Counter-Terrorism: Throwing The Books At Terrorism


November 21, 2007: A major effort in the Arab Reform Movement is to increase the education levels throughout the Arab world. This will have a major impact on eliminating Islamic terrorists. The widespread ignorance and poverty in the Arab world has a lot to do with the popularity of Islamic radicalism.

But this effort will require more than opening additional schools and universities. One thing that has long been lacking in the Arab world is translations of technical and scholarly books into Arabic. As many reform minded Arabs like to point out, more books are translated into Spanish in one year, than have been translated into Arabic in the last thousand years. That dismal situation is largely the result of religious pressure. Islamic conservative opposition to outside influences is nothing new, and was one of the reasons why the "Islamic Golden Age" of knowledge lasted only for a few centuries, and was replaced by the kind of reactionary behavior that is at the core of groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Another problem with getting stuff translated was the backward, and often nonexistent, state of printing in Arabic. Part of this was technical (written Arabic has many, many rules) and part religious (those Islamic conservatives again). Computerized typesetting has eliminated the technical problems, and the growing number of reformers (including the Saudi royal family) has forced the religious conservatives to back off.

Millions of dollars is being spent on publishing Western works into Arabic. There are plenty of potential translators available, because for generations, most Arabs out for a university education, especially in technical subjects, learned a Western language, so they could read the most advanced material on the subject. In the Arab world, colleges are full of more religious and literature majors than in the West. Part of that has to do with the availability of books in those subjects.

Television, radio and the Internet have a disproportionate impact in the Arab world, largely because of low education levels (lots of illiteracy) and lack of books in Arabic. These electronic media have been used aggressively by Islamic radicals to spread their message of hatred and terror. The best antidote for that is more education and higher literacy levels, and books. Changing the education levels is going to take a generation or two, but it's something that those in the West, and most Arabs, agree on.


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