IslamCompetition among political forces, not religious fundamentalism, inflames anti-Americanism in the Muslim world

Published 16 July 2012

Historically, domestic political divisions within Muslim politics have fallen between secular elite and fundamental Islamic elite factions, with both groups laying claims to anti-American grievances; that competition is most intense not in the most deeply observant Islamic countries, but rather in countries where divisions between secular and religious factions are sharpest; in those countries, competition between political forces — not religious fundamentalism — appears to spark the greatest anti-American sentiment

Study: anti-Americanism stems from political competition // Source:

What feeds anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world? It is a question that has grown in volume, and importance, since the 9/11 attacks, generating policy debate and cultural assumptions, but few hard answers.

A new study by Emory political science researcher Drew Linzer and Lisa Blaydes, of Stanford University, offers fresh insight, suggesting that American animosity in the Islamic world may have more to do with the intensity of conflicting factions within local Islamic politics than individual attitudes toward American culture, policies, and diplomacy.

An Emory University release reports that the researchers, studying data collected from 13,000 Muslims in twenty-one Islamic countries through the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, found evidence to suggest the amount of heated rhetoric between political elites in secular and religious groups within Muslim countries plays a central role in cultivating anti-American attitudes.

The report also found anti-Americanism to be strongest in the least religiously observant Muslim countries.

The study, published in the American Political Science Review, notes that while negative perceptions of the United States are widespread in the Islamic world, they are by no means universal.

People talk about Muslim anti-Americanism as if it’s this monolithic thing — that’s false,” says Linzer, an assistant professor in political science who specializes in comparative public opinions, electoral systems and statistical methods. “There is a huge amount of variation in Muslim countries,” he adds. “In Turkey, for example, it’s very high. In Senegal, it’s very low. Why the variations?”

The roots of animosity
For the past decade, pressure has been growing to understand why some Muslim countries kindle such impassioned anti-American attitudes. To date, however, evidence has been largely anecdotal, Linzer notes.

Policy-wise, this has been a major source of debate,” he says. “In our view, there has been a clearly divided set of conventional-wisdom arguments about what is the source of this animosity that we see in survey research and the news.”

Some people want to know directly why there is this animosity; others just want to know what to do about it,” he adds.

According to the Pew Center data, those anti-American opinions actually remain relatively stable across Islamic countries. “It’s not that it’s getting worse, it’s just that people are paying more careful attention to it,” Linzer observes.

The researchers decided to take a closer, empirical look at the issue because they sensed something missing in the dialogue. First, they recognized political opinions are formed, in part, by an electorate listening