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.