Do bride prices drive terrorism?
Terrorism experts have long known that poverty is a factor in tempting young men to join radical terrorist groups, but what about bride prices?
A new article in MIT Press Journal argues that many young, male recruits who are driven to terrorist organizations for financial reasons are actually aspiring to use the money to help themselves and their brothers get married.
Many nations, including Saudi Arabia, give financial assistance to grooms as a national security strategy. The authors of the article argue that countries actively funding the war against terror, like the United States, should consider helping men get married as a tool in their arsenal.
Christina Asquith, editorial director of Across Women’s Lives, spoke with one of the article’s authors, Dr. Valerie Hudson. Hudson holds the George H.W. Bush Chair in the department of international affairs at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.
Christina Asquith: How did you catch on to this idea that bride prices might be connected to national security?
Valerie Hudson: As soon as we began looking for little examples of bride prices as a destabilizing factor, it was everywhere. But we in the West don’t have the data. We have only anecdotal evidence.
We opened our article with an interview with the sole surviving terrorist of the Mumbai massacre. And you can find the video of his interrogation online at YouTube, and if you look at the transcription of what he’s talking about, he’s asked: “Why are you joining the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba? Was it jihad?” And he says: “Well, my father wanted me to join so my brothers and I could get married.” And it was like, ah ha — he wasn’t a flaming radical. His family was desperate to get enough resources to pay bride-price for the sons, and Lashkar was offering such sums.
Everyone in these societies knows about such situations, but we in the West have no clue that it is such an aggravating factor for recruitment into violent groups.
What are the implications of this for the West, and national security?
Virtually all societies that produce terrorists are societies that pay bride price. Even in expat communities, bride price may be necessary. If you drew a map of the world, you would see that about half the world’s countries practice bride-price or other significant asset exchange to contract marriage. About 75 percent of the world’s population live in those countries.
Yet no one is tracking this stuff. We were able to get figures about bride price inflation in South Sudan for example — bride price went up almost 1,000 percent over the course of only a few years. In northern Nigeria, bride price went up several hundred percent. In a short period of time, marriage became completely out of reach for most young men. It’s not just limited to South Sudan and northern Nigeria — it’s any place that has bride price inflation. And, like real estate, it’s almost inevitable to find bride price inflation bubbles that get out of hand very quickly.
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