Date of Award

8-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Political Science

Major Professor

Brandon Prins

Committee Members

Wonjae Hwang, Ian Down, Youshaa Patel

Abstract

Despite considerable interest in the relationship between Islam and political violence, there is little systematic empirical research that explores the intra-state conflict proneness of Muslim majority states. Existing studies either offer inconclusive evidence of a relationship or suffer from methodological flaws. If we analyze the proportion of countries with large Muslim populations that experience domestic armed conflicts, Muslim-majority states do in fact stand out. What explains the prevalence of political violence in the Muslim world and to what extent does religion play a role in promoting violence? Under which conditions ethno-political organizations opt for violent strategies to achieve their political goals? Under which conditions Islamist parties denounce violence and shift from radical to moderate, pragmatist positions? These questions are yet to be fully addressed. In an attempt to fill a gap in the extant literature, this dissertation investigates the empirical nexus between Islam and political violence/nonviolence by specifically focusing on the incidence of domestic armed conflict, group-level political violence (such as insurgency, terrorism, and genocide), and party moderation. I explore the role of religion and Islamist ideology in driving political violence in the first two quantitative chapters whereas the qualitative chapter focuses on Islamist party moderation. I argue that religion alone does not necessarily make countries more or less conflictprone. Socio-economic and political conditions usually determine the decision to resort to violence or alternatively to renounce violence and to moderate. Higher prevalence of repressive regimes, poverty, and youth bulges make Muslim-plurality countries very vulnerable to domestic conflict. The overall findings indicate that, contrary to suggestions and claims in the literature, neither religious fractionalization nor Islam promotes political violence once socio-economic and political factors are taken into account. Muslim-plurality states are indeed disproportionately involved in domestic armed conflict, but these states are also characterized by lower GDP per capita, oil dependency, state repression, autocracy, and youth bulges, all of which correlate strongly with domestic armed conflict. Moreover, the analysis of Islamist parties suggest that Islamist parties respond to societal changes, renounce violence and moderate their radical ideologies when they are given a chance to participate in the political system.

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