Education will not save us, Part 2

In December 2009, less than half a year ago, I wrote that education will not save us from terrorism. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Christmas Bomber” thwarted as he tried to detonate a bomb as he flew from Nigeria to Detroit, was not a 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, his father was a former Minister of Finance for the Nigerian, and he had studied at university in London.

And it is with that introduction that I introduce the Pakistani-born Faisal Shahzad, the person believed responsible for parking an SUV full of fertilizer in Times Square earlier this week.

educated terrorists

Faisal Shahzad is the son of a Pakistani military official born in 1979, but he had lived in the United States since the age of 19. He had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from US institutions.

Like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, he didn’t leave much of an impression with those who knew him. He was quiet and kept to himself. He managed to obtain an H1B visa for the US in 2002, a stunning achievement after the 2001 recession and 9/11, when the number of these visas being issued was reduced dramatically and were only available for very few skilled workers. Cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden, where Shahzad worked as a temporary clerk and then in the accounting department, applied for the visa on Mr. Shahzad’s behalf through an employment agency called Accountants Inc.

He went on to marry a Colorado-born wife of Pakistani background, and they had two kids together. After Elizabeth Arden, he worked for more than three years as a consultant in a Connecticut financial marketing company. He obtained US citizenship last year through his wife, a natural born US citizen. Things went sour recently — he gave up his home in a foreclosure and left his job — and his family is back in Pakistan, and he was bound to join them when he was captured by the FBI on a Dubai-bound plane.

To all of this, I can only repeat my Robert D. Kaplan-esque conclusion from my previous post–education will not save us. The long-term battle against Islamist terror is actually fueled by the promotion of education. Whether it be 19th century France, 20th century Russia and China, or 21st century Islamic World, education is not the cure for political extremism but often the catalyst to violence. Pursuing the mass education of the poor as policy to counter the spread of extremism, is misguided.

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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28 Responses to Education will not save us, Part 2

  1. Cato says:

    I think you left out a key adjective. Higher education is highly overrated, and even dangerous when radicals are exposed to it. The main purpose of higher education these days isn’t to educate, but to indoctrinate people into hating Western civilization.

  2. phoneranger says:

    Are you being descriptive or prescriptive? Are you recommending that higher education be curtailed for at-risk populations i.e. young Muslim males? Or that we should just give up on higher education globally in the interests of preserving Western civilization? (per Cato)

  3. Aceface says:

    I love the T-shirt dude on the left is wearing.Should be an official camouflage outfit for all regiment of Al-Qaeda.

  4. Ralph Hitchens says:

    I disagree. Mass education benefits the masses, and the disaffected (like Shahzad) are a cost of doing business, a side effect. I’m guessing he would have been some kind of troublemaker even without his Master’s degree. Keeping the masses stupid is worse than dealing with the occasional outlier.

  5. Master Cook says:

    I agree, but for somewhat different reasons.

    At least in the US, education is widely viewed or confused as job training. People try to get higher degrees in order to get professional jobs and other work at a similar level. This may be the same in other countries.

    If there are not enough of these jobs to absorb the products of your higher education system, you have just trained a bunch of people for jobs that don’t exist. They may be unemployable at lower level jobs due to being “overqualified”. Congratulations, you have just produced alot of trained, intelligent people who don’t fit into your system! I have gotten the impression that this happens particularly often in the Middle East.

    I’m sceptical of the “education is used to indoctrinate them to hate us” argument, my experience with education is that students tend to focus laser like on the content that will get them the grade and ignore everything else, and to the extent indoctrination occurs, it is through not teaching certain viewpoints and facts, which students can’t discover on their own because they are too busy trying to master the material which is taught.

  6. Terrence says:

    “Education” as such will of course not save us. However this is because it often comes into a person’s life after their worldviews and biases have been set quite thoroughly and completely.

