CAIRN.INFO : Chercher, repérer, avancer.

1Academic interest in the social, political, historical, and economic factors involved in terrorist activities has increased drastically since the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 (see Lum, Kennedy, & Sherley, 2004). Although the terrorism literature still lacks empirical research (see Lum, et al., 2004), greater insights have been gained in the recent years into the dynamics of terrorist activities, as well as the attributes of individual terrorists (see Silke, 2004). There have been fewer systematic efforts to determine the predictors of public support for terrorism (see Fair & Shepherd, 2006). Several authors have argued, however, that the sympathy of even a small minority is likely to play a vital role in the politics of terrorism by, for example, providing ideological and practical support to terrorists (e.g., Hayes & McAllister, 2005; Mascini, 2006; Waldman, 2006). Identifying and addressing the factors underlying such support should therefore be an important part of any attempt to understand and tackle terrorism.
Studies that have investigated public support for political violence and terrorism have thus far predominantly focused on demographic and background variables as correlates. For example, using Northern Irish opinion poll data, Hayes and McAllister (2001, 2005) examined predictors of support for paramilitarism among Catholics and Protestants. They found greater support among men, Catholics (the historically disadvantaged group), younger people and those who have themselves been exposed to violence; and reduced support among people who attend church more regularly. Overall, 26 percent of Catholics and 27 percent of Protestants expressed some level of sympathy for republican and loyalist paramilitary violence, respectively. Hayes and McAllister (2001, 2005) argued that this relatively high level of latent support for political violence has helped to sustain the conflict and contributed to the impasse over the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons during the peace process. In a study of fourteen predominantly Muslim countries, Fair and Shepherd (2006) examined predictors of agreement that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. They found that support for terrorism varied widely among countries, from 1.08 % of respondents in Senegal to 19.39 % of respondents in Pakistan. Moreover, overall, females, younger persons, people of higher socio-economic status (SES), people who own phones and/or computers, and those who believe that Islam is under threat were more likely to express support. The relative importance of these variables however varied between countries.
While it is important to identify demographic and other background variables that predict support for terrorism, their effects are not necessarily self-explanatory. Rather, the influence of these variables is likely to be mediated by more proximal psychological variables. Psychological variables may also be more malleable and could be targeted directly in interventions. Based on a social-psychological approach, the present study aims to advance previous research by examining the importance of different social identities as predictors of support for terrorism. Specifically, our study investigates the roles of religious and national identity among British Muslims in predicting the extent to which they viewed the 7/7 London bombings as justified. The role of these variables is assessed over and above relevant demographic variables. We further explore the extent to which religious and national identity and support for terrorism are predicted by context (proportion of Muslims in the area where people live) and contact experiences with non-Muslims.

Muslims in Britain

2The 2001 Census indicated that there are approximately 1.6 million Muslims in Britain, accounting for 2.8 % of the total population and making Islam the second largest religion in the country. Muslim migration to Britain began in the mid-nineteenth century as Muslim traders and seamen from the Middle East and Yemen settled around major British ports. The Muslim population increased drastically in the 1950s and 1960s with the immigration of largely South Asian Muslims to fill labour shortages in industry. There was an additional influx in the 1990s of East European Muslims fleeing from Bosnia and Kosovo and, more recently, of refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq (see Ansari, 2002).

3The rise in the Muslim population and the increasing settlement of complete family units in Britain in the late 1960s was accompanied by the establishment of mosques, madrasas, and Muslim associations in the UK. Muslims became more visible in the public sphere and increasingly politically organized to address issues of racial discrimination and minority rights (see Vertovec, 2002). In the 1980 and 1990s there was a significant shift from racially to more religiously oriented political activism. This was due to a series of national and international events that were related to Muslim identity, including the Rushdie affair in 1988, the first Gulf war in 1991, and the debate surrounding Muslim faith schools. This development was accompanied by the emergence of Islamist groups that started to have an influence particularly on younger Muslims (see Mizra, Senthilkumaran, & Ja’far, 2007; Wiktorowicz, 2005).

4More recent events, specifically the September 11th attacks in 2001, the subsequent ‘war on terror’, and the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, have further affected British Muslims and pushed them into the public eye. The British media has tended to portray Muslims in highly derogatory ways and failed to distinguish between mainstream moderate Muslims and extremist groups (e.g., Allen, 2005). This has certainly contributed to rising ‘Islamophobia’ and an increase of hostile attacks on Muslims in the UK (Sheridan, 2006). Unsurprisingly, many British Muslims feel spiritually and culturally alienated from British society. There is a growing trend in particular among young British Muslims to feel that they have little in common with British non-Muslims, to voice concerns about the immorality of the West, and to reject the norms of Western democracy in favour of sharia law (Mizra et al., 2007; The Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2006). Current grievances over foreign policy, in particular the Iraq war, and over domestic counterterrorism measures (e.g., stop-and-search) that disproportionately target Muslims, are further fuelling discontent and alienation among British Muslims (Mizra et al., 2007).
There has been much public and political debate surrounding the threat of home-grown terrorism (e.g., BBC News, 2006). A large number of surveys were commissioned in particular in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings that aimed to assess British Muslims’ views of the attacks. Findings suggesting that a sizable minority of British Muslims felt that the attacks were justified (e.g., 6%, YouGov, 2005; 7%, Populus, 2006; 22 %, GfK NOP, 2006) further caused anxiety among the public. In this context, questions have been raised about whether British Muslims are willing to give their loyalty to Britain rather than transnational Muslim leaders and organizations and whether and how Muslims can be integrated more into British society with its political values (Modood & Ahmad, 2007). Concerns have also been raised about the potential role of segregation in nurturing extremism (BBC News, 2005; but see Finney & Simpson, 2009). The government has thus called for the urgent need to build social cohesion and foster a sense of British identity among minority group members (e.g., Cantle, 2001; Straw, 2007).

