Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Education sometimes de-radicalizes Islamists . . .

Rafiullah Kakar

Nicholas Kristof, writing his regular column, speaks of "[His] Friend, the Former Muslim Extremist" (NYT, February 20, 2016), and he tells us that education sometimes helps individuals de-radicalize. Take the case of this friend, Rafiullah Kakar, who was radicalized in high school by a charismatic teacher, but then headed off to college for the shock of his young life:
When Rafi attended college in the city of Lahore, he encountered educated women for the first time. Previously, he had assumed that girls have second-rate minds, and that educated women have loose morals.

"I'd never interacted with a woman," he said. "Then in college there were these talented, outspoken women in class. It was a shock." It was part of an intellectual journey that led Rafi to become a passionate advocate for girls' education, including in his own family. His oldest sisters are illiterate, but his youngest sister is bound for college.
Education, however, doesn't always help. Many radicals are highly educated:
"Education can be a problem," Rafi says dryly.

He's right. It's possible to be too glib about the impact of education: Osama bin Laden was an engineer. Ayman al-Zawahri, the current leader of Al Qaeda, is a trilingual surgeon. Rafi notes that Pakistani doctors or engineers are sometimes extremists because in that country's specialized education system they gain the confidence of a university degree without the critical thinking that (ideally) comes from an acquaintance with the liberal arts.
So, what's the solution? More liberal arts with an emphasis on critical thinking, for one. Educating more girls, for another.

Any suggestions from readers?

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