Ideological Education and Terrorism

With the sting of the latest terrorist attacks still lingering, questions regarding radical Islam have once again surfaced, from the legitimate to the Islamophobic. When it comes to support for ISIS, the Economist reports that a Pew study from last spring finds that attitudes toward the terrorist group in 10 Muslim-majority countries were “overwhelmingly negative.”:

It found that 99% of Lebanese and 94% of Jordanians, for instance, held “very unfavourable” views of the group. Even in Saudi Arabia, a country whose Wahhabist creed is seen as a wellspring of jihadism, there is little indulgence: in a face-to-face poll in September sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank, a scant 4% of Saudi respondents expressed any degree of support for the group.

However, the same article provides this interesting, if not disturbing, insight about those who do support the terrorist organization:

“Teachers and preachers and professors declare support for the bombings, and stay in their jobs, and then we wonder why youths go and join [IS],” laments a Twitter message from Ali al-Jifri, a popular Sufi leader in Abu Dhabi. Muhammad Habash, an exiled Syrian Islamic scholar, argues on the website All4Syria that IS is not a product of some conspiracy but the outcome of mainstream religious teaching: he notes that one of the group’s most effusive Facebook cheerleaders is a former professor at a Saudi university and the daughter of a noted Syrian preacher. Interviewed on SkyNews Arabia, Ibtihal al-Khatib, a Kuwaiti writer, contends that IS did not emerge from a void but from a heritage that Islamic thinkers refuse to re-examine: “We are paying a price for keeping silent for many years, but now that harm comes knocking on our doors we have to accept responsibility.”

Research indicates that many terrorists are both educated and well-off financially. While increased education may slightly decrease support for terrorism, economist and Brookings fellow Madiha Afzal finds that ideological curriculum (specifically in Pakistan) may be responsible for the rising extremist views among the younger population:

My regressions also show that older people have more unfavorable opinions toward the Taliban, relative to younger people; this is concerning and is consistent with the trend toward rising extremist views in Pakistan’s younger population. The problems in Pakistan’s curriculum that began in the 1980s are likely to be at least partly responsible for this trend. Urban respondents seem to have more favorable opinions toward the Taliban than rural respondents; respondents from Punjab and Baluchistan have more favorable opinions toward the Taliban relative to those from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which as a province has had a closer and more direct experience with terror.

Afzal’s research finds that across the educational spectrum, an overwhelmingly majority hold unfavorable views of terrorism. But her data provides an important counterpoint to those who simply think education in the abstract is the answer. One can be highly educated, but when that education is ideologically biased, intolerant, and exclusionary, then those indoctrinated are likely to be as well.


1 thought on “Ideological Education and Terrorism”

  1. One thing that is really interesting to me is the way the folks who designed the curriculum that is now leading to terrorism probably are among those most horrified at what their own creation has wrought. It’s as though they sought to create a generation who sounded radical, but gave no thought to what would happen if the generation actually was as radical as they sounded… which goes to the issue of symbolic beliefs again.

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