February 11, 2007

What doesn't cause terrorism?

Terrorism has complex and non-obvious causes. Just a moderate amount of contemplation and study make this evident. On the other hand, there are many "reasons" which seem quite plausible to many, but which turn out to be superficial.

Everybody knows about the madrassas in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. These are usually believed to strengthen the Islamic moorings in students, legitimize religious intolerance and the use of violence. It is hard to verify this belief. One needs to really study the inner workings of several madrasssas before reaching a conclusion.

As an implication, it widely held that the graduates of these madrassas usually go on to become terrorists. This seems to be definitely wrong. At least as far as many recent terror attacks are concerned. I came across this article in NYT by Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey which address this question.

They look at the educational backgrounds of 75 terrorists who participated in major terror attacks recently.
We found that a majority of them are college-educated, often in technical subjects like engineering. In the four attacks for which the most complete information about the perpetrators' educational levels is available - the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the 9/11 attacks, and the Bali bombings in 2002 - 53 percent of the terrorists had either attended college or had received a college degree. As a point of reference, only 52 percent of Americans have been to college. The terrorists in our study thus appear, on average, to be as well educated as many Americans.

Further only 9 of these 75 attended madrassas. All these 9 participated in the Bali attack. But even that attack was masterminded by 5 college-educated people.

It appears quite likely that madrassas, which may very well be breeding and nurturing violent hatred of the West, do not produce terrorists.


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