The Present Research

5The present research directly speaks to these issues. Central to our approach is that terrorism is in essence a violent manifestation of group-based behaviour and that both terrorism and support for terrorism are driven by group-level concerns, such as injustices committed against the ingroup [1]. We thus suggest that social identification processes should play an important role in predicting support for terrorism. Using the data set of a prominent Muslim opinion survey (GfK NOP, 2006), our study investigates the importance of both Muslim and the superordinate British identity as proximal predictors of support for terrorism, and some key factors that may influence these. Specifically, our theoretical model also examines intergroup contact as a factor that may strengthen a sense of British identity and mitigate support for terrorism, and explores whether where people live, and specifically the proportion of Muslims in their area, affects these variables.

The Social Identity Approach

6At the heart of the social identity approach to intergroup relations is the notion that people categorize their social worlds into ‘us’ and ‘them’, and that they derive part of their self-concept from their membership in social groups (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Identification with social groups, along with the motive to establish and maintain positively valued group identities, is seen as fundamental to intergroup phenomena. When people categorize others into groups, they tend to experience more positive affect towards the ingroup than the outgroup, perceive ingroup members as more trustworthy and more human, and behave more positively towards ingroup than towards outgroup members (see Dovidio, Gaertner, & Saguy, 2009, for a recent review). Moreover, the extent to which individuals identify with a social group predicts the degree to which group deprivation and injustice are perceived (e.g., Smith, Spears, & Oyen, 1994) and threats to ingroup status and values are experienced (e.g., Stephan et al., 2002). Identification with a social group also determines the likelihood that individuals have confrontational action tendencies towards an offending outgroup (Mackie, Devos, & Smith, 2000) and that they act on behalf of their group (Stürmer & Simon, 2004). If strength of identification with a group affects the extent to which individuals are susceptible to perceived group-related threats and injustices and to support action that defends the ingroup, one could expect a positive relationship between the importance of Muslim identity and support for the 7/7 terrorist attacks. Consistent with this idea, Sidanius, Henry, Pratto, and Levin (2004) demonstrated that the strength of religious identification among Muslims in Lebanon was positively related to support for political groups that are linked with terrorism and, indirectly, to support for the 9/11 attacks.

The Common Ingroup Identity Model

7Because people belong to an array of social groups, there are, however, many possible self-representations and various levels of self-categorization, including smaller subcategories and more inclusive superordinate categories (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). The Common In-group Identity Model (CIIM; Gaertner, Mann, Murrell, & Dovidio, 1989) posits that intergroup conflict and hostility can be reduced by factors that transform the cognitive representation of group memberships from two groups (“Us” and “Them”) to one inclusive social entity (“We”). According to CIIM, this should redirect the cognitive and motivational processes that produce positive biases toward ingroup members to former outgroup members who are now part of the more inclusive one-group representation. An extensive research programme designed to evaluate CIIM has demonstrated that a superordinate identity is associated with more positive intergroup attitudes and behaviour, greater moral inclusion of outgroup members and forgiveness for past misdeeds, and greater support for cooperative intergroup policies (see Dovidio et al., 2009).
The present study extends this research by examining the importance of identification with a superordinate identity in predicting attitudes towards violence directed at an outgroup. In line with the CIIM, we expect respondents who identify more strongly with the superordinate ‘British’ category to be less likely to view the 7/7 bombings as justified. Results from a small-scale survey of 78 British Muslims conducted in 2002 and 2003 by Cinnirella et al. (in press) are in line with this idea and suggest that British identity is negatively related to attitudinal support for terrorism. Using measures of importance of ethnic, Muslim, and British identity as predictors of support for terrorism, they reported that the variable assessing perceived importance of being British was best able to classify respondents in terms of whether or not they thought that suicide bombings against non-Muslims could ever be justified in Islam. The present study extends this preliminary work by investigating the role of British identity in predicting support for a specific domestic terrorist attack, the 7/7 London bombings, in a large representative sample of British Muslims.

