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The French Connection

Explaining Sunni Militancy Around the World

A French flag with the message 'Paris Brussels Solidarity' is displayed next to flowers with the colors of the Belgium flag in front of the Belgium embassy in Paris, France, March 23, 2016. Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters

The mass causality terrorist attacks in Paris and now in Brussels underscore an unsettling truth: Jihadists pose a greater threat to France and Belgium than to the rest of Europe. The body counts are larger and the disrupted plots are more numerous. The trend might be explained by the nature of the Islamic State (ISIS) networks in Europe or as failures of policing in France and Belgium. Both explanations have merit. However, our research reveals that another factor may be at play: French political culture.

Last fall, we began a project to test empirically the many proposed explanations for Sunni militancy around the globe. The goal was to take common measures of the violence—namely, the number of Sunni foreign fighters from any given country as well as the number of Sunni terror attacks carried out within it—and then crunch the numbers to see which explanations best predicted a

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