Tracking Sympathy and Support of Muslims for Terrorism in Muslim Countries and in the United Kingdom


Project Details


This project aims to use existing survey data to better understand beliefs and behaviors of Muslims in a range of international contexts. The project involves:

(1) Analysis of possible predictors of sympathy for and justification for terrorism, using existing survey data from a range of U.S. and international sources including past and proposed START surveys;
(2) Analysis of data from American National Election Surveys 2008-2009, including activism and radicalism items developed by McCauley and Moskalenko; and
(3) Analysis of data from Zogby surveys of U.S. Muslims, 2001-2007.

This project is a follow-up and expansion of previous previous START-supported international survey work. See International Survey Capability and Mobilization For and Against Terrorism in the Islamic World.

Primary Findings:

This study resulted in several primary findings, as listed below:

1. Rational choice analysis of intergroup conflict is not sufficient; emotions are important. Polling studies in Israel show that perceived threat is not the only source of Jewish hostility toward Palestinians: feelings of anger, fear, and disgusts also contribute to support for aggressive retaliation against Palestinians.

2. Group desistence from terrorism is different from and in some ways undermined by individual desistence ('burnout', ''penitenti').

3. Group desistence from terrorism can occur quickly after terrorist mistakes that alienate their sympathizers; governments need to learn how to profit by these mistakes.

4. Group desistence occurs in the context of a political competition in which terrorists and government both aim to discourage the enemy's sympathizers and rally their own.

5. The war of ideas is a separate problem from the problem of counter-terrorism because radicalization of ideas is relatively common but radicalization to violent action is rare. Radicalization in the opinion pyramid can occur without action, and radicalization in the action pyramid can occur without radical ideas (via grievance, love, fear, status and thrill seeking, and 'unfreezing').

6. An important condition for turning radical ideas to radical action is opportunity: Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi would probably have remained a radical blogger had not Jordanian intelligence offered him a ticket to Pakistan.

7. A convergence of leftists and Muslims is developing to fight against globalization of Western power; this convergence may be most dangerous in Latin American countries with leftist anti-U.S. politics.


This research employed case histories of radicals and terrorists, as well as statistical analyses of polling data.


Project Period: