Culturalists claim that political outcomes, such as respect for human rights, should be understood as culturally determined. Others see structures or the short-term strategic behavior of actors as more important. We examine empirically whether majority-Muslim societies suffer higher levels of human rights violations and political terror relative to others. Our results show robustly that countries with larger shares of Catholics fare far worse than all others. A discrete variable measuring membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference predicts lower levels of political terror. Thus, claims about the unique features of Islam in accounting for political repression seem to be highly exaggerated. Consistent with the findings on religion and democracy, our results indicate that it is the Arab region, not religion, that matters, and that political and economic factors matter a whole lot more than do cultural ones. This is good news for policy that seeks to end the scourge of political repression short of revising culture.
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