Thursday, March 14, 2013

To avoid extremists, get the clerics a job!

by Salman Hameed

It seems that some clerics may be turning to violent jihad after being shut-out from clerical positions. This comes from the dissertation work of Rich Neilsen, and briefly reported in the Economist (tip from Saleem Ali):
Now Rich Nielsen of Harvard University has examined the books, fatwas (religious rulings) and biographies of 91 modern Salafi clerics, as well as of 379 of their students and teachers. He found that the main factors behind radicalism are not poverty or the ideology of their teachers (as might be assumed) but the poor quality of their academic and educational networks. 
Such contacts determined the clerics’ ability to get a good job as imam or teacher in state institutions. In Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where most of the 91 came from, the government has long co-opted religious institutions. Those who failed to land a job were more likely to avow violence as a tool for political change.
So a bad combination of state control of religion and a general culture of nepotism can lead to creation of Jihadists. I wonder if his study included Pakistan, where religious education is not controlled in the same way as in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (religion is still used by the Pakistani government, but its control over clerics is less than the hold of the Saudi government or  the pre-Arab Spring Egypt). Okay back to article: 
The figures are startling. Clerics with the best academic connections had a 2-3% chance of becoming jihadist. This rose to 50% for the badly networked. 
Mr Nielsen reckons he has proved causation by controlling for other factors—eliminating the chance that those more inclined to extremism shun state jobs, for example. “It’s about a glass ceiling,” he says. “Clerics who don’t get positions must compete to appeal to an audience. Jihadist views are a way of making themselves appear credible, since there is often a high cost associated with it, such as prison time.” 
His research may help those seeking to stem the rise of radical preachers. Rather than spending a fortune snooping on them and then jailing them, it would be cheaper to offer them a decent job.
I don't know much about the rest of the work - but this seems interesting.


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