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Western Political Rhetoric and Radicalization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2020

William O'Brochta*
Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Margit Tavits
Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Deniz Aksoy
Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Does anti-Muslim rhetoric by Western politicians breed radical attitudes among European Muslims? This article explores this question by conducting an experimental study in Bosnia – a European democracy, where, unlike the rest of Europe, Muslims are neither immigrants nor socio-economically disadvantaged. This helps clearly identify the radicalization potential of Western rhetoric alone, absent contextual factors such as social inferiority. Experimental evidence with Bosnian Muslims from five surveys (with a total of 2,608 participants) suggests that rhetorical attacks on Islam by Western politicians do not strengthen individuals' Muslim identity, cause higher levels of animosity toward the West or lead to condoning the use of violence. The study also finds that pro-Muslim rhetoric, while increasing positive views of the West, does not affect individuals' strength of Muslim identity or their radical sympathies. These results have important implications for the sources of radicalization and efforts to curb radical tendencies.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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