Intergroup Contact and Segregation

8We further extend this work by examining some of the factors that may act as more distal predictors of British and Muslim identity and support for terrorism. Specifically, we examine the role of contact with non-Muslims in fostering a British identity and also as a direct predictor of support for terrorism. The notion that contact between members of opposing groups can, under certain conditions, improve intergroup attitudes (Allport, 1954) is one of the most prominent and most widely studied ideas underlying approaches to improve intergroup relations (see Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). The contact hypothesis has been tested and applied in a wide variety of settings including contexts of violent intergroup conflict such as Northern Ireland and Israel (see Tausch, Kenworthy, & Hewstone, 2005, for a review). This work demonstrated that positive intergroup contact generally leads to more positive intergroup attitudes and perceptions, and that it does so by reducing anxieties and perceived threats posed by the outgroup and by increasing empathy and perspective taking (see Tausch et al., 2005). Work on the CIIM further suggests that contact improves intergroup relations by increasing identification with a superordinate group (see Gaertner, Rust, Dovidio, Bachman, & Anastasio, 1996). The present study goes beyond previous work on contact, which has to a large extent focused on the effects of contact on intergroup prejudice (see Tausch et al., 2005), by examining both the direct and indirect relationship between intergroup contact and support for political violence against an outgroup. Specifically, we expect intergroup contact to have an indirect negative effect on support for terrorism by strengthening identification with the superordinate British identity. As contact affects many other variables besides the importance of identities, including perceived threats and empathy, we also expected a direct negative effect of contact on support for terrorism. Moreover, as some work has shown that contact may also be associated with reduced identification with the subgroup identity (Eller, 2002), our theoretical model also allows a path from contact to Muslim identity.
Whether individuals have contact with outgroup members is, however, dependent on whether there are opportunities for such contact. A number of studies have demonstrated that the percentage of outgroup members in the immediate environment strongly predicts whether someone engages in contact with outgroup members or not (e.g., Wagner, Christ, Pettigrew, Stellmacher, & Wolf, 2006). The present data set includes an index of the level of Muslim penetration in the area where respondents lived, which we used as a proxy for contact opportunities. We expected this variable to be negatively related to contact with non-Muslims (and thereby indirectly negatively to importance of British identity) as a higher proportion of ingroup members in the area makes contact with outgroup members less likely. We also expected this variable to be positively related to strength of Muslim identity, as a greater presence and more frequent interaction with ingroup members is likely to render ingroup identity more salient and reinforce the value placed on this identity. Including this measure in our theoretical model may also provide important insights into the role of segregation as a predictor of support for terrorism. Although segregation is often cited in public and political discourse as a potential source of extremism (see BBC News, 2006), research examining whether Muslims charged with terrorism were more likely to come from areas with a higher Muslim proportion found no evidence for this link (Finney & Simpson, 2009). The present research explores the role of Muslim concentration in respondents’ residential area as a predictor of attitudes towards 7/7 by including a direct path in the model.



9The data were collected as part of a telephone survey of British Muslims (see GfK NOP, 2006). Respondents were drawn from census output areas across the UK with a five per cent or higher penetration of Muslims, using random digit dialling. All participating households were screened for religion at outset. While the majority of interviews conducted in English, seven per cent of interviews were conducted in language of respondent’s choice. The data were collected during March and April of 2006.


10The interview was completed by 1000 Muslims (N = 500 male, N = 500 female). Two-hundred and seventy five respondents were aged 18-24 years, 295 were aged 25-34 years, 254 were aged 35-44 years, 101 were aged 45-54 years, 43 were aged 55-64 years, and 32 were 65 years or older. One-hundred and fifty nine respondents were classified as being upper middle and upper class, 337 as lower middle class, 224 as skilled working class, and 280 as working class. Respondents’ ethnicity was predominantly Asian (N = 786) of Pakistani (N = 458), Bangladeshi (N = 112), and Indian (N = 98) origin. Forty-nine respondents were White, 130 Black, and 25 were mixed-race. Four-hundred and three respondents were born in the UK. Four-hundred and ninety-two respondents resided in greater London, 136 in the West Midlands, 117 in North West England, 102 in Yorkshire, 47 in South East England, 42 in the East Midlands, 30 in Eastern England, 14 in North East England, 11 in Scotland, 6 in Wales, and 3 in South West England. Five-hundred and eighty respondents lived in areas with a low penetration of Muslims (5 to 7.9%), 343 resided in areas with medium Muslim penetration (8 to 14.7 %), and 77 resided in areas with high Muslim penetration (14.8 to 86 %).


11Among other questions concerning issues related to living in Britain, the interview included measures of importance of Muslim identity, importance of British identity, contact with non-Muslims, and attitudes relating to the 7/7 London bombings. Two items (r = .55) assessed the importance of Muslim identity. Respondents answered the questions ‘How strongly, if at all, do you feel you belong to Islam?’ and ‘How important is religion to the way you live your life?’ using 4-point Likert-type scales (1= not strongly at all, 2 = not very strongly, 3 = fairly strongly, 4 = very strongly and 1 = not at all, 2 = not very, 3 = fairly, and 4 = very, respectively). Two items (r = .53) tapped into the importance of British identity: ‘How strongly, if at all, do you feel you belong to Britain?’ (1 = not strongly at all, 2 = not very strongly, 3 = fairly strongly, 4 = very strongly) and ‘When you see the British Union flag do you feel ‘that’s my country’ or ‘that’s their country?’ (1 = their country, 2 = both, 3 = my country). Three items assessed contact with non-Muslims. Respondents indicated whether they ever had Asian non-Muslims, White non-Muslims, or African-Caribbean non-Muslims over to their house for a meal (1= yes, 0 = no, Cronbach’s ? = .71). Our dependent variable was the extent to which respondents agreed that the 7/7 London bombings were justified (‘Some people said that the July bombings were justified because of British support for the US war on terror. Do you agree?’; 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = tend to disagree, 3= tend to agree, 4 = strongly agree).

12The survey also assessed relevant demographic variables, including age (coded as 1 = 18 to 24; 2 = 25 to 34; 3 = 35 to 44; 4 = 45 to 54; 5 = 55 to 64; 6 = 65+), gender (coded as 1 = male; 2 = female), and SES (coded as 1 = working class and underclass; 2 = skilled working class; 3 = lower middle class; 4 = upper middle class and upper class). The level of Muslim penetration in the area where respondents lived was also coded (1 = low, representing areas with 5 - 7.9 % Muslims, 2 = medium, for areas with 8 - 14.7 % Muslims, 3 = high, for areas with 14.8 - 86 % Muslims).


