Book Project

The Moderates' Dilemma: Countering Violent Extremism in Indonesia

Why do moderate majorities often fail to coordinate opposition to extremist minorities? Using the case of violent Islamist extremism in Indonesia, I show that moderates and extremists face asymmetric costs in the decision to voice their private preferences publicly. This asymmetry results in a failure of moderates to act collectively in line with their individual beliefs, a coordination dilemma which I call the “Moderates’ Dilemma.” I use original survey data, observational data, and case studies to substantiate the dilemma and show that its severity varies by an individual’s sensitivity to reputation costs and uncertainty about support for violence. My dissertation is comprised of four parts: developing a theory of moderate mobilization; defining and testing a typology of moderates and their characteristics; empirically testing the observable implications of the dilemma; and using case studies to highlight the dilemma for elites relative to the masses.  This work draws on theory from across social science disciplines to understand the microfoundations of moderate mobilization. In doing so, it straddles the boundary of international relations and comparative politics to shed light on the obstacles to countering Islamic extremism in the contemporary world. 



Selected Work

"The Moderates' Dilemma: Obstacles to Mobilization Against Islamist Extremism" (Under Review)

Why do moderate majorities often fail to coordinate opposition to extremist minorities? This paper offers an explanation for the microfoundations of moderate mobilization in the face of extremist minorities using the case of Islamist extremism in Indonesia. In particular, I show that moderates and extremists face asymmetric costs in the decision to voice their true preferences resulting in a coordination dilemma for moderates, which I call the “Moderates’ Dilemma.” An original survey experiment and observational data of participant behavior during two additional surveys demonstrate that moderates hide anti-violent views for fear of reputation costs and that these effects vary by individuals’ sensitivity to reputation costs and degree of uncertainty of others’ attitudes. These findings suggest that over 16 million Indonesians may be hiding moderate preferences and have significant implications for countering violent extremism policies globally. 


"Impunity and Religious Extremism: Understanding Electoral Incentives in Indonesia"

What explains local variation in religious extremism? Under what conditions do ethnic and religious cleavages translate to institutionalized discrimination and violence? This paper argues that the electoral threat of religious political parties with ties to extremist or fundamentalist agendas incentivizes secular parties to allow impunity for low-levels of extremist violence to avoid alienating voters sympathetic to fundamentalist policies. Using election data and an original dataset on acts of extremism in Indonesia, this paper shows that as the electoral threat of an Islamic party increases, ruling secular parties decline to punish low levels of extremist action to avoid being labeled anti-Islamic and losing pivotal voters. In addition to testing the outlined theory, I explore and dispel alternative explanations for the variation in communal violence in Indonesia. 


"Unintended Consequences: Resources, Gulf Migration, and Attitudinal Shifts" (with Alexandra Blackman)
Selected for the American Political Science Association Middle East and North Africa Workshop 2015

Historians and social scientists have identified the rise of the Arab Gulf states as one of the primary factors underlying the spread of more conservative forms of Islam and rise of Islamist identities over the last fifty years. However, the extent of the effect and its underlying mechanisms have been difficult to establish empirically. This paper explores the relationship between the rapid expansion of labor migration to the Arab Gulf states and the proliferation of Islamist political identities. We use election data from Egypt and the Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey, as well as ethnographic accounts of migration, to show the link between Islamism and Gulf labor migration. We also use these data to explore the possible pathways through which this relationship operates.