The Education Cure

Speaking at the UN, George W. Bush says:

Better education unleashes the talent and potential of its citizens, and adds to the prosperity of all of us. Better education promotes better health and greater independence. Better education increases the strength of democracy, and weakens the appeal of violent ideologies. So the United States is joining with nations around the world to help them provide a better education for their people.

Unfortunately, as Kay Steiger points out, “it’s been pretty well documented that the most effective terrorists are the highly educated ones.” Indeed, while there are lots of good reasons to want to improve school around the world, preventing people from becoming terrorists isn’t a good one at all. Check out Peter Bergen and Michael Lind on what actually motivates terrorists, or the 2005 op-ed on “The Madrassa Myth” that he co-wrote with Swati Pandey taking on a variant of the education story which holds that terrorists come from madrassas and that madrassas could be crowded out with better schools.

Throughout history, really, there’s no reason to think that education weakens the appeal of violent ideologies. Pol Pot went to EFR in Paris and Lenin went to Kazan State University. When Marc Sageman looked at al-Qaeda biographies he found that “Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion.”