given specific low-level missions without any valuable intelligence to defect with?

If you insist you can do the cheap Jewish thing and have a friend lend you this book, do that. It would be hypocritical of me to complain. Better yet go out and purchase this book yourself. I look forward to hearing your reactions to it.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Haredim would make lousy terrorists. In order to be a good terrorist, you have to be willing to be suicidal, to take one for the team. Haredim are far too selfish as a culture to do this. They are more bullies than anything. Consider how in Israel they have no hesitation to demand separate seating on buses, riot and attack police while in the US they will do no such thing because they know the consequences would be much higher.
But I don't agree with your first argument. Sometimes a "baal teshuvah", black or blonde can be a very motivated agent.

Izgad said...

Motivation is not nearly as important as, if we go with Berman’s model, our all encompassing fear of betrayal. So our terrorists, at all costs, need to ditch anyone possessing a low defection constant. Converts do not have family members to keep them loyal to the system so they have a low cost for betrayal. This would also apply to in general using Baali Tshuva as leaders or role models. Remember Dr. Laura?

John Byrnes said...

Last Tuesday, Directors of the CIA, FBI and National Intelligence declared that an attack by Al Qaeda in the next 3 to 6 months “is certain!” Leon Panetta, CIA Director announced, “The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11. It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect.”

Panetta’s statement does not take into account the ability to identify any terrorist whose goal it is to give up their life for a cause. Only when you are observing measurable emerging aggression can you identify a terrorist before they effect their violence.

The Center for Aggression Management discovered 15 years ago that there were two kinds of aggression: adrenaline-driven Primal Aggression and intent-driven Cognitive Aggression. The Primal Aggressor, in the extreme, is “red-faced and ready to explode,” the Cognitive Aggressor (the terrorist) is not. When a person, regardless of the culture, gender, education or position, rises to the level where their goal is to give up their life for a cause, their body looses animation and we see the “thousand-yard stare.” But it is more than this, the whole body and behavior looses animation and this is how we can identify them. The problem is that security and law enforcement are still looking for the Primal Aggressor (red-faced and ready to explode). Of course they are finding it difficult to detect these terrorist; a terrorist is a Cognitive Aggression; they are looking for the wrong person!

As our Government analyzes what went wrong regarding Abdulmatallab’s entrance into the United States, you can be assured that Al Qaeda is also analyzing how their plans went wrong. Who do you think will figure it out first . . . ?

You can

Anonymous said...

do they demand seperate seating or does the israei govt acomadate them knowing that the alternative is that they would lose alot of money due to a chareidi boycott? my version isnt bully-like in 5the slightest

Izgad said...

I assume there is a combination of things. Haredi vigilantes have been known to harass women who do not sit at the back of the bus. Governments, in practice, tend toward the pragmatic than the ideological. At all costs they need to keep public order. It is economically cheaper to give the Haredim what they want than to protect women on buses so the Haredim get appeased. Of course this only encourages further imperial action.