Preliminary Analyses

13Overall, the rated importance of Muslim identity was high. Specifically, 77.9% of the sample rated the role of religion to their way of life as very important, 15.3% as fairly important, 4.2% as not very important, and 2.6% as not at all important (M = 3.69, SD = .68). When rating how strongly they felt that they belong to Islam, 79.1% rated their belongingness as very strong, 14.4% as fairly strong, and 3.6% and 1.8% and not very strong and not at all strong, respectively (M = 3.73, SD = .62). The importance of British identity was moderate. In response to the question whether they feel that Britain is ‘my country’ or ‘their country’, 48.8 % indicated ‘my country’, 12.2 % chose ‘both, and 23.9 % indicated that they felt that Britain was ‘their country’ (M = 2.29, SD = .88). Moreover, when rating how strongly they felt that they belong to Britain, 44.7% rated their belongingness as very strong, 37.4% as fairly strong, and 9.2% and 6.5% as not very strong and not at all strong, respectively (M = 3.23, SD = .87). Overall, respondents rated their belonging to Britain lower than their belonging to Islam, t(969) = -14.69, p < .001. As for contact with non-Muslims, the majority (80 %) of the sample reported that they had had non-Muslims over for a meal. Specifically, 61.9 % indicated that they had had Asian non-Muslims over for a meal, 71.4 % had had White non-Muslims over for a meal, and 46.3 % had had African-Caribbean non-Muslims over for a meal. Support for the 7/7 London bombings was overall moderate to low (M = 1.83, SD = 1.11). Specifically, 47.8 % strongly disagreed that the 7/7 bombings were justified and 12.2% tended to disagree. However, 11.3% and 11.4% of the sample tended to agree and strongly agreed, respectively, that the 7/7 bombings were justified. Zero-order intercorrelations of all variables are shown in Table 1.

Table 1

Zero-order Correlations among Variables

Table 1
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1. Gender 1 -.13*** -.08** .03 -.05 -.04 -.12*** .00 .03 -.09* .00 .12*** 2. Age 1 -.02 -.10** -.04 .00 .03 -.08* -.07* .08* .12*** -.18*** 3. SES 1 -.12*** .17*** .13*** .16*** -.04 -.10** .04 .03 -.10** 4. Muslim penetration 1 -.05 -.08* -.14*** .09** .13*** .04 .05 .07* 5. Contact (1) 1 .47*** .40*** -.05 -.07* .12*** .08* -.07* 6. Contact (2) 1 .47*** -.05 -.05 .17*** .07* -.12*** 7. Contact (3) 1 -.10** -.11*** .08* .03 -.13*** 8. Muslim identity (1) 1 .55*** .01 .04 .02 9. Muslim identity (2) 1 -.03 .02 .05 10. British identity (1) 1 .53*** -.17*** 11. British identity (2) 1 -.13*** 12. 7/7 justified 1 Note. Contact (1): Contact with Asian non-Muslims, Contact (2): contact with White non-Muslims, Contact (3): contact with African-Caribbean non-Muslims; Muslim identity (1): ‘How important is religion to the way you live your life?’; Muslim identity (2) ‘How strongly, if at all, do you feel you belong to Islam?’; British identity (1): ‘When you see the British Union flag do you feel ‘that’s my country’ or ‘that’s their country?’; British identity (2): ‘How strongly, if at all, do you feel you belong to Britain?’; 7/7 justified: ‘Some people said that the July bombings were justified because of British support for the US war on terror. Do you agree?’; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001; N = 1000.

Zero-order Correlations among Variables

Structural Model

14Structural equation modelling was used to test our theoretical model. Prior to our analyses, we imputed all missing values using the expectation maximization algorithm (Little & Rubin, 1987). [2] Covariance matrices were used as input and estimates were derived using the maximum likelihood procedure. To assess overall model fit, we used the chi-square test, the comparative fit index (CFI), the root mean square of approximation (RMSEA), and the standardized root mean square residual (SRMR). A satisfactory fit is generally indicated by a non-significant ?2 (although significant values are acceptable for large samples), a ?2/df ratio ? 3, a CFI ? .95, and a RMSEA ? .06 - .08 (p-close >.05-.10) (see Hu & Bentler, 1999).

15As more than one item each assessed intergroup contact, Muslim identity and British identity, latent variables were constructed for these constructs. The tested structural model specified direct paths from the level of Muslim penetration in the area to amount of contact with non-Muslims, importance of Muslim identity, and directly to support for 7/7; from amount of contact to Muslim identity, British identity and support for the 7/7 bombings, from Muslim identity to support for 7/7 and from British identity to support for 7/7. In order to control for demographic variables in this analysis, we also included direct paths from gender, age, and SES to each of the endogenous variables. All exogenous variables (Muslim penetration, gender, age, and SES) were allowed to correlate. Our proposed model fit the data very well (?2 = 64.37, df = 33, p = .001, ?2/df = 1.91, CFI = .98, RMSEA = .03, p-close = 1.00). Figure 1 summarizes the results.

