Education, Income, and Support for Suicide Bombings: Evidence from Six Muslim Countries

Do average citizens from Muslim countries support suicide bombings, or does support for such attacks vary according to education and income? Shafiq and Sinno address these questions in their article “Education, Income, and Support for Suicide Bombings: Evidence from Six Muslim Countries” in the Journal of Conflict Resolution. According to the authors, by 2005, more than 350 suicide bombings were perpetrated in countries not including Iraq. Citing literature that argues that suicide bombing campaigns require substantial public support because of the destruction they cause and the high costs of participation, the authors are interested in policies that attempt to reduce this public support.

While many believe that increasing education and income levels will blunt support for suicide terrorism, the authors note that there is little empirical evidence of this claim. Using public opinion data from six predominantly Muslim countries that have experienced suicide bombings – Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey – the authors investigate whether there is evidence that these two factors reduce support for such violence. The authors construct a conceptual model for why education and income would affect support for suicide bombing: the increased education should “instill men and women with values and skills that reduce support for suicide bombing” while higher income “should also discourage support for suicide bombing because people may be more satisfied with life.” However, the authors also argue that political dissatisfaction can also result from higher education and may vary according to particular policy issues. In order to address this potential effect, the authors examine attitudes toward suicide bombing of civilians in contrast to suicide bombings of Westerners in Iraq (as American military activity in Iraq is a specific foreign policy issue).

The authors find that educational attainment discourages support for suicide bombings against civilians in Indonesia and Pakistan but encourages support for such bombings in Jordan. They also find that educational attainment encourages support for suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq but discourages such attacks against civilians. At the same time, the authors also find that higher income in Morocco is linked to greater support for suicide bombings against civilians, while higher income in Jordan, Pakistan, and Turkey discourages support for suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq. In light of these varied findings, the authors conclude that it is very difficult to make generalizations about citizens of different Muslim countries because the impact of education and income on attitudes depends on the country and the target of the attacks, as well as the content of the education.

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