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Urban poverty and support for Islamist terror: Survey results of Muslims in fourteen countries


  • Michael Mousseau

    () (Associate Professor of International Relations, Koç University)


Survey respondents in 14 countries representing 62% of the world's Muslim population indicate that approval of Islamist terror is not associated with religiosity, lack of education, poverty, or income dissatisfaction. Instead, it is associated with urban poverty. These results are consistent with the thesis that Islamist terrorists obtain support and recruits from the urban poor, who pursue their economic interests off the market in politics in collective groups. These groups compete over state rents, so a gain for one group is a loss for another, making terrorism of members of out-groups rational. The rise of militant Islam can be attributed to high rates of urbanization in many Muslim countries in recent decades, which fosters violence as rising groups seek to dislodge prior groups entrenched in power. Rising group leaders also compete over new urban followers, so they promote fears of out-groups and package in-group identities in ways that ring true for the urban poor. Because many of the urban poor are migrants from the countryside, popular packages are those which identify with traditional rural values and distinguish enemies as those associated with urban modernity and the secular groups already in power. Imams have an incentive to preach what audiences want to hear, so a mutated in-group version of Islam - Islamism - struck a chord in several large cities around the globe at the same time. With globalization of the media, in many developing countries the West is widely (albeit wrongly) perceived as an inimical out-group associated with urban modernity. The best political strategy to limit support and recruits for Islamist terrorist groups is to enhance the economic opportunities available for the urban poor and to provide them the needed services, such as access to health care and education, that many currently obtain from Islamist groups.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Mousseau, 2011. "Urban poverty and support for Islamist terror: Survey results of Muslims in fourteen countries," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 48(1), pages 35-47, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:48:y:2011:i:1:p:35-47

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    Cited by:

    1. Krieger, Tim & Meierrieks, Daniel, 2013. "The rise of market-capitalism and the roots of anti-American terrorism," Discussion Paper Series 2013-04, University of Freiburg, Wilfried Guth Endowed Chair for Constitutional Political Economy and Competition Policy.
    2. Meierrieks, Daniel & Krieger, Tim, 2015. "Modernization and Islamist Conflict," Annual Conference 2015 (Muenster): Economic Development - Theory and Policy 113142, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    3. repec:spr:ecogov:v:18:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10101-016-0189-x is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:bpj:pepspp:v:18:y:2012:i:3:p:2:n:8 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Tim Krieger & Daniel Meierrieks, 2015. "The rise of capitalism and the roots of anti-American terrorism," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 52(1), pages 46-61, January.
    6. Meierrieks Daniel, 2012. "Rooted in Urban Poverty? Failed Modernization and Terrorism," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 18(3), pages 1-2, December.
    7. Nobuhiro Mizuno & Ryosuke Okazawa, 2017. "Within-group heterogeneity and civil war," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 18(2), pages 153-177, May.
    8. Krieger, Tim & Meierrieks, Daniel, 2014. "The Roots of Islamist Armed Struggle, 1968-2007," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100579, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    9. Boehmer Charles & Daube Mark, 2013. "The Curvilinear Effects of Economic Development on Domestic Terrorism," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 19(3), pages 359-368, December.
    10. Tausch, Arno, 2016. "Occidentalism, terrorism, and the Shari’a state: new multivariate perspectives on Islamism based on international survey data," MPRA Paper 69498, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Buscema, Massimo & Ferilli, Guido & Sacco, Pier Luigi, 2017. "What kind of ‘world order’? An artificial neural networks approach to intensive data mining," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 46-56.


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