Can Palestinian Arabs Support Democracy and Terrorism Too?
What is the relationship between attitudes toward democracy and support for terrorism? James A. Piazza of Penn State University examined just that in his relatively recent article: “Democratic skepticism and support for terrorism in the Palestinian Territories“.
His abstract states that some citizens of Arab countries in general view democracy as an intrusion into their Islamic worldview and support for terrorism is, then, a form of resistance. The Palestinian context is apparently more complex than that: residents of the PA who are “terrorism supporters … reject democratic rule because they associate it with poor economic performance” as well as it being incompatible with Islam.
Although Penn State is not a top-tier university nor the journal in which the article appears a very highly ranking one, the article has already been cited by 8 other academic articles in the year since it was published. This is problematic because misleading conclusions in this superficial and flawed study are thus passed on, accumulating a degree of academic legitimacy. One this I can say for this article it that it led me to learn something very important for understanding economic decisions taken by the PA leadership; you can read about that here.
Attitude toward Democracy and Support for Terrorism
Piazza asked PA residents to what degree they support terrorism against civilians in Iraq as resistance against the American occupation (their term) of the country, and to what degree they support ISIS. Herein lies the first problem with the article: how relevant are these instances of terrorism to residents of the PA? Why did Piazza not examine attitudes to democracy among the percentage of the population who support terrorism against Israel? I wrote to him asking him about this and have not yet received a response.
In any case, his results show that support for these two forms of terrorism is low, with only 5-13% of the populations of both Judea-Samaria and Gaza in favour. (This is barely different from the Arab world as a whole, in which support for Iraqi and ISIS terrorism is held by only 2-11% of the population.) This marginal sector of the PA population holds the belief that democracy is inconsistent with Islam and that democracy causes economic instability. So?
Remarkably, Piazza notes that the great majority of Muslims everywhere support democracy. In fact, Piazza found in the current study that about 70% of the PA population are in favour of democracy and 60% do not blame democracy for economic instability. I think this is more telling than the attitudes of the less than 13% of the population he looked at, but Piazza does not discuss this at all. It also makes me wonder why he even thought this piece of research was worth doing; its publication reflects poorly on the editors of the journal.
I imagined that support for terrorism against Israel would be higher than 13% and thus much more important to explore. In fact, another paper demonstrated just that with data from a 2015 Pew survey (I left in the column showing the sad fact that Israeli Muslims barely differ from Arabs in the PA):
Here we can see a clear difference between the low level of support for ISIS and the high level of support for terrorism committed by Hamas and Hezbollah. It would be among the 40% of the population supporting anti-Israel terrorism that attitudes toward a number of variables would be instructive. And I doubt whether attitudes toward democracy would prove significant at all.
Research has consistently shown that personal socioeconomic factors do not play a part in whether or not someone becomes a terrorist against Israeli targets and Piazza seems to think he has uncovered an important collective socioeconomic factor at play. Frankly, however, I am much less concerned with that 5-13% he writes about than I am with the 40% of PA residents and Israeli Muslims who support terrorism against Jews (such as in this article). But maybe that is just me.