Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Economics of the Jihad II - The Demand for Jihad

Earlier I claimed that Europe might prove to be an unusually fruitful front for recruiting labor for the jihad firm. Subsequently we have learned that the London transport bombers appear to be all home-grown. The idea of the jihad as a product being sold in various markets, like the idea of the jihad as a firm, is illuminating up to a point. In particular, the demand for jihad (or, alternatively, the supply of jihadis) may be considerably more robust in Europe than in the Middle East over the long term.

Economic theory supposes that people make choices by rationally ordering their options and choosing the best one. Why would someone choose to support the jihad, or even to participate in it? Clearly, by the individual’s own measure, the jihad offers something more than opposition to or indifferent acceptance of it. Note that, contrary to older economic thinking, this decision is for most not a matter of money. (Although money may loom large for the middle and high-level managers in the jihad firm who have an opportunity to control large amounts of money being moved around the globe.) Many suicide bombers, other than in the West Bank and Gaza, appear in terms of very casual empiricism to be middle-class and educated. One supposes then that the rest of the jihad workforce is similarly comfortable. So the question is for most not the pursuit of income. Rather, does the jihad offer something, emotionally or otherwise, that its rejection does not?

This is a function of available information, both about life under the sharia and its alternatives. The somewhat counterintuitive implication of this model is that the jihad sells better in Europe, especially Old Europe. Many in the Middle East – Turks, Arabs and Iranians – have personal experience either with life under Islamist rule or with Islamist terror. They know that Islamism turns out badly in practice.

Once they take power, the Islamists must fix potholes like everyone else. Part of the appeal of Hezbollah in Lebanon is often said to be their ability to provide public services through their preexisting infrastructure. But Iranians have found after a quarter-century of Islamist rule that ayatollahs can be as corrupt as anyone. Hashemi Rafsanjani is said to have become quite wealthy over his time as a senior member of the Iranian ruling class, even as the Iranian economy has languished. (According to World Bank data, between 1980 and 2001 the growth of per capita income in Iran was only 0.8 percent per year, although recent increases in oil prices have improved that performance.) In Algeria Islamism almost tore that society apart, with hundreds of thousands of deaths in a brutal civil war. If the army of the car bombs and televised beheadings in Iraq were to run candidates, how many votes would they get nationwide? At the end of the day the appeal of the fanatic sharia society has limits in the Islamic lands.

Of course, this is not true to the same degree everywhere, but even the exceptions prove the rule. The jihadi ideology apparently flourishes in Saudi Arabia and portions of Pakistan. (But in Pakistan, and presumably elsewhere, we must be careful. The economist Tahir Andrabi’s research indicates that the press has dramatically exaggerated the appeal of madrassas for Pakistani parents. Rather than educating up to a third of Pakistani children, as is sometimes claimed, his analysis of actual Pakistani census data indicates that the correct figure is less than one percent. John R. Bradley’s new book Saudi Arabia Exposed argues, based on his experience talking to Saudis away from Riyadh and distinct from the highly polished, telegenic, Westernized Saudi elite, that the fanaticism we associate with that society is actually only shared by a small minority of that society, and is confined primarily to one ethnic group.) Even conceding the greater appeal of the jihadi ideology in certain countries, they are largely lands where political opposition is largely channeled into Islamism because nothing else will be tolerated. The long-term growth potential of the jihad in the Middle East may be limited, and to the extent it exists it will be disproportionately in the same failed states. Middle Easterners have by and large seen the jihad close up, and increasingly do not like what they see.

Europe is another matter. Muslims in Britain and France are unemployed at higher rates than non-Muslims, but the difference is not unlike the difference between blacks on the one hand and whites and Asians on the other in the U.S. (Arabs in the U.S., many of whom are admittedly Christian, have significantly higher incomes and education levels than Americans overall.) But black Americans are Americans in ways that some Muslim Europeans either are not or feel that they are not Europeans, and the perception of outsider status is far more important in the demand for jihad than the reality. The aggressive European embrace of multiculturalism implicitly tells minority groups that they are always different. It is a natural human tendency, given that one is permanently to be seen as the other, to wish to be on the top rather than the bottom, all the more so when one is treated, as the multicultural model demands, like a zoo animal – fun to look at, well-fed, but never able to escape the cage. Theodore Dalrymple has written hauntingly of the way the residents of the Muslim ghettoes of Paris contemptuously view their perceived outsider status, a sentiment multiplied by the suffocating generosity of the French welfare state:
Benevolence inflames the anger of the young men of the cités as much as repression, because their rage is inseparable from their being. Ambulance men who take away a young man injured in an incident routinely find themselves surrounded by the man’s “friends,” and jostled, jeered at, and threatened: behavior that, according to one doctor I met, continues right into the hospital, even as the friends demand that their associate should be treated at once, before others.

Of course, they also expect him to be treated as well as anyone else, and in this expectation they reveal the bad faith, or at least ambivalence, of their stance toward the society around them. They are certainly not poor, at least by the standards of all previously existing societies: they are not hungry; they have cell phones, cars, and many other appurtenances of modernity; they are dressed fashionably—according to their own fashion—with a uniform disdain of bourgeois propriety and with gold chains round their necks. They believe they have rights, and they know they will receive medical treatment, however they behave. They enjoy a far higher standard of living (or consumption) than they would in the countries of their parents’ or grandparents’ origin, even if they labored there 14 hours a day to the maximum of their capacity.

But this is not a cause of gratitude—on the contrary: they feel it as an insult or a wound, even as they take it for granted as their due. But like all human beings, they want the respect and approval of others, even—or rather especially—of the people who carelessly toss them the crumbs of Western prosperity. Emasculating dependence is never a happy state, and no dependence is more absolute, more total, than that of most of the inhabitants of the cités. They therefore come to believe in the malevolence of those who maintain them in their limbo: and they want to keep alive the belief in this perfect malevolence, for it gives meaning—the only possible meaning—to their stunted lives. It is better to be opposed by an enemy than to be adrift in meaninglessness, for the simulacrum of an enemy lends purpose to actions whose nihilism would otherwise be self-evident.

When there is a belief that society is not built for you, the demand for an alternative, no matter how it absurd it appears to outsiders or to those closest to you, cannot help but grow. And the combination of economic stagnation, excessive devotion to multiculturalism in lieu of assimilation, the ease of market entry for jihad entrepreneurs owing to free-speech traditions, and the possibility (due to the expansive welfare state) of living a comfortable live without acquiring the dignity and self-respect that comes from having to make one’s own way in the world, means that many Western European nations will become increasingly expert at producing young Muslim men who are enthusiastic buyers in the market for jihad. In that sense it is perhaps not surprising that, as Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports, the London bombers were apparently recruited at a government youth center.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A man receiving charity always hates his benefactor- it is a fixed characteristic of human nature" - George Orwell

5:06 AM  

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