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Contextual Violence and Support for Violent Extremism: Evidence from the Sahel

Contextual Violence and Support for Violent Extremism: Evidence from the Sahel


This study examines the effect of exposure to communal violence on support for violent religious extremism. We argue that in communities with high levels of violence, individuals normalize aggressive behaviors and come to see non-conventional, black-or-white ideologies as more appealing. Using data from over 7,500 respondents in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad, we employ multilevel structural equation models to evaluate both the individual- and community-level factors that might impact support for terrorism. The results suggest overwhelmingly that people in communities where violence is perceived to be high are more likely to express support for violent religious extremism, and the community-level influence appears stronger than the effect of individual-level variation in perceptions of violence. We also test potential mediators of the relationship and find modest support for decreases in social trust and increases in outgroup bias as indirect links between exposure to violence and support for violent extremism, though the direct, community level effect remains strongest. The study brings together previously distinct literatures on exposure to violence and combatting violent extremism, and it suggests a restructuring of strategies to fight the spread of terrorism.

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Full Citation: 

Finkel, Steven E., John F. McCauley, Chris A. Belasco, and Michael Neureiter. 2016. "Contextual Violence and Support for Violent Extremism: Evidence from the Sahel." USAID Peace Through Development Initiative (September): 1-50. https://cidcm.umd.edu/sites/cidcm.umd.edu/files/mccauley_cidcm_paper.pdf

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