Faith or Doctrine? Islam and Support for Political Violence in Pakistan

Publication Type: 
Christine Fair
Neil Malhotra
Jacob N. Shapiro
Discussions of how to deal with terrorism around the world have repeatedly touched on whether Islam contributes to a uniquely virulent strain of non-state violence targeted at civilians. These popular discussions almost always conceive of “Islam” in general terms, not clearly defining what is meant by Islamic religious faith. We address this debate by designing and conducting a large-scale public opinion survey in Pakistan. We measure multiple elements of religiosity, allowing us to separately consider the relationship of support for militancy with (1) personal piety, (2) support for political Islam, and (3) jihadism, which we define as a particular textual interpretation common to Islamist groups espousing violent political action. Further, we measure support for specific militant organizations using a novel form of an “endorsement experiment” to assess support for specific groups without asking respondents directly how they feel about them. We find that neither personal religious piety nor support for political Islam is correlated with support for militant organizations. However, Pakistanis who believe jihad is both an external militarized struggle and that it can be waged by individuals are more supportive of militant groups than those who believe it is an internal struggle for righteousness.