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Sunday, August 27, 2017
Expensive Bride Price May Offer Another Lure to Jihad
Some men join dating sites when
looking for a wife.
Some other men join terror groups.
In many North African, Middle Eastern
and Asian countries, bride price – a kind of reverse dowry in which men must
pay to acquire a bride from her family, is skyrocketing. And that may be
motivating some men to join terrorist organizations in exchange for the high
fees that will make marriage possible.
This was the finding of groundbreaking research published this month in MIT's International
Security journal by Valerie Hudson, George H.W. Bush Chair in the Bush
School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, and Yale
University political science doctoral candidate Hilary Matfess. According to a statement from Texas A&M, "the inability to
'afford' a wife in a society where marriage is the maker of full adult manhood
can be a significant factor in the decision to join in rebellion or
Hudson and Matfess break a lot of new
ground. But because little other research is being done, it is unclear how
often bride price is a factor for young men lured into jihad. Consequently,
effective counter strategies are also unclear.
$200,000 and I'm Yours!
Bride price, also known as
"bridewealth," is a form of reimbursement to the bride's family for
the cost of raising her. And such prices are rising exorbitantly, Hudson wrote
in a New York Timesop-ed last December. Where a bride in the South Sudan cost
12 cows 10 years ago, "the going rate in recent years has been over 50
cows, 50 goats, and $12,000."
Hudson and Matfess estimate that more
than 75 percent of the world's population lives in areas where bride price is
practiced, including Thailand, China, Afghanistan, and the sub-Sahara – not all
of them Islamic countries. And as the price of brides increases, men in those
societies are placed under growing pressure.
Though it is only by taking a wife
that they gain respect as "real men" in the community, most cannot
afford the price of marriage. Consequently, for many of them, joining terror
and rebel groups can be less a matter of religious or political belief than it
is about the money they can earn, or promises of a bride-to-be given as a
reward for service. In one case cited by the study's authors, for instance, the
sole surviving terrorist of the 2008 Mumbai attacks told his interviewers it
was not jihadism that led him to join Lashkar e-Taiba. Rather, he said,
"My father wanted me to join so my brothers could get married."
He was hardly alone. "Virtually
all societies that produce terrorists are societies that pay bride price,"
according to Hudson – including immigrant communities.
And yet, she warned in a recent
interview with Public Radio International, "no one is looking at this
stuff." (Both Hudson and Matfess declined to be interviewed for this
We should be. As the study's authors
note, "In the 1970s, Black September – a terrorist offshoot of the
Palestine Liberation Organization, offered its members brides, cash, apartments
in Beirut, and even a baby bonus of $5000 if they had a baby within a year of
marriage." These days, Hamas suicide bombers know that "when a terrorist blows himself up, the
financial payoff can buy enough brides for his brothers to make his sacrifice
At least Girl Friends are Free!
ISIS employs slightly different
strategies: recruiters often promise brides to foreign fighters who join the
group, along with honeymoon bonuses. Citing earlier research by Ariel Ahram,
Hudson and Matfess note that foreign fighters have on occasion paid $10,000
dowries to brides' families, "suggesting that the group was attracting
foreign fighters by promising resources (and available women) to marry."
And, observe Hudson and Matfess,
"Those familiar with Boko Haram's practices state that women are given to
fighters to reward them for their service and to cultivate loyalty.... The
women are often groomed before becoming wives, a process that can involve days
of 'Quranic education,' in which they are subjected to lectures on Boko Haram's
ideology." That learning, of course, is then transmitted to their sons and
daughters, who are therefore raised with terrorist ideology as the norm.
Yet the cultures in which bride price
exists have largely resisted change. Reporters for Rwanda's New
Times interviewed men and women from three generations about the
practice. All agreed that it was a valuable addition to their culture, even as
some admitted that it can lead to domestic abuse, particularly among men who
view their wives as property they have paid for and therefore own. Some even
describe bride price as a gift of gratitude, a "token of appreciation to
the bride's parents," as one man expressed it. "A girl whose bride
price has been paid commands respect in society, and her parents revel in pride
because of it," Margaret Mukarugamba, an elderly woman in Eastern
Province, told New Times. "With the payment of bride price, the man
shows that he is really into having the girl as his wife." And former
beauty queen Fiona Ntaringwa went so far as to call it "necessary."
"It shows the value a man is
giving to a woman and his appreciation to her parents for grooming her,"
she said. "In my opinion, it's one way of being grateful."
Never question the Religion of Peace
Now many governments are beginning to
intervene, Hudson and Matfess report, though not always for reasons relating to
violence. Governments in rural Afghanistan have worked to reduce bride price by
as much as 40 percent. In Saudi Arabia, dowries (which operate essentially as
bride price does) have been capped at 50,000 riyals – or just over $13,000.
Dowries had risen to as high as $1 million, creating concern about a spinster
On the other hand, those cultures
where bride price continues also continue to experience violence against, and
oppression of women – tendencies that, in turn, tend to advance militarism and
violence. As Valerie Hudson has written elsewhere, "the larger the gender gap between
the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be
involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force
in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence."
The correlation between cultural
trends of bride price and the rise of terrorist groups makes this particularly
clear. In the battle against Islamist terror, pressuring more governments to
end the practice – along with honor killings, child marriage, and other
misogynistic customs – may be crucial to our victory.