New Study: Political Islam Correlated to Support for Terrorism

A new study by the US Institute for Peace (USIP) of polling data from fourteen different Muslim countries finds that support for a role for Islam in politics strongly correlates with more likely support for terrorism. This statistical analysis is certain to draw protests from the usual propagandists of radical Islam in the US, even though the USIP can hardly be considered a neo-conservative institution.

Ever since recent release last month of the Pew poll on American Muslim attitudes, the Islamist propagandists and their media establishment allies have been working feverishly to avoid the implications of those findings by citing another study purportedly showing Americans more in favor of attacks on civilians than Muslims in the US and around the world, claims rebutted in my American Thinker article last week, "Lies, Damned Lies, and CAIR's Statistics". 

The current report in question, "Correlates of Public Support for Terrorism in the Muslim World"  by Ethan Bueno de Mesquita of Washington University in St. Louis, also examines data gathered by the Pew Research Center and finds a broad range of opinions and attitudes in the Muslim world. For instance, support for terrorism was extremely high in Lebanon (home of Hezbollah) and extremely low in Uzbekistan (an allied partner with the US in the War on Terror).

The support for terrorism is also dispersed in the Muslim world: of the top five countries in the fourteen surveyed, two were in the Middle East (Lebanon and Jordan), two were in Africa (Nigeria, Ivory Coast) and one was in Asia (Bangladesh). It should be noted that Egypt refused to let the question be asked as part of the survey, and other presumably high terrorism support areas, including Syria, Iran, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia, were not included in the poll.

The standout finding of the USIP study is that support for an increased role for Islam in politics is correlated with greater support for the use of terrorism, even in countries that already adhere to political Islam:
People who support a strong role for Islam in politics are more likely to also support terrorism. Perhaps more surprisingly, people who perceive Islam to play a large role in the politics of their home country are also more likely to support terrorism. (p. 7)
The USIP study also busts the bubble of radical Islamic apologists who claim that support for terrorism is driven by people living under Islamic dictatorships. What the data shows is that dissatisfaction with Islam's role in internal politics has very little correlation to attitudes on terror. The study finds that
...dissatisfaction with the role of Islam in one's own country's politics is much more weakly correlated with support for terrorism then raw attitudes toward to role of Islam. (p. 7)
Perhaps even more important, the data shows that in these countries the perceived threat to Islam posed by the government plays virtually no role at all in support for terrorism. (p. 7)

To get at what might possibly drive support for terrorism, the study's author looked at respondents opinions on possible threats to Islam. What he discovered is that the perceived threat to Islam by their home government had very little impact in their support for terrorism, but instead, "those who believe the United States and the West pose such a threat are particularly likely to support terrorism." (p. 8) In fact, the perceived threat by the US to Islam correlates higher than any other factor in justifying the use of terrorism. (p. 9)

There are several other surprising findings in the USIP report:
  • Respondents in these Muslim countries that believed they had some degree of freedom of speech were found to be more likely to support terrorism. (p. 28) As a possible interpretation for this effect, one explanation offered by the study's author is that "when people perceive themselves to have freedom of expression, they are more inclined to admit their support for terror." (p. 29)
  • In line with the findings of other surveys, support for terrorism is constant across education groups (p. 35) It's not just that education plays little role in justifying terror, but that the relationship is non-existent: "Not only is the relationship statistically insignificant, but by and large the point estimates are zero." (p. 36)
  • Perception of the state of the country's economy was basically uncorrelated with support for terrorism. (p. 30) This finding undercuts the argument that Islamic terrorism is driven by poverty in the Muslim world.
  • Women are more likely to be weak or strong supporters of terrorism than men. (p. 37)
  • Age is negatively correlated to support for terrorism, meaning that the older one gets, the less likely he will justify the use of terrorism. (p. 38-39) The study's author suggests this might be due to a real age effect (views moderate for all ages as they get older), or a generational effect (people born in the 1940s vs. the 1980s). Marriage was also a negative factor in supporting terrorism, though the relationship was found to be statistically insignificant. (p. 40)
As stated earlier, the strongest correlated factor in the support for terrorism is anti-Americanism and the perceived threat to Islam from America in the West. The study's author explains the critical role this plays in the support for terrorism in the Muslim world:
It may well be that people support terrorism because they perceive there to be a threat to Islam from the United States. But the relationship could also work the other way. Terrorism is, among other things, a tool of propaganda. One of the key messages of Islamic terrorists is anti-Americanism. Thus, if terrorism is an effective tool of propaganda, it may be that people who support terrorism (for whatever reason) end up having strongly anti-American sentiments because they are persuaded by the terrorists' message. Another, related, explanation argues that people who support terrorism have a psychological need to justify this support. As a result, they adopt views that "rationalize" their support for terrorism. Thus, while they may perceive their support for terrorism to be caused by their anti-American views, the opposite might be the case-they may have adopted anti-Americanism to justify support for terror. Under either of these alternative interpretations, anti-Americanism does not cause support for terror, support for terror causes anti-Americanism. (p. 41-42)
Terrorists have a vested interest in ratcheting up anti-America rhetoric as part of their hate propaganda campaign. Terror and hatred of America and its values go hand-in-hand in the Muslim world unlike any other factor yet studied. Because these two are so strongly correlated, this tells us something about those quick to indict American society and our government's policies.

This new study also shatters the myth of the supposedly peaceful Muslim world advanced recently by CAIR, ISNA and the Orwellian-named Terror Free America. If these organizations are really concerned about combating terror and improving American-Islamic relations, this study clearly demonstrates that they had better start working on the Islamic side of the equation.

Patrick Poole is an occasional contributor to American Thinker. He maintains a blog, Existential Space. 
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