Tracking Sympathy and Support of Muslims for Terrorism in the United States

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Project Details


This project aims to use existing survey data to better understand beliefs and behaviors of Muslims within the United States.

Primary Findings:

1. The U.S. has been losing the war of ideas at home, where U.S. Muslims became more negative about the war on terrorism from 2001 to 2007. By 2007, a strong majority perceive a 'war on Islam' and oppose war in Iraq/Afghanistan.

2. U.S. Muslims are less negative about the war on terrorism than Muslims in Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia, but the difference is often slight.

3. Any reference to "U.S. Muslims" is likely to be misleading. U.S. Muslims are not homogenous in their opinions regarding the war on terrorism. Black Muslims and Muslims from Iran stand out as different from most immigrant Muslims.

4. U.S. high school history books often do not mention that some Palestinians were expelled in the creation of the state of Israel.

5. Many U.S. Muslims believe that U.S. mass media are unfair in reporting about Islam.

6. Political activism is not a conveyor belt to terrorism: polls show that participation in legal political action is unrelated to participation in illegal action.

7. Criminal justice and war are in many ways incompatible responses to terrorism, and the justice frame has advantages when terrorism is a continuing problem.

8. Lone-wolf terrorists may have identifiable characteristics ("profile") even though group-based terrorists do not. One possibility is that lone-wolf terrorists feel stronger sympathy for the sufferings of others ("group grievance").

9. Reasons for joining a radical group include personal grievance, group grievance, love, fear, thrills and status, and loss of connection ("unfreezing").

10. Ideology/religion may be more rationalization than driver of radical action.

11. Counter-terrorism is a political competition in which government reaction is as important as terrorist action. Terrorists aim to provoke a government response that will build sympathy and support for themselves ("jujitsu politics").


This study includes case histories of radicals and terrorists and statistical analyses of polling data.

Survey data on the general U.S. population was collected and aggregated from a variety of sources, including Odum Institute for Research in Social Studies, Roper Center Public Opinion Location Library, American National Election Studies, General Social Survey, and the Terrorism and Preparedness Data Resource Center at ICPSR.  For work related to the far-right in the U.S., researchers identified survey items tapping sympathy for causes and activities of U.S. right-wing anti-government groups. These public opinion findings will be compared to findings on levels of far-right terrorist activity in the United States identified in the GTD.  For work on support for the jihadi movement, researchers will review recent polls conducted by Zogby and Pew.

This research was supported by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate's Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division.


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