Communications Technology and Terrorism
(With Michael Jetter); Published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, see here
By facilitating the flow of information in society, communications technology (CT; e.g., newspapers, radio, television, the internet) can help terrorists to (i) spread their message, (ii) recruit followers, and (iii) coordinate among group members. However, CT also facilitates monitoring and arresting terrorists. This paper formulates the hypothesis that a society's level of CT is systematically related to terrorism. We introduce a simple theoretical framework, suggesting that terrorism first becomes more attractive with a rise in CT, but then decreases, following an inverted U-shape. Accessing data for 199 countries from 1970-2014, we find evidence consistent with these predictions: Terrorism peaks at intermediate ranges of CT and corresponding magnitudes are sizeable. Our estimations control for a range of potentially confounding factors, as well as country- and year-fixed effects. Results are robust to a battery of alternative specifications and placebo regressions. We find no evidence of a potential reporting bias explaining our findings.
Gone with the wind: The consequences of US drone strikes in Pakistan
(with Michael Jetter); Conditionally accepted at The Economic Journal
Working paper available here.
This paper explores consequences of the 420 US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2006 to 2016. Our identification strategy exploits wind conditions that complicate the feasibility of drone strikes. We find drone strikes encourage terrorism, causing 17.5 percent of all terror attacks in Pakistan and up to 6,000 terror deaths. Distinguishing between reactions of outsiders (the Pakistani populace) and insiders (terrorists), we analyze (i) the sentiment of US-related coverage in a leading Pakistani newspaper, (ii) anti-US protests, and (iii) Google searches indicative of radicalization. Our findings suggest outsiders turn against the US and sympathize with insiders because of drone strikes.
Identifying the harbingers of civil war among 4 billion models
(With Christopher F. Parmeter, Michael Jetter, and Andres Ramirez Hassan); Working paper available here.
Model uncertainty remains a persistent concern in understanding the true drivers of civil conflict and civil war. Studying a comprehensive set of 32 potential determinants in 175 post-Cold War countries (covering 98.2% of the world population), we employ stochastic search variable selection (SSVS) to sort through all 232 possible models. Three results standout from analyzing cross-sectional and panel data. First, past conflict remains the most powerful predictor of current conflict: path dependency matters greatly. Second, larger shares of Jewish, Muslim, or Christian citizens are associated with increased chances of conflict. Third, economic and political factors remain largely irrelevant, i.e., existing results in the literature are possibly explainable by omitted variables. Third, large discrepancies across continents emerge, which suggests conflict determinants can vary greatly throughout the world. We hope these results can inform empirical work on civil war in providing a standard set of covariates that need to be accounted for when testing novel theories.
On the Madrassa conundrum in terrorism studies
The madrassa conundrum in terrorism studies points to the problem where madrassas - the religious seminaries - are consistently found breeding intolerance and hatred in their students but terrorists do not emerge predominantly from madrassas. The role, if any, played by madrassas in breeding terrorism is thus still not clear. In the present study, I explore how madrassas influence the utility function of potential terrorists. Based on the concept of identity choice introduced by Akerlof and Kranton (2000), I hypothesize that the narrative advanced by madrassas lowers the net costs of identity manifestation for the terrorists by reducing the resistance towards their socially unacceptable violent behavior. In particular, I propose that the role of madrassa is terrorism is through two channels: Directly, the madrassa network is exploited by the terrorist organizations for recruitment and fund-raising and indirectly, by madrassas changing the prescriptions of ideal behavior for their students which makes it harder for them to identify and resist extremist tendencies. I test my hypothesis using a novel data set of 6322 individuals linked to terrorist organizations in Pakistan. Combining this list with district level indicators of madrassa attendance, I test whether more terrorists emerge from the districts where attendance in madrassas is higher, while controlling for other confounding factors. The study contributes both in better understanding of the drivers of terrorism and in elaborating the role of identity in manifestation of violent behavior
Exploring the link between regional income and terrorism
(With Michael Jetter and David Stadelmann); Working paper available here.
The relationship between income and terrorism is central in policy debates but empirically any connection between the two is highly debated. Recently, cross-country literature suggests an inverted u-shaped relationship between income and terrorism interpreting it in terms of higher tendencies in the middle-income countries to suffer from terrorism. We exploit a novel data set for GDP at sub-national level to study the relationship between income and terrorism. We find that poor regions that are growing richer tend to suffer from an increase in terrorism while middle income regions that are getting richer tend to experience a decrease in terrorism. We further find that it is the process of change in income and not the income itself that is associated with the changes in patterns of terrorism; i.e. a region does not attract more or less terror attacks because it is middle income but if a poor region is becoming a middle-income region, it attracts terrorism. This distinction between process vs state will help us better understand the preconditions for terrorism.