Papers and Reports

Fight or Flight in Civil War? Evidence from Rebel-Controlled Syria (with Sam Whitt and Loubna Mrie)
Supplementary Appendix

Faced with prospects of a civil war escalating on their doorstep, ordinary people must decide whether to take up arms and join the fight, to stay in place and seek shelter in confines of the conflict zone, or to flee their homes in search of safer locations. Using original survey and experimental data from the ongoing conflict in Syria, we try to understand how people facing conflict make critical life-and-death decisions. Drawing on a range of hypotheses from the existing literature, we find compelling evidence that in-group ties and grievance motivations explain fight vs. flight decision-making at the individual level. Using well-balanced samples of over 300 Free Syrian Army and Islamist fighters, civilian non-combatants, and externally displaced refugees from actively contested regions of Syria, we observe that people with strong in-group bonds and out-group aversions are more likely to stay and fight. In contrast, refugees are far less revenge-seeking and more willing to negotiate for peace. Overall, our research suggests that heterogeneous preferences and motivations within subpopulations of civil war participants can create serious coordination problems with practical implications for conflict duration and outcomes.

Beyond Assad:The Politics of Blame Attribution during the Syrian Civil War (with Sam Whitt, Loubna Mrie and Egor Lazarev)

Who is to blame for the bloody civil war in Syria? This paper explores the causes and consequences of blame attribution in Syria based on survey responses from rebel fighters and Syrian refugees in Turkey. In particular, we analyze whom the subjects blame for the protracted war and the chemical attack in Ghouta. Respondents could assign blame to President Assad; the President’s sect – Alawites; allies of the regime, such as Hezbollah, Russia and Iran; the West and Israel; and finally anti-Assad rebels, including foreign fighters and radical Islamists. The study shows that all respondents blame Assad both for the war and chemical attack, but there is an interesting variation in attribution of blame to other actors. We show that personal involvement, victimization, ideology, media and emotional conditions are driving this variation in blame attribution. The paper also shows the role of blame attribution in shaping respondents’ views on negotiations and transitional justice in Syria.

Altruism and Violence (with Sam Whitt and Rick Wilson)

Our research examines in-group and inter-group social norms between civilians and combatants using behavioral experiments. We examine how conflict affects a basic norm of altruism toward identifiable in-groups and out-groups during a period of ongoing violence.

Negotiated Settlements in Civil War

Little is known about population preferences during ongoing conflicts. Our survey in Syria allows us to open this black box and study preferences, concerns and expectations associated with different types of conflict settlements. Our research considers prospects for negotiated settlements and strategies to reduce the duration of civil war.

Other Papers

“The Motivation of Syrian Islamist Fighters” (with Sam Whitt and Loubna Mrie), CTC
Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Vol.7, Nom.10 (October 2014) pp.13-15

A Glimpse into the Minds of Four Foreign Fighters in Syria” (with Sam Whitt), CTC
Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Vol.7, Nom.6 (June 2014) pp.6-7

“What Do Syria’s Rebels Want From The West?” , Syria in Crisis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 07 April 2014

Essays and Opinion

“The Jihadi Who Came in From the Cold”, Foreign Policy, 10 August 2015

”Ramadan in Syria”, Foreign Affairs, 9 July 2015

”Syria’s Democracy Jihad”, Foreign Affairs, 14 January 2014

“Fixing the Mess in Syria”, The National Interest, 17 December 2014

“I Am Only Looking Up For Paradise”, Foreign Policy, 2 October 2014

“Why are fighters leaving the Free Syrian Army?”, Washington Post, 12 May 2014

“Fractured opposition groups disillusion Syrians” , U-T San Diego, 22 January 2014

“Is Syria ready for peace”, The Baltimore Sun , 17 January 2014

Blog Posts

Competition Within Terrorist “Industry” , Political Violence @ a Glance, 24 September 2014

“If Aleppo Falls, What Next For The Free Syrian Army and Their Supporters?” , Political Violence @ a Glance, 27 August 2014

“Islamists at a Glance: Why Do Syria’s Rebel Fighters Join Islamist Groups?”, Political Violence @ a Glance, 13 August 2014

“The Importance of Local Knowledge in Syria” , Atlantic Council , 04 April 2014

“Do Syrians Want To Fight Until Victory or Do they Want a Ceasefire?” , Syria Comment , 26 March 2014

“Norms and Attitudes in the Midst of Civil War: Experimental and Survey Evidence from Syria” , Political Violence @ a Glance , 17 March 2014

“Public Opinion in the Midst of the Syrian Civil War” , The Duck of Minerva , 20 January 2014