July 9, 2010:
While university educated terrorists get a lot of media attention, most ideologically motivated terrorists are poorly educated (many are illiterate). Poverty and illiteracy is a great motivator to do something desperate, in the off chance it might improve your lot. Thus most of the violence in the world occurs in countries with low literacy rates. While the planetary literacy rate is 87 percent, its only 29 percent in Afghanistan. It's even worse in the Pushtun tribal territories (about 15 percent on the Afghan side, 23 percent on the Pakistan side). The Taliban are a Pushtun movement, and the Islamic radicals are determined to keep literacy low. They also believe in prohibitions on women working outside the home, and the use of entertainment technology (music and videos, in particular, and don't even try to dance). Modern weapons and vehicles are another matter, as long as women are not operating these devices.
This illiteracy is a key factor in keeping radical Islam going in places like Afghanistan and Somalia (24 percent literacy rate). Islamic radicals believe in education, but a special kind of education, which is taught in a madrassa (Islamic school), and stresses memorizing scripture and learning how to hate non-Moslems more effectively.
The majority of the Islamic terrorists (gunmen, suicide bombers, helpers of all sorts) come from madrassas. Such schools are found all over the Islamic world, but the ones that produce the most terrorists are those that teach a conservative form of Islam, usually one that justifies militant Islam, hatred of non-Moslems and a favorable attitude towards Islamic radicalism. There are probably fewer than five million kids attending these conservative madrassas. But these schools turn out thousands of potential terrorists each year.
An extensive study of the madrassas in Pakistan found that only about ten percent all schoolchildren were attending the religious schools, and less than twenty percent of these schools taught militancy and hatred against non-Moslems. Most of these Islamic schools were concentrated in the Pushtun (tribal) areas. The most dangerous madrasses teach a conservative version of Islam and stress the need to fight infidels (non-Moslems), but they also teach basic literacy and some math. Since most Islamic states have terrible educations systems, parents see madrassas as a viable option.
Even with the 20,000 or so madrassas in a place like Pakistan, you still have over a third of the children not in school. The national literacy rate is 56 percent in Pakistan. The Gulf States only got high literacy rates in the last few generations, courtesy of all that oil money. Saudi Arabia and Iraq have achieved literacy rates close to 80 percent. But Pakistan and Afghanistan haven't got that wealth. Then again, neither does China, which has a literacy rate of 90 percent (as do most of the East Asian nations). It's a culture thing, which is not politically correct to even mention.
Even children going to state schools in Islamic nations, will get a lot of religious instruction. Parents who can afford it, send their kids to "Western" schools that teach subjects that will help the children get ahead in life. For Moslem nations, students are encouraged to study religion, even in college. While many Moslem kids realize that studying technical subjects will do them more good, at least economically, the Islamic nations turn out fewer technically trained graduates, per capita, than in the West.
This attitude towards secular education has left most Islamic nations illiterate, poor and incubators of terrorism. Trying to change that, brings out the wrath of the Islamic clergy, who insist that the best education is a religious one, and no education at all is best for girls.
A lot of Western economic aid to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, is for education. Most parents favor this. It's no secret that better educated kids grow up to be wealthier adults. And with an education, you can make it big in the West. But these "Western schools" are anathema to Islamic militants, and in some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, attending such schools, or teaching in them, can get you killed or maimed.