It is still widely believed in leftist circles that the generic Islamic terrorist is the product of ignorance and poverty. This idea – that terrorists are a persecuted minority of the ignorant and downtrodden – dovetails neatly with another liberal tenet: that the problem of modern terrorism is amenable to a socioeconomic solution. Typical of this putative class of terrorist is “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. A petty criminal who was arrested in his teens for assaulting an elderly woman, and who was in and out of prison for most his adult life, Reid considered himself a victim of racism. He was thus promising material for conversion to Islam: the Jihadists love to glom onto disaffected and benighted losers to do their dirty work.
But even liberals are coming around to the view that many acts of terror are being planned and carried out by “educated” members of the Islamic middle class, not a few of whom have come from affluent and privileged backgrounds. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer, states in his book Understanding Terror Networks that a high percentage of al-Qaeda operatives are college educated (34 percent) and come from skilled professions (45 percent). A governmental report prepared for the CIA in 1999 entitled “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?” reached the same conclusion.
However, some qualification of the word “educated” is in order. While secondary education in some Islamic countries like Malaysia is modeled on the Western system, in the Middle East it is largely the responsibility of the madrasahs (religious schools), which are dedicated almost exclusively to religious instruction and indoctrination. Though not all these institutions are stridently anti-Western, the fact that the curriculum is entirely religious-based, i.e., focused on the Quran and the hadith, means that the average madrasah graduate is blissfully unaware of the modern world and thus a receptive vessel for the anti-American narrative promoted by militant jihadists.
For example, if you were to ask a madrasah graduate to explain what role the Christian democracies have played in world affairs in the twentieth century (the Anglo-American alliance that defeated German imperialism in 1918, the Nazi-Fascist Axis in 1945, and international Communism in 1989), they would have no idea what you were talking about. Indeed, so profound is their ignorance of current events and world history, few would even know there had been a Cold War.
If the number of Nobel laureates is any measure—Islam, 20% of the world’s population, has produced 6, while the Jewish community, a tiny minority of 0.2%, has produced 165—intellectual curiosity is not a highly rated virtue in the Koran; “Islam” is a Syriac word meaning submission, which is the surrender of the mind to faith, i.e., the abdication of free conscience and independent thought to the teachings of the Prophet. Most so-called “educated” jihadists, those who see themselves as symbolic emissaries of Islam and are fully convinced of the rectitude of their cause, suffer from a cognitive disorder Thomas Aquinas called “invincible ignorance.” The best (or worst) you can say of graduates of the madrasahs is that their knowledge of history and world affairs is roughly equivalent to that of an average American fourth-grader. In no other culture, society, or religion is the pursuit of knowledge viewed with such virulent contempt and ignorance of the world considered evidence of virtue.
So when we speak of “educated” jihadists we are referring to training and expertise in a specialized technical field or in one of the professions, like medicine. Practically all university-educated jihadists are engineers and technologists. In terms of general education, however, middle-class, university-educated jihadists like Mohammed Atta, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Jordanian double agent Mulal al-Balawi aren’t much better off than ordinary graduates of the illiberal and benighted madrasah, i.e. they reason with the intellectual sophistication of superstitious children. Exposure to Western science and technology does not erase years of obscurantist religious indoctrination and conditioning. Like their fellow supplicants, they have been taught from early childhood to believe that the West, and Israel and America in particular, are their mortal enemies; and that Western Enlightenment values, and the temptations of Western popular culture, constitute a diabolical conspiracy to defile and undermine their religion.
According to a Congressional Research Services report published in 2008, radicalized madrasahs in Afghanistan were incubators for the Taliban movement:
In the 1980s, madrasas in Afghanistan and Pakistan were allegedly boosted by an increase in financial support from the United States, European governments, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf states all of whom reportedly viewed these schools as recruiting grounds for anti-Soviet mujahedin fighters. In the early 1990s, the Taliban movement was formed by Afghan Islamic clerics and students (talib means “student” in Arabic), many of whom were former mujahedin who had studied and trained in madrasas and who advocated a strict form of Islam similar to the Wahhabism practiced in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
The Madrasahs are, in fact, indispensable to the perpetuation of Islam’s medieval worldview. Deprivation of information about life and the ways of the world is an essential tool for infantilizing generations of Muslim students: isolated from reality, these adolescent novitiates never encounter the world as it is and thus never achieve full adulthood. Their maturation into self-actualized individuals is defeated by a distortion field of fanatical dogma and a rancorous hatred of the infidel; while Islam’s demonstrable inferiority to the West fans a searing humiliation and inchoate resentment that cuts them off from every decent human instinct.
Since these embryonic jihadists have no inclination or opportunity to discover their own humanity they will never sense any solidarity with the community of mankind. In the Muslim view the non-Islamic world constitutes “the other,” i.e., the enemy of Islam. In place of humanity Islam offers its young men the spiritual blessings of imams, mullahs, and ayatollahs, and the unsurpassed exhilaration and exaltation of martyrdom.
But while the motivations of information-deprived terrorists are comprehensible, the complacence of Dar al-Islam is unfathomable. One can only gasp with disbelief on learning that in nuclear-armed Pakistan, an ally which the U.S. has bankrolled with over a billion dollars in aid yearly, 64 percent of the population views the U.S. as an enemy. What is to be said of a country where one in five trust Osama bin Laden more than Barack Obama, and of the population that clings to these beliefs after Taliban militias have penetrated to within sixty miles of Islamabad, and after Al Qaeda has, according to estimates of the World Health Organization, killed 150,000 Muslims in Iraq alone? The forces of paranoia, superstition, and ignorance will not be quelled by reason: the roots of anti-Western sentiment are deep, global, and generational in Islamic society. Indeed, how could it be otherwise in Middle Eastern states where outlawing political debate, saturating the media with anti-Western slogans, and propagating hate speech in mosques and in school textbooks, have become institutionalized strategies to maintain political power and prop up incompetent tyrants?
