Can you tell us about your current research on global terrorism?
Terrorism and human rights violation (or state repression) are two of the biggest problems we are facing in the 21st century. There has been a great deal of effort by political scientists and economists in the past decade to understand different aspects of political violence, especially civil war. As a result, we now have a much deeper understanding of social, economic, and geopolitical factors contributing to civil war. However, the research on transnational terrorism and human right violation (by state actors) is still at its infancy.
Currently, we know a lot about the correlation of repression and terrorism, but we need more research on the root causes of both phenomena. This is very important since, if we don’t know what factors cause terrorism for example, we may attribute it to some specific ideology or even a particular ethnicity. This means we will be unable to formulate effective (global) policies to fight terrorism.
My research on both issues have two main objectives: first, to develop theoretical models that can identify the causal forces behind repression and terrorism, and second, to examine the predictions of the models using available data.
What got you interested in economic development – specifically the political economy of oil-rich countries around the world?
I grew up in Iran (an oil-rich country) and lived there during a very interesting (and chaotic) period involving a revolution; a long war; severe internal political violence; double-digits inflation for decades; rapid modernization; high unemployment; macroeconomic instability; international sanctions; and so on. Living through all these things forced me to constantly think about them, and to see if I can do anything to make things better. That is how I got into economics and economic development, and soon learned that you can’t do anything to improve the economy without dealing with the politics of economic development.
How do you think MSPIA’s new program, the Master of International Affairs is uniquely poised to enrich students?
MSPIA has some unique capabilities that can make the MIA program one of the best in NYC. Here we have people from different disciplines – political science, communication, sociology, public policy, economics, public administration, law – that have been working on domestic and international issues for years. So students will be exposed to a wide range of opinions on every topic and have access to a unique combination of experienced people. I think our graduates will have lots of advantages in the job market as a result of this.
What are you most looking forward to teaching in the MIA when the program launches in fall 2017?
I think Political Economy of Institutions and Development is a very interesting topic. It would be very exciting to talk about questions such as: How did the developed world (the West) become developed? What are the major historical factors contributing to the underdevelopment, for example, in Africa and South America? Or what are the root causes of poverty in these regions? Is it lack of education? Is it technological backwardness? Is it bad policy? I believe without understanding how we (as international community) got here, it will be very hard to decide where should we go and how to get there. I think my course will be a good starting point for students to learn about our past and to think more systematically about it.