A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Vera Mironova gives talk on her new book at START

In October, Harvard University Visiting Fellow Vera Mironova came to START to give a talk on her new book, “From Freedom Fighters to Jihadists: Human Resources of Non State Armed Groups.”

This book is the first title in the START-Oxford University Press book series, and explores the internal organization of armed groups and, in particular, their human resources, through the prism of a labor market theory.

START Founding Director Gary LaFree sat down with Mironova to talk about the book.

“I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see the real product here, the first of the series,” LaFree said.

In the book, Mironova demonstrates that extreme Islamist groups were often able to attract fighters away from more moderate groups because they had better internal organization, took better care of fighters both physically and monetarily, experienced less internal corruption and effectively used their Islamist ideology to control recruits.

However, not all Islamist groups were equally effective. "Due to differing HR strategies, ISIS wound up with very unhappy fighters who could not leave, while Jabhat Al Nusra had dedicated fighters who were under their control," Mironova said.

Mironova noted that foreign fighters have many reasons for deciding which extremist group to join.

"Just like you have to decide where to go for dinner, foreign fighters have to decide where they're going to go fight. Do they go to Syria, or Afghanistan? There are a lot of options."

The factors that foreign fighters consider when selecting an extremist group to join include material benefits, ensuring their personal or family’s safety, their own goals and the group’s prestige.

"In considering prestige, fighters want to join the group with the best brand," Mironova said. “They look at different groups and choose the one who is the ‘most al-Qaida.’”

Mironova received her doctorate in political science at the University of Maryland in 2017.

“The University of Maryland’s motto is ‘Fearless Ideas,’” LaFree said. “Vera is one Terp who actually lives up to that motto, and her book is a great example of this. Her work has taken her to some of the most dangerous places on the planet, and she seems to go fearlessly into these places.”

About the book series

START partnered with Oxford University Press to sponsor the interdisciplinary book series. The series approaches terrorism conceptually as having a developmental life-cycle that includes: (1) the origins of political extremism and the formation of terrorist groups; (2) terrorist dynamics and persistence; and (3) societal responses to terrorism.

The editorial team intends for the books—each about 200-300 pages in length, or about 80,000 words—to be accessible to a broad audience, including scholars, graduate students, policymakers and practitioners, while being rooted in rigorous social science.

Each of the books in the series must explore the topic of terrorism in a manner that is at once theoretically informed, empirically grounded and policy relevant. The series aims to fill gaps in earlier scholarship on terrorism, which was sometimes limited in the topics that it could address and the insights it could derive by both a dearth of data and the attention of only a handful of academic disciplines.

The series as a whole will not be restricted to U.S. concerns or any single discipline, but will assess the phenomenon of terrorism globally, comparatively and from a multi-disciplinary perspective.