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The Boston Globe


Uncommon Knowledge

Jihad as career strategy

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

Jihad: the career strategy

Since 9/11, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to explain Islamic radicalization. But recent work by a political scientist at Harvard suggests a fairly mundane explanation: careerism. Specifically, clerics with connections and cushy state-sponsored jobs are least likely to preach jihad, while those outside the fold can signal their independence and integrity—and attract lay Muslim followers—by preaching jihad, simply because it shows “they will speak their mind even when it is costly.” One clerical student in Cairo told the author: “You just try to get into people’s networks....Being in Ali Gomaa’s crew [the current Grand Mufti of Egypt] is really the way to move up right now. That’s how you get appointed to teach, how you get a position in the Dar al-Ifta [Egyptian Fatwa Ministry], which gets you a nice car.” The implication is that governments in Muslim countries should focus more on inclusion and less on repression, since the latter only increases the signaling value of provocative rhetoric for marginalized clerics.

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