Who Favors al-Qaeda? Anti-Americanism, Religious Outlooks, and Favorable Attitudes toward Terrorist Organizations

Date01 September 2017
Published date01 September 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(3) 480 –494
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917702498
Public opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority
of Muslims are very concerned about violent extremism
and that only a tiny fraction support terrorist organiza-
tions that justify their violent acts in the name of Islam
(Esposito and Mogahed 2007; Telhami 2013).1 This arti-
cle explores why ordinary people in the Middle East and
North Africa (MENA) hold favorable views toward al-
Qaeda, the prime example of transnational terrorist orga-
nizations. Examining individual determinants of
favorability toward al-Qaeda in MENA is likely to
improve our understanding of attitudinal and behavioral
support for religiously inspired militant groups in Muslim
majority societies.
Existing scholarship finds that only a minority of
Muslims holding specific religious ideologies support
militant organizations (Fair, Littman, and Nugent 2017;
Wiktorowicz and Kaltner 2003). Rather than Muslim reli-
giosity (Huntington 1993; Lewis 1990), we argue that a
literalist orientation in the legal sphere (i.e., preference
for strict implementation of scriptural teachings in law)
as a politicized religious outlook generates sympathy
toward al-Qaeda. Do other factors carry some weight
once we control for a specific religious outlook resonat-
ing with al-Qaeda’s ideology? We argue that anti-Ameri-
can orientations matter a great deal for understanding the
favorability of groups such as al-Qaeda, but in highly
nuanced ways. Common wisdom assumes a positive rela-
tionship, and sometimes an overlap, between anti-Amer-
icanism and support for terrorist acts against the American
targets.2 In our explanation, we first treat the two sets of
attitudes as conceptually and empirically distinct. Then,
we distinguish between varieties of anti-Americanism
and propose that various types of anti-American senti-
ment will differently inform opinions toward al-Qaeda.
Our explanation also addresses the cross-national varia-
tion in this relationship and moves away from a “one size
fits all” approach.
702498PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917702498Political Research QuarterlyCiftci et al.
1Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA
Corresponding Author:
Sabri Ciftci, Department of Political Science, Kansas State University,
11D Calvin Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA.
Email: ciftci@ksu.edu
Who Favors al-Qaeda?
Anti-Americanism, Religious
Outlooks, and Favorable Attitudes
toward Terrorist Organizations
Sabri Ciftci1, Becky J. O’Donnell1, and Allison Tanner1
This study examines why ordinary people sympathize with a terrorist network in the Middle East and North Africa
(MENA). Holding literalist religious outlook resonating with al-Qaeda’s marginal interpretation of Islam constant, it is
maintained that anti-Americanism and its varieties matter a great deal in explaining attitudes toward al-Qaeda. Using
Pew Global Attitudes Surveys conducted in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, the authors run conditional mixed
process estimations combining seemingly unrelated regressions with selection models to account for the missing
values and endogeneity problems. The analysis reveals significant variation both cross-nationally and in the effects of
varieties of anti-Americanism on favorability of al-Qaeda. While the dislike of certain aspects of American culture
generates sympathy toward al-Qaeda, anti-Americanism as a general attitude does not. More interestingly, dislike of
American democracy, technology, and policy has either negative or no effect on favorable views of al-Qaeda. Literalist
religious outlook generates positive views of al-Qaeda, but religiosity has a negative impact. These findings imply that
we need to draw careful distinctions between politicized Islamic preferences and personal religiosity as well as the
different types of anti-American sentiments in understanding Muslim political attitudes about terrorist groups.
anti-Americanism, al-Qaeda, Islam, shari’a, Muslim religiosity

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT