Examining Islamic Extremism

October 1, 2007

Researchers at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will lead a two-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice aimed at finding out how Muslims in the U.S. address messages of extremism in their communities.

The purpose of the project is to develop policy recommendations for reducing the likelihood that the U.S. will develop homegrown terrorist networks like those seen recently in Europe.

"In light of the recent events in London and Glasgow, it is critically important to understand why widespread radicalization has not occurred in the United States and take steps to reinforce this trend," says David Schanzer, a visiting associate professor of the practice of public policy at Duke and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

The National Institute of Justice—the research arm of the Justice Department—recently awarded the center $394,000 for the study.

Center researchers will seek to learn from the responses of four American Muslim communities to radical Islamic movements across the globe, says Charles Kurzman, a UNC-CH associate professor of sociology and co-principal investigator in the project. Along with another co-principal investigator, Ebrahim Moosa, associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke, and graduate students from both universities, Kurzman and Schanzer will study Muslim communities in Buffalo, New York; Houston; Seattle; and the Triangle.

Of those areas, only Houston has been free of violence attributed to Islamic extremism, Kurzman says. In the other three, one or two incidents attributed to individuals acting alone were denounced by other local Muslims.

"Osama bin Laden and other revolutionaries have argued that it is the responsibility of every Muslim who can do so to engage in violent jihad, but few Muslims have taken up this call, especially in the United States," Kurzman says.

"It is critical that we see what we can learn from these communities. We hope this research will be helpful to policymakers and law-enforcement officials."