Monday, May 31, 2010

Defeating Islamism: Education . . . or Not?

Photograph by Olivier Hoslet
(Image from New York Times)

In "The Gadfly," written for the New York Times (May 20, 2010), Nicholas Kristof reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali's new book, Nomad. From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations, and he finds her brilliant though too harsh on Islam but agrees with her on the way to fight Islamism:
Where Hirsi Ali is exactly right, I think, is in her focus on education as a remedy. It's the best way to open minds, promote economic development and suppress violence. In the long run education is a more effective weapon against terrorists than bombs are.
Well, maybe so . . . but there's always the other possibility, that Islamism is more of an educated man's ideology, as Paul Berman suggests in an interview with Michael Totten in discussing how Sayyid Qutb contributed to the suicidal fanaticism of current-day Islamism:
The news media always seem shocked to discover that the latest suicide bomber is an educated guy from a privileged background, but why? I understand it perfectly. An ordinary uneducated person would never get lost reading the dozens of volumes by Sayyid Qutb, but an educated person might. And the next thing they know they've lost their moral bearings, and there they are, ready to pull the plug.
So . . . which is it? What'll defeat Islamism? Education . . . or not?

A likely answer is modern education, the sort that teaches critical thinking, not the sort of rote learning, beaten into kids in madrasahs, that only serves to rot the mind.

Though I wonder if that sort of madrasah education would produce anyone even capable of reading Qutb anyway . . .

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At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The two Brooklyn men arrested for aiding Al-Qaeda were born in the US and Australia and both were raised in Brooklyn. It wasn't rote memorization at a madrasah that rotted their minds although it probably wasn't 13 years of US public school education, either. These two men along with other accused US terrorists were likely groomed at local mosques. In a country with constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, how does one keep mosques from polluting minds and turning well-adjusted, successful American men into terrorists? We can't keep imams from preaching hate in the privacy of their offices or living rooms, but our FBI can keep a careful eye on mosques suspected of recruiting terrorists. Neither bombs nor education are the best weapons againsts terrorists. It is the eyes, ears, and brains of alert citizens, intelligence gatherers, and law enforcement that keep us safe from terrorists and other human threats to public safety. That Pakistani-American who shot up Ft. Hood gave plenty of warning signals that were not addressed properly by the Army, probably because of concerns about appearing anti-Muslim.

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that there are various paths to violent Islamism. Some are through madrasahs. Some are through intellectual seduction of the sort purveyed by Qutb. Some are through alienation with the West from living in it without quite fitting in. Some are through plain old insanity. There are other paths. We have to do the best that we can, using various methods. I agree with you, Sonagi, on our need to be alert.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, there are many paths to violent Islamism as there are to any religion or ideology. While a modern, secular education is preferable to madrasahs, I wonder about the importance of educational background as a critical factor, hence, my doubt that education is the best weapon against terrorists. Education is the answer - it's an idea that appeals, but I wonder if there is data to support it.

At 4:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I wonder, too. Certainly, critical thinking would solve a lot of problems, but many people seem to have visceral, negative reaction to critical thinking.

Moreover, the trust in education ignores the fact that many highly educated men have been Islamist leaders and even suicide bombers (as you've noted).

For believers, this world offers little compensation in return for giving up the promises of paradise, particularly for men, it seems, who are offered those eternally beautiful, ever-again virginal houris (but what do the women get?).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do the women get? I've always wondered about that, too. Maybe they get virgins, too. After a lifetime of dealing with men, I imagine many Muslim women don't want to be surrounded by them in Paradise.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'd be satisfied with an excellent library and a few good conversational partners.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:37 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

As woman, I can understand why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is harsh on Islam. I wonder just how long Islam would last if castration was their religious custom, after one child was fathered. Virgins in the afterlife or not.

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Christian said...

What about the USA at last stop backing unconditionnally Israel for a change? (Which also includes stop thinking that Judgement Day will happen in Jerusalem.) I just read an exerpt of an official report about racism in France and there seems to be a correlation between events in Palestine and bursts of antisemitism in France (from third generation Maghrebis).

It's not education, its utter feelings of despair and injustice. (I don't say that these are always justified, just that they are and that they have consequences.)

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Castration would certainly discourage a lot of men. In antiquity, Judaism appealed more to Gentile women than to Gentile men because the Jewish rite of circumcision put men off (but didn't apply to women).

Castration as a religious rite would be even more of a deterent than circumcision, but even if it didn't deter, the rate of one child per family would halve each succeeding generation, making for an ever-declining religion.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Christian, US foreign policy is only one factor and doesn't explain violent Islamism generally, nor Islamist attacks throughout the world. The US is not always the target. European states are less supportive of Israel but have also been attacked. And violent Islamists have more often attacked non-Westerners. One need only look at the many instances of Islamist violence throughout the world to see that this is not an Islamism-vs.-the-US or vs.-the-West phenomenon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:35 PM, Anonymous Christian said...

Then "violent islamism" may be too wide a category to be explained by the same reasons. Violence between Sunni and Chi'a Islam may be of a difference nature than violence against the West. Europe is more and more considered by violent extremists as an enemy of Islam. This may be because Europe is the strongest ally of the USA, which is an unconditional supporter of Israel. Tainted by association?

At 5:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, we're speaking in generalities here, and you're right to note the Sunni-Shia split. Islamists on both sides of that divide hate each other. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was vitriolic in its hatred of Shi'ites.

But they share a lot of hatreds, so perhaps we can stay on a general level.

Radical Islamists hate the West as an old enemy. Their attacks on Spain, for instance, were not just for its participation in the Iraq War but -- in their own words -- as a jihad to regain Andalusia.

And the Taliban's destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas was carried out because they and Al-Qaeda hate Buddhism and Buddhist 'idols'.

And Islamists attack in Thailand, in Indonesia, in India, in Nigeria, and in many other places throughout the world.

The evidence points toward a widespread phenomenon based on something other than anti-Israeli or anti-Western sentiment.

That's part of what fascinates me about this topic.

Jeffery Hodges

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