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International terrorism and the clash of civilizations

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An emerging “clash of civilizations” should reveal itself in patterns of international terrorism. Huntington himself explicitly refers to terrorism in the conflict between specific civilizations, and particularly so in the clash between the Islamic civilization and the West. We confront his hypotheses with ones derived from our theory of the strategic logic of international terrorism. We predict more terrorism against nationals from countries whose government supports the government of the terrorists’ home country. Similar to Huntington, we also predict excessive terrorism on Western targets, but because of the high strategic value of attacking Westerners, not because of inter-civilizational conflict per se. Contrary to Huntington, our theory does not suggest that groups from the Islamic civilization commit more terrorist acts against nationals from other civilizations in general. Nor do we expect a general increase in inter-civilizational terrorism after the end of the Cold War. Our empirical analysis – based on estimations in a directed dyadic country sample from 1969 to 2005 – finds broad support for our theory: foreign political support generates more terrorism against nationals of the supporting foreign country. Our results also suggest that the Rest-West and the Islam-West dyads indeed encounter significantly more terrorism, which is in line with Huntington, but not necessarily inconsistent with our own theory either. However, in contradiction to Huntington we do not find that there is generally more terrorism from the Islamic against other civilizations. Also, we find no evidence for a general structural break in the pattern of international terrorism after the end of the Cold War.

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