David Jacobson, Natalie Deckard
May 7, 2012
Tribal dynamics have been strikingly prominent in the success or failure of militant Islamists, from Central Asia to North Africa. However, to date little systematic research has been undertaken on tribal culture and its interactions with militant Islamist groups. Part of the challenge is the absence of a quantitative measure of tribal culture that can gauge the degree of tribalism. A measure of this sort would assist in the exploration of relationships between tribalism and militant Islam, religiously motivated violence, or the export of that violence. In this article, we put forward such a measure, the Tribalism Index. This Tribalism Index is a predictor of religiously motivated violence, and is effective in parsing the varying relationships of Islam, Islamist militancy and tribal patriarchy to that violence. It is also helpful in predicting religiously motivated violence in diaspora communities in Western nations, and has proved effective in doing so in the United Kingdom. Regression models that include both Muslim population percentage and level of tribalism demonstrate that, in the absence of a clear tribal culture, adherence to Islam does not make for susceptibility to extremism. Furthermore, these models show that it is within tribal environments that Islamist movements are best nurtured. The Tribalism Index proves of greater utility than the Failed States Index for eliciting the dynamics of violence in tribal societies, while illuminating the inaccuracy of seeing militancy as a function of Islam as such.