Militant Islam and the Futile Fight for Reputation

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The reputation debate in international relations has split into two camps: those suggesting actions affect perceptions of resolve and those who say they do not. This article engages the reputationdebate in the context of militant Islamists. Using political psychology, we offer a theory of biased attributions that challenges Mercer's "desires" hypothesis that reputations for irresolution do not form when an act is desirable from the perceiver's eye. Motivated biases undercut any reputation for resolve in cases of firmness and challenge rationalist claims of reputation formation. Militant Islamist perceptions of U.S. and Soviet interventions in the Muslim world since the 1980s support this thesis and caution against futile wars for reputation.