16Consistent with our hypothesis, penetration of Muslims in the area was negatively related to contact with non-Muslims (? = -.10, p = .006) and positively to importance of Muslim identity (? = .12, p = .004). The direct path from penetration of Muslims in the area to support for 7/7 was not significant (? = .04, p = .240). Contact with non-Muslims was negatively related to Muslim identity (? = -.10, p = .030), positively to a sense of British identity (? = .18, p < .001) and also directly negatively with the view that the 7/7 bombings were justified (? = -.10, p = .011). The analyses also yielded the expected negative relationship between British identity and the view that the 7/7 bombings were justified (? = -.16, p < .001). There was no association between Muslim identity and the view that the 7/7 bombings were justified (? = .02, p = .655). [3]

Figure 1
Figure 1
Estimated structural model showing relationships between latent and observed variables. N = 1000; *p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001; Model fit: ?2 = 64.37, df = 33, p = .001, ?2/df = 1.91, CFI = .98, RMSEA = .03, p-close = 1.00. The analysis controls for the effects of age, gender, and SES

17There were also some significant effects of the control variables in the model. Gender was negatively associated with contact (? = -.08, p = .036) and positively with the view that the 7/7 bombings were justified (? = .07, p = .025), such that, overall, women had somewhat less contact with non-Muslims and were somewhat more likely to view the bombings as justified. Age was significantly positively associated with British identity (? = .12, p = .001) and negatively with Muslim identity (? = -.08, p = .032) and the view that the 7/7 bombings were justified (? = -.16, p < .001). SES was positively associated with contact with non-Muslims (? = .20, p < .001) and negatively with the view that the 7/7 bombings were justified (? = -.07, p = .028).
Next, we evaluated the significance of indirect effects in the model using the bootstrapping procedure (Shrout & Bolger, 2002). Penetration of Muslims in the area had a significant indirect effect on importance of Muslim identity (? = .01, p = .014), a negative indirect effect on importance of British identity (? = -.02, p = .004) and a positive indirect effect on support for 7/7 (? = .02, p = .022). Contact had a significant negative indirect effect on support for 7/7 (? = -.10, p = .001). Gender had significant indirect effects on Muslim identity (? = .01, p = .033) and British identity (? = -.02, p = .023). SES had significant indirect effects on Muslim identity (? = -.01, p = .014), British identity (? = .02, p = .001), and support for 7/7 (? = -.03, p = .002).


18The primary aim of this article was to widen the focus of previous research on public support for terrorism by examining the social-psychological processes that may underlie sympathy for terrorists and their actions. Specifically, our study examined the roles of religious and national identity among Muslims in Britain and explored some antecedents of the strength of religious and national identity. Our analysis, which employed data from a representative sample of British Muslims, yielded a number of important insights. First of all, our findings suggest that the strength of Muslim identity per se is not associated with greater support for terrorism. This is counter to common stereotypes that Muslim identity is related to support for violence (see Fischer, Greitemeyer, & Kastenmüller, 2007) and not consistent with previous findings linking Muslim identification with support for organizations linked with terrorism (Sidanius et al., 2004).

19This finding is, however, not surprising when interpreted in the light of recent research on the importance of identity content (Livingstone & Haslam, 2008) and findings emphasizing the heterogeneity and strategic construction of Muslim identity to serve varying political ends (Kahani-Hopkins & Hopkins, 2002). Specifically, Livingstone and Haslam (2008) demonstrated that the association between ingroup identification and negative behavioural intentions towards an outgroup is moderated by the extent to which individuals define this identity in antagonistic ways. Research on collective action has further shown that identification with a politicized social identity and not with the broader social category predicts whether someone engages politically on behalf of their group (Stürmer & Simon, 2004). The extent to which Muslim identity relates to support for terrorism is therefore likely to depend on how this identity is defined. Strength of Muslim identity may, for example, be positively related to support for violent extremism for individuals who define this identity in terms of an extremist political ideology. Moreover, terrorists are often perceived as deviants by the wider social group they claim to represent. In fact, the Muslim community has distanced itself from the terrorist attacks and publicly condemned them as violating the true principles of Islam (see Muslim Council of Britain, 2008). Research investigating the ‘black sheep effect’ (Marques, Yzerbyt, & Leyens, 1988) has shown that, in order to protect the positive image of the in-group, those who identify with the group judge deviant ingroup members particularly harshly. Thus, identification with being a Muslim could equally be negatively related to support for terrorism in subgroups that define Muslim identity in ways that are inconsistent with violence. It is vital that future research further investigates the different ways in which Muslim identity is defined and examines whether and how religious identification and identity content interact in predicting support for violent extremism. A number of additional variables, such as perceived threats towards the ingroup (e.g., Fair & Shepherd, 2006) are likely to further moderate the effects of Muslim identity on support for terrorism.

20The importance of the superordinate national identity emerged as a significant predictor of support for terrorism. As expected, the more British Muslims defined themselves as British the less likely they were to view the 7/7 bombings as justified. Thus, it seems that British identity might mitigate support for violent extremism. This is consistent with the idea that membership in, and in particular identification with, a higher-level societal group can have a pacifying effect and prevent the pursuit of non-normative ends (Simon & Ruhs, 2008). Strengthening a sense of British identity among minority groups might therefore be one important element of efforts to prevent support for violent extremism (see also Straw, 2007). Many government policies in the last decades were counterproductive in this respect, as they emphasized difference and failed to engage with Muslims as British citizens, thereby fostering fragmentation rather than integration (see Mizra et al., 2007).

