Education Will Not Save Us

The Minister mentioned one of the [Sierra Leone] coup’s leaders, Solomon Anthony Joseph Musa, who shot the people who had paid for his schooling, “in order to erase the humiliation and mitigate the power his middle-class sponsors held over him.” …

Forget Miami: direct flights between the United States and the Murtala Muhammed Airport, in neighboring Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, have been suspended by order of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation because of ineffective security at the terminal and its environs. A State Department report cited the airport for “extortion by law-enforcement and immigration officials.” This is one of the few times that the U.S. government has embargoed a foreign airport for reasons that are linked purely to crime.

- Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy, February 1994

A portrait is emerging of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — the “Christmas Bomber” who was thwarted as he tried to detonate a bomb as he flew from Nigeria to Detroit — that should chill liberal policymakers to the bone. Despite what we might like to think, he was not some rough kid from a broken home radicalized by Islamists in the ghettos of Nigeria. He was in fact a member of the uppercrust of Nigerian society and had studied at elite private schools in Togo and Britain, where he lived a very comfortable lifestyle. His father was a former Minister of Finance for the Nigerian government, a prominent banker and a respected businessman, who was so concerned about his son’s religious fanaticism, praise of terrorists, and study of Arabic and Islam in Yemen, that he alerted US authorities of his son’s radicalism six months before the attack (unfortunately, it didn’t do much good).

Some in the UK think it has to do with extreme leftist educational institutions that espouse anti-Americanism and protect extremist Islamist thinkers under the guise of free speach. But this may have less to do with it than the effect of education on a mind not tempered by other social and personal safeguards. Indeed, this type of education and family background is not the exception among terrorists — it’s practically the rule. Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attacks, was an Egyptian national, son of a lawyer, who attended graduate school in Germany. That’s a similar background to Ayman al-Zawahiri, a founder of Al Qaeda and reported to be it’s “brain”, the son of a university chemistry professor who trained to become a physician. And of course, Osama Bin Laden is a member of the Bin Laden family, one of Saudi Arabia’s richest families.

I believe the lesson from this is that education will not save us in the long-term battle against terror. Nigeria has millions of destitute young men living in absolute poverty. So do dozens more Muslim countries. Yet most militants are radicalized not by homegrown religous institutions, which tend to be very conservative and preserving the status quo (indeed, religious leaders in Nigeria were quick to condemn the recent attempted plane bombing). The danger as always is radical thinkers that want to violently destroy the status quo and existing institutions.

Whether it be 19th century France, 20th century Russia and China, or 21st century Islamic World, education is never a cure for extremists driven to violence, and pursuing education of the masses as a countermeasure to the spread of extremism is nonsense. Indeed, that may provide the venues and networks for the thinking that justifies terrorism and militancy.

SIDENOTE: There’s a second topic to follow here, also addressed by Kaplan’s 1994 article, that Nigeria is crime-ridden and corrupt, with notoriously dangerous airports, that should be a major warning sign to US authorities.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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5 Responses to Education Will Not Save Us

  1. Rick says:

    “…pursuing education of the masses as a countermeasure to the spread of extremism is nonsense.”

    Granted. But isn’t it still a generally good idea to pursue “education of the masses”?

  2. Joe Jones says:

    As a coda to Kaplan’s 1994 piece, the oil industry has made air travel to Nigeria much more accessible. Delta now flies nonstop from Atlanta and United just started or will start a nonstop flight from Washington. The foreign airlines don’t trust Nigerian security so they all have a second layer of metal detectors and TSA approved screeners before the gate. The problem in this case was that only a full-body patdown would have detected the explosive in this numbnut’s skivvies, and that’s rare unless someone is on a watch list.

    Oh wait…

  3. Pingback: » Education Will Not Save Us | Drakz News Station

  4. Beauty says:

    In 2005, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) warned that “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ‘ego.’” The Christmas day terrorist has shown the Pope´s view as only but a part of many. “Education will not save us” is also another perspective that does not take into account other views.

    Just because a Londonistan trained terrorist almost created another massacre in the name of Islam does not mean we must write off education regardless of background. Education is the way forward and not just for terrorists. How about those failures in law enforcement with their false logic of just watching the small fish in order to catch the really big ones. How does the rule of law feature in all of this?

    “Pursuing education of the masses as a countermeasure to the spread of extremism is nonsense”? Another false premise. Unfortunately some still believe in a divine law revealed from heaven which is incompatible with the concept of the rule of law whic marks out a civilised society from barbarism. Education is not only learning about Principia Mathematica, it is a life long effort for all.

  5. Roy Berman says:

    I think you’re missing the point a bit here. Revolutions, rebellions, and insurrections by the proletariat/masses/peasantry have, in modern history at least, often been perpetrated and led by elites that were educated abroad, often in the ruling country in the case of a colonial uprising. All of the examples you are pointing out in the post come from very, very elite backgrounds within their society- but not a single instance of someone coming from a solid middle-class background in an area that actually has HAD mass education. Based on all of the data you present, I think it makes more sense to argue that the danger comes when you have a tiny cadre of highly educated individuals coming from a society that lacks mass education. Long term, mass education is the only real solution to extremism, but the problem is that it has very little short term effect. One has to be prepared to wait for a couple of generations.