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Religious Freedom and Islamic Terrorism: Study Analysis

Religious Freedom and Islamic Terrorism: Study Analysis


If the some of the religious community radicalise and kill people… What do we do? Do we shut down their places of worship? Do we monitor their services? Do we restrict growing religious influence? Do we out-right ban the religion? Do we restrict their freedom of religion?

In this article, I will analyse a study, “Explaining religious terrorism: a data-mined analysis” by Nilay Saiya and Anthony Scime, which may directly answer these questions or give you the academic backing of which to answer them.

The Study

The aforementioned study suggests that religious freedom is negatively correlated with religious terrorism, as any overt restrictions on religion feed into the Islamist narrative – who are then able to portray themselves as valiant heroes fighting oppression:

“[…] The classification data mining techniques used in this study find that a country’s level of religious restrictions is the most significant variable predicting the onset of religious terrorism—twice more important than any of the other variables. The conditions under which a regime is able to ‘‘repress away’’ terrorism appear to be so context-specific that repression cannot generally be adopted by governments as an effective antidote to terrorism. This does not mean that other variables are unimportant, however, as this analysis has shown. In certain combinations, a country’s level of democracy, size of population, land area, geographical location, predominant religious tradition, history of foreign occupation, regime stability and the number of religious minorities matter in conjunction with religious liberty. These findings do not suggest, of course, that religiously free countries never experience religious terrorism or that religiously restrictive ones always do. The point is, nonetheless,that efforts to restrict religion do not always succeed in diminishing religion’s influence. Our theory explains why this is the case. Quite often such restrictions serve to foster radicalization and give credibility to the claim made by extremists that their faith is under attack. Repressive environments that strangle religious freedom and independent thinking serve as a natural breeding ground for extremists. When states prevent religious groups from practicing their faith, such groups are likelier to turn to violence as it is seen as the only way to bring about change.”

Reference: Explaining religious terrorism: A data-mined analysis.


The study gives it to us straight: restricting religious freedom is directly correlated with an increase in terror-related activities by said restricted religious community. Extrapolating along these lines, this is probably why we see many movements appear in places like Uzbekistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The narrative of violence that the Islamists feed off, within their religion, is strongly connected to the oppression narrative. Uzbekistan has been entangled in cases of mass arrest, overt surveillance of Mosques, and other acts which may be seen as persecutory.

Some interpretations of jihad state that jihad is fighting oppression within and around oneself. What this confirms is that it is quite a supremacist, aggressive, and expansionistic religion, and that any concern by a host population could lead to perceived persecution and backlash violence. This is the “abused wife” predicament: do you continue or do you do something about it? If both lead to violence, which one is predicted to eventually end the violence? The key point is that a particularist view of religious doctrine leads to one ultimate conclusion: to fight oppression of their religious inheritance and freedoms. This on its own promotes religious unity for a common and just cause, in which the community may support, but also one that gives way to violence and potential acts of terrorism.

Some authours have speculated that therefore religious freedom is the best weapon against Islamic terrorism. I disagree, as such interpretations of scripture only feed the oppression narratives of governmental control and religious strangulation. Other oppression narratives may include disbelief in monotheism, shirk, et cetera, which feed violent tendencies in scripture without governmental intervention.

In other words, terrorism is not only affected by top-down approaches but from the ground-up also. To simply suggest that complete religious freedom will dismantle all the narratives that extremists and terrorists exploit is not only naive but bluntly incorrect. However, it is about time that we recognize the “Energizing the Base” theory in action. Clearly, Islamists are “energizing” a population not only based upon governmental actions but upon inter-community and individual understanding of religious pathways to violence. Disrespectful top-down approaches speed up and reinforce that process.


The study cites these recommendations:

  • The inclusion of religious groups and individuals in policy-making and other governmental processes.
  • The usage of religious groups as a buttress between extremism and the oppression narratives at play.
  • For policymakers to carefully and tactfully consider religious liberty as a priority in regards to countering the oppression narrative exploited by extremists.
  • The implied stances are that outright banning, discriminating against, or targetting certain religious groups, will lead to further violence and terrorism. The “abused wife” dilemma.


In conclusion, this study suggests that overt restrictions on religion may lead to more violence. Violence in this capacity, which is often seen as retaliatory and just, and thus supported by a greater population, and may lead to an even bigger terrorist movement. To dismantle the bite of the oppression narrative, religious freedom and liberty must be looked upon carefully and tactfully by policy-makers. But we must also recognise that terrorism is not simply top-down and that other narratives fill the void from the bottom-up.

Originally Published on my Blog @

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