I happened to be teaching at a government prep school in Malaysia, a country that practices a relatively benign version of Islam, during the siege and occupation of the U.S. embassy in Teheran by revolutionaries of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and I was surprised when a devout but gentle Muslim teacher approached me and half-apologetically explained his admiration for the revered Iranian religious leader who had lately occupied the world stage. I hadn’t expected him to repudiate the Ayatollah for fomenting revolution against the Shaw (self-determination is the right of every decent society) but I was disturbed to hear him countenance the storming, and the imprisonment the staff of, an American embassy that was under the protection of international law.
So sacrosanct is the concept of diplomatic immunity that the Italian Minister Bettino Craxi allowed Mohammed Abbass, leader of the Achille Lauro hijacking, to leave Italy because he had a diplomatic passport issued by Iraq. In the history of revolution, some perpetrated by ruthless and vicious regimes, the taking of hostages of a foreign embassy was unheard of. Moreover, to countenance Ayatollah Khomeini was to countenance his barbaric fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, a criminal incitement to the assassination of a celebrated novelist and blatant attack on the very roots of Western civilization. What did such reckless and defiant acts portend for the future of Islam and the world? The lawless Ayatollah had passed the infallible litmus test for fascism that had been the mantra of every tyrant in history: What’s Mine is Mine and What’s Yours is Mine.
The complacent attitude of my Islamic colleague whose faith in the Iranian Ayatollah was absolute and who believed the revered spiritual leader could do no wrong, was almost as disturbing as the event itself; for me and my generation, his viewpoint bore an eerie resemblance to the mindless adoration of the German people for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. How a gang of inept sociopaths succeeded in taking over the country that gave the world Kant, Goethe and Beethoven is still something of a mystery. When asked about it, most Germans simply shrug and say they awoke one morning and found the Nazis in control. Something like the Nazis’ stealthy seizure of power seems to be taking hold in Islam: a cabal of sociopathic clerics masquerading as a holy religious cause appears to be co-opting Islam in an apocalyptic confrontation with the civilized world with the passive compliance of Islam itself.
The 2005 Pew survey below would seem to indicate that the support of mainstream Islam for violence is diminishing. Such fluctuations in attitude are probably due to increased awareness of the self-liquidating nature of the jihadist philosophy and internal contradictions of Islamic fundamentalism. Such trends can be misleading because the primary cause for jihadist violence still exists, i.e. a culture that has no intellectual tradition, and that uses information deprivation to manipulate the faithful.
As the examples of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Khmer Rouge show, unanimity is not a prerequisite for the takeover of a society. With a misinformed, cowed, and submissive populace, a scant minority of determined fanatics can do the job. What Dar al-Islam does not fully understand or refuses to admit, even to itself, is that the rise of child-martyrs and ignoramus-jihadists in its midst holds more peril for Islam than it does for the West.
Dealing with Islamic mentality for the first time can be a startling and eye-opening experience for a Westerner. Confronted with Islam’s negative view of the West, one is beset with an overwhelming sense of futility. The problem lies not in only correcting facts, or in supplanting illusion with objective information; this is a mentality so steeped in obscurantist tradition and ignorance that it has never developed any standard for truth; rather “truth” is something used to hoodwink an opponent. And this is an ignorance so absolute and on a scale so extensive that it is impossible to convey it to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. One quickly realizes that in an ignorance this total any fiction, no matter how outrageous, can not only survive but take permanent residence and flourish.
This is a problem that can only be corrected by a major overhaul of the Islamic educational system. For where there is no concept of truth, there is no idea of free inquiry. Thus, it would appear that the tender-minded liberals had it right after all: this is a socioeconomic problem. The children of Islam are the disadvantaged educationally-deprived victims of deliberate parental abuse and theological violation, and nothing will change until this problem is remedied, either by Islam itself or by the political and cultural disaster that certainly awaits it over the horizon of history.
Finally, for those who question the power of the Mosques and madrasahs to infantilize and dehumanize Muslim society, and to cocoon a population in near absolute ignorance, there was this AP filing on April 19, 2010:
A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear immodest clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes. “Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” the cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Mr. Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday Prayer leader. Women in Iran, one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, are required by law to cover from head to toe but many, especially the young, ignore some of the stricter codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair. “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?” Mr. Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon on Friday. “There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.”
It would probably be disrespectful to suggest that Sedighi is himself getting off on those sexy Iranian bints in tight coats and exposed locks. Nonetheless the lip-smacking relish with which this revered Shiite cleric describes the cause and effect between male arousal and earthquakes is certainly suspicious. Surrealistic decrees from Iran’s delusional leadership have taught us not to be shocked by any communiqués originating in Teheran, but Westerners would probably be surprised to learn how many listeners in Sedighi’s audience actually agree with this childish nonsense. More to the point, the grim-mouthed cleric spouting this vile claptrap is the venerated prayer leader for a regime that is acquiring the capacity to build nuclear weapons and the rocket technology to deliver them.
William Fankboner is the author of The Triumph of Political Correctness and A Hypertext Field Guide to Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. He runs a web site at: http://home.roadrunner.com/~lifetime. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.