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The War for Brainpower


by Austin Bay
October 29, 2003

Calculating terrorists long ago determined education is a major battleground in their global struggle. The war for brainpower matters, since creative minds seed the future.

Al Qaeda has its own school system. Al Qaeda-backed madrassahs serve as Islamo-fascist recruitment and training centers, with the Koran as interpreted by Osama bin Laden their core text. Graduates hijack jets and commit mass murder.

"Alternative" education, of course, challenges the terror cadres' noxious curriculum. Thus, the terrorists wage war on "Western" education. The war on liberal education rarely makes the news because sources are so effectively silenced. Islamist terrorists use a mafioso method, personally threatening Muslim intellectuals and scholars. Here's the offer the scholar can't refuse: Shut up, or we kill you. In lands without the rule of law, radical guns hush rational voices.

This war, however, was a footnote to a recent headline. The U.S. convoy ambushed by Hamas killers in Gaza Oct. 15 carried diplomats preparing to interview Palestinians for Fulbright scholarships. Getting an American education is an attractive proposition, particularly for students in the world's more bitter and chaotic corners.

Terrorists realize Iraq is now their central front. A stable and increasingly democratic Iraq is not only an example to the rest of the Middle East, it is a self-policing counter-terror ally.

To secure Iraq's future and further marginalize would-be bin Ladens, Iraq has to rebuild its education system.

That includes rebuilding and improving Iraqi universities and technical institutes. Baath Party fascists controlled Iraq's advanced educational institutions. While certain sciences received state emphasis (particularly in areas with a military payoff), the Baath lackeys put political reliability over scholarship.

This past summer, Dr. Lattie Coor, former president of Arizona State University, helped assess Iraq's post-Saddam universities. The survey group included former Texas A&M President Ray Bowen and University of New Orleans Chancellor Gregory O'Brien.

"The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) wanted a more complete review of the universities and recommendations for improving their situations prior to the (October) donor conference," Coor told me. The American Council on Education, The National Associations of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, and the Association of American Universities sponsored the survey team.

Physical damage by looters to university infrastructure is a major problem. "Three of the four universities we visited in Baghdad were destroyed in almost unimaginable ways," Coor said. "The University of Baghdad was severely damaged, particularly in its computing and physical sciences facilities. They were not only looted but burned." The team did not visit the university in Basra because damage there was so extensive. However, the team found the university in the Kurd city of Sulamaniyeh to be in comparatively good shape. The damage led to the team's first recommendation: money to rebuild facilities and provide technological infrastructure, including Internet connections and computer equipment, as well as connections to American libraries.

Coor said "isolation of scholars" is an even more intricate problem. Under Saddam, few Iraqis could leave to take degrees outside of Iraq. The U.N. sanctions regimen made travel all but impossible. "Young Iraqi faculty members need to catch up (with current information)," Coor said. Isolation extended to "both print and electronic information materials." The team recommended a substantial increase in exchanges of Iraqi students and faculty with Western schools.

Coor called the team's third major recommendation "targeted investment."

"One of the premises of everything we recommended is to get these universities ... to focus efforts on multidisciplinary topics essential to the future of Iraq. We recommended funding institutes in which universities (collectively or individually) compete for grants, for example, in agricultural or petroleum-related studies, topics most likely to be of value to a growing and successful Iraq." The team recommended funding a national institute for science and technology.

Iraq has 19 universities and over 50 technical institutes. The universities now have new presidents, and none of them were Baath Party members. How did the Iraqis treat the American team? "Not only did we not encounter any resistance, but there was a very great eagerness to connect with the worldwide academic community. They want us to get their students and faculty out to Western universities."

And when they arrive, it will be another defeat for the planet's bin Ladens.

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