What Makes a Terrorist? Muslims’ and non-Muslims’ Lay Perceptions of Risk Factors and Their Consequences for Counter-terrorism Policy Support

By Jonas R. Kunst, Milan Obaidi, Ann-Cathrin Coenen, Vilde D. Vasseljen & Paul Gill

The question of why people become terrorists has preoccupied scholars and policy makers for decades. Yet, very little is known about how lay people perceive individuals at risk of becoming terrorists. In two studies conducted in the U.K., we aimed to fill this gap. Study 1 showed that Muslims and non-Muslims perceived a potential minority-group terrorist in terms of both structural (e.g., life-history, social) and individual risk factors (e.g., personality, psychopathology, ideology). In Study 2, Muslims and non-Muslims perceived a potential right-wing majority-group terrorist as having more individual predispositions to terrorism than a potential left-wing majority-group terrorist. Importantly, in both studies, individualist perceptions such as psychopathology were positively associated with support for stricter law enforcement, whereas structuralist perceptions such as adverse childhood experiences were positively associated with support for social interventions. Lay people seem to have multifactorial understandings of individuals at risk of becoming terrorists, which influence their counter-terrorism policy support.

Jonas R. Kunst, Milan Obaidi, Ann-Cathrin Coenen, Vilde D. Vasseljen & Paul Gill (2021): What Makes a Terrorist? Muslims’ and non-Muslims’ Lay Perceptions of Risk Factors and Their Consequences for Counter-terrorism Policy Support, Terrorism and Political Violence, DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2021.1967149

Published Nov. 2, 2021 10:23 AM - Last modified Nov. 2, 2021 10:23 AM