21Nonetheless, caution needs to be exercised when attempting to create a common identity. Recent research that has critically evaluated the CIIM has emphasized the many difficulties of achieving a meaningful superordinate identity. Specifically, identification with a superordinate group is often resisted, in particular by minority groups, and emphasizing a common identity over separate group identities can in fact exacerbate intergroup bias (e.g., Hornsey & Hogg, 2000; see Dovidio et al., 2009, for a review). Recent research has therefore examined the benefits of a dual identity approach, where both the original group distinctions and a superordinate identity are maintained (Gaertner et al., 1996). Thus, British identity could include faith as a positive dimension of ‘difference’ (see also Modood & Ahmad, 2007). Although the dual identity approach is not without problems (see Dovidio et al., 2009), identification with a dual identity has many positive consequences, such as constructive political engagement among minority group members (Simon & Ruhs, 2008). Thus, future research needs to investigate the benefits of identification with a dual identity for British Muslims and examine whether and how it relates to support for violent extremism.
Our analyses also give insight into antecedents of a sense of British identity among British Muslims. Specifically, our findings indicate that having contact with non-Muslims is positively related to identification with Britain. Contact also had a direct negative effect on support for terrorism in our model, which is probably due to its well-established effects on many other variables related to intergroup conflict, such as threat perceptions and empathy (see Tausch et al., 2005). These results suggest that intergroup contact could be an important part of interventions that aim at strengthening British identity among minority groups and undermining extremism. Our findings also underline that whether someone has contact depends to some extent on where they live. Specifically, the greater the proportion of ingroup members in the area, the less likely are contact experiences with outgroup members. By affecting contact with non-Muslims and thereby (indirectly) the strength of British identity, the percentage of Muslims in the area where respondents lived had a positive (albeit very small) indirect effect on support for the 7/7 attacks, giving some limited support to the argument that segregation may play a role in extremism.
Finally, we would like to acknowledge several limitations of the present study. The data used for our analysis were cross-sectional and thus do not allow us to draw causal conclusions or rule out the effects of third variables. Future research should therefore examine these relationships longitudinally and/or experimentally. Moreover, although using the present dataset had many advantages, including access to a large representative sample of British Muslims, it also had a few drawbacks. Some of the measures might not have fully captured the underlying psychological constructs and, for our criterion variable, we had to rely on a single-item measure. Also, some theoretically interesting variables (e.g., perceived threats and injustices) were more assumed than assessed. This might explain why our model explained only a relatively small proportion of variance (10%) in the criterion variable. The present findings should therefore be interpreted with caution and should be extended by additional research. Such future research should use more detailed measures of the constructs of interest and should include additional relevant variables such as perceived threat and identity content. It might also benefit from assessing different dimensions of group identification (e.g., Leach et al., 2008), measuring identification with a dual identity (e.g., British Muslim), and distinguishing different levels of support for terrorism (e.g., understanding vs. condoning). Given the significance of identification with Britain as a predictor of support for terrorism in the present work, future research should also include an examination of the British non-Muslim public, specifically their level of identification with Britain and definition of British identity, as well as their reactions to the threat of terrorism, the nature of experiences with Muslims and attitudes towards discriminatory practices towards this group. Such an analysis would arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics in this intergroup context and could inform policy makers about ways to formulate a British identity that is inclusive of people from different faiths and cultural backgrounds.

We would like to thank Rezina Chowdhury and Darren Yaxley at GfK NOP and Martin Roberts at Channel 4 for providing us with this data set.


  • [*]
    This manuscript was prepared while the first author was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow.
  • [**]
    School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Tower Building, Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT, UK. E-mail:;
  • [***]
    Department of Psychology, University of Marburg, Gutenbergstraße 18, 35032 Marburg, Germany. E-mail:
  • [1]
    Although terrorist groups are often perceived as deviants by a majority of their community, their ideologies and actions are typically related to a group cause. Even when acting individually, terrorist action is justified in group terms and directed to a group audience (in-group or enemy). This is, for example, illustrated by the taped messages of the 7/7 bombers Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shezahd Tanweer, who cited injustices committed against Muslims worldwide by the West and in particular the ‘so called war on terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan as causes of their actions, and threatened a continuation of attacks until British troops are withdrawn from Muslim countries (e.g., CBS, 2006). The importance of a group cause is also evident in the goals of separatist and nationalist terror movements such as ETA and the IRA.
  • [2]
    The proportion of missing values was generally low (< 3%), apart from one of the items measuring national identity (‘When you see the British Union flag do you feel ‘that’s my country’ or ‘that’s their country?’; 15.1%) and the item assessing support for the 7/7 bombings (17.3%). This is due to respondents choosing the ‘don’t know’ option which we defined as missing values. We repeated the analysis using a reduced sample (N = 693) where respondents with missing values were excluded. Results for this analysis were almost identical to results from the reported analyses.
  • [3]
    Since British and Muslim identity were measured in slightly different ways we also repeated the analysis using only the ‘belonging’ item that was equivalent for the two types of identity. Results were very similar to those reported above and also suggested that British (? = -.12, p < .001), but not Muslim (? = .01, p = .691), identity predicted the view that the 7/7 bombings were justified.


