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The Moderates’ Dilemma: Obstacles to Mobilization Against Islamist Extremism

The Moderates’ Dilemma: Obstacles to Mobilization Against Islamist Extremism

March 13, 2017 -
11:30am to 1:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)
Event Speaker: 
Kerry Persen, PhD Candidate in Political Science at Stanford

How do moderates respond to violence perpetrated in their religion’s name? Transnational and local movements acting in the name of radical Sunni Islamism are at the forefront of domestic and international security concerns, yet little is known about how moderate Muslims react to extremist violence explicitly justified in the name of a shared religious faith and the circumstances under which they mobilize against it. This paper offers an explanation for variation in moderates’ willingness to speak out against violent factions of their own in-group. In particular, I posit that uncertainty about perceptions of support for violence leads individuals to overestimate support for violent groups. In response, individuals perceive reputation costs for sharing anti-violent views and refrain from sharing their views publicly leading to a failure to act collectively in line with their individual beliefs, a coordination dilemma which I call “the Moderates’ Dilemma.” Using an original survey experiment and observational data of participant behavior during two additional surveys from Indonesia, I demonstrate that individuals hide moderate views for fear of reputation costs and that these effects vary by individuals’ sensitivity to reputation costs and degree of uncertainty of others’ attitudes. These results have significant implications for countering violent extremism policies globally.


Kerry Persen is a Ph.D. candidate with an interest in comparative politics and international relations.