Counter-Terrorism: July 12, 2005


One of the strengths of Islamic radicals is their influence, or outright control, over primary education in their home countries. Most Moslem countries dont spend much on education to begin with, partly because, historically, the clergy took care of basic education. There's also the problem of who controls most Moslem countries. It tends to be a feudal collection of families, that own most of the land, and political power. A better educated population would only create more troublemakers. In countries that have produced a lot of young Islamic terrorists, there has been a pattern of low government spending on education, and lots more by religious organizations. For example, Pakistan spends only 1.7 percent of GPD on education. The United States spends five percent, and India, not a wealthy nation, spends 4.3 percent. But religious schools, run by Islamic clergy, and largely paid for by Saudi Arabian charities, provide parents with another option. These schools, called madrassas, spend about 40 percent of their time teaching religious subjects, with the rest being devoted to things like, grammar, rhetoric, public speaking, logic, philosophy, Arabic literature, Islamic law, theology,  medicine, mathematics, polemics, and so on. This is, to Westerners, an old fashioned curriculum. It is, and this is intentional. A madrassa attempts to educate their students to be observant and capable Moslems. 

Madrassas have been around for over a thousand years, and underwent a revival, and renewal, in the 19th century, when the current curriculum was developed. In many Islamic countries, the madrassas are supported by local contributions, and are expected to give the kids a good basic education (something between primary and high school.) But the Saudi charities have put much of their money into madrassas that teach in the style of conservative Islamic madrassas found in Saudi Arabia. This means a lot of emphasis on how evil non-Moslems are, and how good a thing it is for Moslems to fight against all those evil infidels (non-Moslems). This curriculum includes a large dose of kill the Jews. This is where al Qaeda came from. This is where many of the recruits for Islamic terrorism come from. Countries with a lot of these lets go kill infidels madrassas have been trying to shut them down. Pakistan has over half a million students in madrassas, and many of them spend more time teaching religion and hate, rather than practical subjects. The government has had some success in getting the madrassas to improve their teaching, and adhering to standards. But, in general, the Pakistani madrassas continue to churn out the hate. Saudi Arabia has more control over education, but faces resistance from the religious establishment when attempts are made to tinker with the curriculum. 

The United States, recognizing the crucial role madrassas in indoctrinating young men (hardly any girls go to madrassas), has offered educational assistance to Moslem countries. But the need is so great, and the madrassas so numerous (were talking over 100,000 schools throughout the Moslem world), that it would take more money (tens of billions of dollars a year) than Congress would approve, to have a serious impact. The problem has more to do with corruption in Moslems countries, and disregard for the importance of useful education. Thus we always come back to the need for fundamental reforms in Moslem countries, which many citizens of those countries want. But ancient tradition, and resourceful dictators, make it difficult to carry out those reforms. Not impossible, look at Iraq, but difficult. Look at Iraq again.


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