Using data from a 2006 opinion survey of British Muslims (N = 1000), this study examined the role of importance of Muslim and British identity as proximal predictors of whether respondents viewed the 2005 London bombings as justified. We further explored the extent to which religious and national identity and support for terrorism were predicted by context (the concentration of Muslims in the area) and contact experiences with non-Muslims. The role of these variables was assessed over and above relevant demographic variables (gender, age, and SES). Structural equation modelling revealed that while there was no significant relationship between Muslim identity and support for the attacks, British identity was significantly negatively related to support. Having contact with non-Muslims was positively related to importance of British identity, negatively to importance of Muslim identity, and also directly predicted reduced support for the attacks. The concentration of Muslims in the area was positively related to the importance of Muslim identity and negatively to contact with non-Muslims. These findings are discussed in relation to recent efforts to integrate Muslims more into British society.


  • religious identity
  • national identity
  • terrorism
  • intergroup contact
  • British Muslims

Identités nationales et religieuses en tant que prédicteurs des attitudes des Musulmans britanniques : Analyse des données d’un sondage d’opinions au Royaume-Uni


Utilisant les données d’un sondage d’opinion réalisé en 2006 auprès de Musulmans Britanniques (N = 1000), cette étude porte sur l’importance respective des identités Musulmane et Britannique en tant que prédicteurs proximaux du fait que les participants à l’étude percevraient les attentats à la bombe de 2005 à Londres comme justifiés. Nous avons également étudié à quel point l’identité religieuse, l’identité nationale et le soutien au terrorisme étaient prédits par le contexte (la concentration de Musulmans dans une zone) et par les expériences de contact avec des non Musulmans. Le rôle de ces variables a été évalué en plus des variables démographiques pertinentes telles que le sexe, l’âge, et le statut socio-économique. Un modèle en équations structurales a révélé que le soutien aux attaques terroristes n’était pas lié de façon significative à l’identité Musulmane mais qu’il était négativement lié à l’identité Britannique. Le contact avec des non Musulmans est positivement corrélé à l’importance de l’identité Britannique, est négativement corrélé à l’importance de l’identité Musulmane et prédit directement une baisse du soutien aux attaques terroristes. La concentration de Musulmans dans une zone est positivement corrélée avec l’importance de l’identité Musulmane et négativement corrélée avec la fréquentation de non Musulmans. Ces résultats sont discutés en lien avec les efforts récents d’intégrer davantage les Musulmans au sein de la société Britannique.


  • identité religieuse
  • identité nationale
  • terrorisme
  • contact intergroupe
  • musulmans britanniques


  • Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Allen, C. (2005). From race to religion: The new face of discrimination. In T. Abbas (Ed.), Muslims in Britain: Communities under pressure. London: Zed Books.
  • Ansari, H. (2002). Muslims in Britain. London: Minority Rights Group International.
  • BBC News (2005). Schools must fight segregation. Retrieved from
  • BBC News (2006). Extracts from MI5 chief’s speech. Retrieved from
  • CBS (2006). London bomber: only the beginning. Retrieved from
  • Cantle (2001). Callenging local communities to change Oldham. Retrieved from
  • Cinnirella, M., Lewis, C. A., Ansari, H., Loewenthal, K., Rogers, B., & Amlot, R. (in press). Social identity and beliefs about martyrdom and terrorism among British Muslims. In C. A. Lewis, M. B. Rogers, R. Amlot, C. M. Loewenthal, M. Cinnirella, & H. Ansari (Eds.), Aspects of terrorism and martyrdom: Dying for good, dying for god. Lampeter, England: The Edwin Mellen Press.
  • Dovidio, J. F., Gaertner, S. L., & Saguy, T. (2009). Commonality and the complexity of “We”: Social attitudes and social change. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13, 3-20.
  • Eller, A. (2002). Putting Pettigrew’s reformulated model to the test: The intergroup contact theory in transition. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Kent.
  • En ligneFair, C. C., & Shepherd, B. (2006). Who supports terrorism? Evidence from fourteen Muslim countries. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 29, 51-74.
  • Finney, N., & Simpson, L. (2009). ‘Sleepwalking to segregation’? Challenging myths about race and migration. London: The Policy Press.
  • En ligneFischer, P., Greitemeyer, T., & Kastenmüller, A. (2007). What do we think about Muslims? The validity of Westerners’ implicit theories about the associations between Muslims’ religiosity, religious identity, aggression potential, and attitudes towards terrorism. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 10, 373-382.
  • En ligneGaertner, S. L., Mann, J. A., Murrell, A. J., & Dovidio, J. F. (1989). Reducing intergroup bias: The benefits of recategorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 239-249.
  • Gaertner, S. L., Rust, M. C., Dovidio, J. F., Bachman, B. A., & Anastasio, P. A. (1996). The Contact Hypothesis: The role of a common ingroup identity on reducing intergroup bias among majority and minority group members. In J. L. Nye & A. M. Brower (Eds.), What’s social about social cognition? (pp. 230-260). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  • GfK NOP (2006). National Opinion Poll: Attitudes to living in Britain – A survey of Muslim opinion. Retrieved from
  • En ligneHayes, B. C., & McAllister, I. (2001). ‘Sowing Dragon’s Teeth’: Public support for political violence and paramilitarism in Northern Ireland’. Political Studies, 49, 901-922.
  • En ligneHayes, B., C., & McAllister, I. (2005). Public support for political violence and paramilitarism in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Terrorism and Political Violence, 17, 599-617.
  • Hornsey, M.,J., & Hogg, M. A. (2000). Subgroup relations: A comparison of mutual intergroup differentiation and common ingroup identity models of prejudice reduction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 242-256.
  • En ligneHu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cut-off criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 1-55.
  • Kahani-Hopkins, V., & Hopkins, N. (2002). Representing British Muslims: The strategic dimension to identity construction. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25 (2), 288-309.
  • En ligneLeach, C. W., van Zomeren, M., Zebel, S., Vliek, M. L. W., Pennekamp, S. F., Doosje, B., Ouwerkerk, J. W., & Spears, R. (2008). Group-level self-definition and self-investment: A hierarchical (multi-component) model of in-group identification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 144-165.
  • Little, R. J. A., & Rubin, D. B. (1987). Statistical analysis with missing data. New York, NY: Wiley.
  • En ligneLivingstone, A., & Haslam, S. A. (2008). The importance of social identity content in a setting of chronic social conflict: Understanding intergroup relations in Northern Ireland. British Journal of Social Psychology, 47, 1-21.
  • Lum, C., Kennedy, L. W., & Sherley, A. (2004). Strategies related to the prevention, detection, management and response to terrorism: A Campbell systematic review. Retrieved from
  • En ligneMackie, D. M., Devos, T., & Smith, E. R. (2000). Inter-group emotions: Explaining offensive action tendencies in an inter-group context. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 602-616.
  • En ligneMarques, J. M., Yzerbyt, V. Y., & Leyens, J. P. (1988). The black-sheep effect: Extremity of judgements towards in-group members in inter- and intra-group situations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 287-292.
  • Mascini, P. (2006). Can the violent jihad do without sympathizers? Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 29, 343-357.
  • Mizra, M., Senthilkumaran, A., & Ja’far, Z. (2007). Living apart together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism. London: Policy Exchange.
  • Modood, T. & Ahmad, F. (2007). British Muslim perspectives on multiculturalism. Theory, Culture, & Society, 24, 187-213.
  • Muslim Council of Britain (2008). Rejecting terror. Retrieved from
  • En lignePettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 751-783.
  • Populus (2006). Muslim poll. Retrieved from
  • Sheridan, L. P. (2006). Islamophobia pre and post September 11th 2001. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21 (3) 1-20.
  • Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2002). Mediation in experimental and nonexperimental studies: New procedures and recommendations. Psychological Methods, 7, 422-445.
  • Sidanius, J., Henry, P. J., Pratto, F., & Levin, S. (2004). Arab attributions for the attack on America: The case of Lebanese subelites. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35, 403-416.
  • Silke, A. (2004). An introduction to terrorism research. In A. Silke (Ed.), Research on terrorism: Trends, achievements, and failures (pp. 1-29). London: Frank Cass.
  • En ligneSimon, B., & Ruhs, D. (2008). Identity and politicization among Turkish migrants in Germany: The role of dual identification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1354-1366.
  • En ligneSmith, H. J., Spears, R., & Oyen, M. (1994). “People like us”: The influence of personal deprivation and group membership salience on justice evaluations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 30, 277-299.
  • En ligneStephan, W. G., Boniecki, K. A., Ybarra, O., Bettencourt, A., Ervin, K. S., Jackson, L. A., McNatt, P. S., & Renfro, C. L. (2002). The role of threats in the racial attitudes of blacks and whites. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1242-1254.
  • Straw, J. (2007). The way we are. Retrieved from
  • En ligneStürmer, S., & Simon, B. (2004). The role of collective identification in social movement participation: A panel study in the context of the German gay movement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 263-277.
  • Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33-48). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  • Tausch, N., Kenworthy, J. B., & Hewstone, M. (2005). Intergroup contact and the improvement of intergroup relations. In M. Fitzduff & C. E. Stout (Eds.), Psychological approaches to dealing with conflict and war (Vol. 2, pp. 67-108). Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • The Pew Global Attitudes Project (2006). The great divide: How Westerners and Muslims view each other. Washington, DC: The Pew Research Center.
  • Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
  • Vertovec, S. (2002). Islamophobia and Muslim recognition in Britain. In: Y. Y. Haddad (Ed.), Muslims in the West: From sojourners to citizens. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • En ligneWagner, U., Christ, O., Pettigrew, T. F., Stellmacher, J., & Wolf, C. (2006). Prejudice and minority proportion: Contact instead of threat effects. Social Psychology Quarterly, 69, 380 – 390.
  • Waldmann, P. (2006). The radical community: A comparative analysis of the social background of ETA, IRA, and Hezbollah. In J. Victoroff (Ed.), Tangled roots: Social and psychological factors in the genesis of terrorism (pp. 133-146). Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press.
  • Wiktorowicz, Q. (2005). Radical Islam rising: Muslim extremism in the West. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, Inc.
  • YouGov (2005) YouGov British Muslim Online Survey. Retrieved from
Nicole Tausch [**]
Russell Spears [**]
Oliver Christ [***]
  • [***]
    Department of Psychology, University of Marburg, Gutenbergstraße 18, 35032 Marburg, Germany. E-mail:
Cette publication est la plus récente de l'auteur sur
Cette publication est la plus récente de l'auteur sur
Cette publication est la plus récente de l'auteur sur
Mis en ligne sur le 01/01/2011
Pour citer cet article
Distribution électronique pour Presses universitaires de Grenoble © Presses universitaires de Grenoble. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Chargement en cours.
Veuillez patienter...