Muslim immigrants who feel marginalized and discriminated against in countries with high expectations of integration are more likely to experience psychological threats to their own significance which may increase increase support of radicalism, according to new research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 125th Annual Convention.
“We found that immigrants who identify with neither their heritage culture nor the culture they are living in feel marginalized and insignificant,” said presenter Sarah Lyons-Padilla, Ph.D., of Stanford University. “Experiences of discrimination make the situation worse.”
Lyons-Padilla presented two studies on the subject. One of the studies focused on 198 male and female Muslims aged 18 to 35 living all over the U.S. who were asked about their cultural identities and attitudes toward extremism via online surveys.
The majority of participants lived in Maryland, Virginia, and California; 92 were first-generation immigrants and the rest were second-generation American-born. The majority (105 participants) identified Pakistan as their heritage country.
Participants were asked how connected they felt to their heritage culture as well as to American values, and how they felt about their level of integration in their new country. They were also asked if their religion or cultural background had ever led to hostile or unfair treatment and how connected and significant they felt.
Finally, the participants were told of a hypothetical fundamentalist group made up of young Muslims in the U.S. They were told that this hypothetical group made clear its stance against American maltreatment of Muslims and that they promised belonging, commitment, and loyalty to potential members.
While violence was never explicitly mentioned, the group clearly justified extreme actions to support its cause.
The participants were asked how much they thought most people they know would like the hypothetical group, how willing these friends would be to engage in the group’s activities, and to what extent their friends would sympathize with the group should it engage in extreme behaviors, such as participating in illegal or violent demonstrations or damaging people’s property.
The findings reveal that marginalization and discrimination were tied to feelings of insignificance, which became stronger with the experience of more discrimination and, in turn, predicted an attraction to fundamentalist groups and their extreme behavior.
In the second study, Lyons-Padilla explained why countries in Europe are facing more cases of homegrown radicalization than the U.S.
The survey involved around 400 recent Muslim immigrants to either Germany or the U.S. in late 2014. The findings show that in Germany, described as a tight society that expects more conformity, Muslims reported having a more difficult time integrating than immigrants in looser societies, such as the U.S.
This could be due to the perception that the tighter society is not open to cultural diversity, said Lyons-Padilla. Those who were not well-integrated were more likely to show support for extremist practices, the survey showed.
In the survey, all participants were asked about their acculturation experiences and perceptions of the larger society.
For example, they were asked to rate their agreement with statements such as, “In this country, there are very clear expectations for how people should act in most situations,” and “Most Americans/Germans are not interested in learning about other people’s cultures.” Participants were also asked about their desire for integration into their host country’s culture.
Finally, to gauge their support for radicalism, they were asked whether they would sacrifice their life or endure suffering for an important cause. She noted the results are preliminary as the study is undergoing peer review.
“In what has also been referred to as a vicious cycle of prejudice, we find that lower levels of openness to diversity are associated with lower levels of cultural integration,” she said.
“Difficulty integrating, in turn, shapes support for extremism. Our findings therefore suggest that radicalization is not merely a process that takes place within individuals, but that the larger context of reception plays a crucial role.”