    Education (i.e. ability for critical thinking and analysis outside of one’s own personal context) starts early and starts with the home culture. Certain cultural and societal morays and habits and values (especially in the Islamic world) do not traditionally allow for this sort free thinking or questioning of authority.

    Thus, the education that we think we’re giving sometimes (often?) doesn’t go toward crafting a worldview that questions the beliefs they were raised with, but only goes toward reinforcing those earlier worldviews or beliefs.

    The same cognitive dissonance or unwillingness to reorient worldview in the face of new information is seen all the time in both individuals and cultures alike. The difference with the Islamic world is they have a penchant for blowing things up and killing people as a reaction to being unable to reorient to the new information and world around them.

  7. kurt9 says:

    This should put to bed once and for all the silly liberal notion that poverty causes terrorism.

    This may be a generational thing. The left-wing terror groups that dominated headlines in Europe during the 1970′s were mostly upper class youth who rejected their hyper-competent fathers.

  8. says:

    Pursuing the mass education of the poor as policy to counter the spread of extremism, is misguided.
    He was not one of the ‘poor masses,’ he was the son of a high-ranking official.

  9. Markus Wolf says:

    KURT 9 wrote “This should put to bed once and for all the silly liberal notion that poverty causes terrorism.”
    I wonder if Shahzad only saw the attraction of terrorism once his house was foreclosed and felt he couldn’t hack it in civilized society. If you feel you are a failure it is so easy to be swayed by people offering you salvation and recognition. Doesn’t some of the Palestine suicide bombers do it for the cash their family will receive rather than the glory of obtaining the goals of Hamas…..
    I personally think self-worth determines the path that you lead, and poverty can play a large part in how you judge yourself compare to others. It is probably easier to be angry and thus coerced if you poor and there is no way out.

    “Pursuing the mass education of the poor as policy to counter the spread of extremism, is misguided.” Nonsense. Mass education of the poor, no matter what reason should be a basic right. I don’t care that in order to get resources for education for the poor that we have to say it helps stops the spread of terrorism, so long people are getting educated that is all that matters. I personally believe that educating the poor will lessen the allure of terrorism.

    The doctors at Glasgow airport with their London bombing attempts, and the Red Army Faction were all intelligent, but I say terrorism is due to low moral fibre and a weakness to resist indoctrination and education helps combat some of that indoctrination.

    On a final note, how hard would it be for Al-Qeda or whoever just to write out clear instructions on how to do a car bomb. I mean Glasgow, London, New York, probably others, these guys carrying out these attacks are supposed to be intelligent, but surely it isn’t that hard to do. Hell, raise some money and employ an ex-IRA man as a contractor to show you how it is done. I bet you the people who comment on this topic could build a better car bomb than these so called terrorist masterminds.

  10. kurt9 says:


    I agree if one looses financially and the house ends up in foreclosure, one will feel a certain hostility towards society. Such feelings are common in this situation. What I was referring to is the liberal notion that people from impoverished third world countries are driven to terrorism because of that poverty. If this was the case, the poorest countries in the world would produce the most number of international terrorists and this is not what we see. Instead, we see Islamic terrorists from mostly well to do families from the Muslim middle-east or Africa.

    I especially resent those like Jerad Diamond who claim that we “may have to feed the hand that may bite us”. I don’t do anything with the hand that may bite me except blow it off with a .45 if it gets in my way.

  11. Markus Wolf says:


    I agree with your view, but also that education does play a part in reducing terrorism. I agree that we like to skip over how hostile Saudi Arabia’s financially well off young men seem to be towards us, and there is, I am ashamed to say, a hint of a shadow in my soul where i wish we could just destroy the country and start again there.
    Certain countries, for all its undemocratic ways, are smart in making people feel that the enemy is not their government that is oppressing them but the west and they are brought up to hate us. We have to attempt through education to try and undo their indoctrination.
    I agree with your thoughts on Diamond and using a .45. I always agree with The Untouchables on how to deal with them “He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue “.

  12. Ahsan says:

    I have to agree with Markus Wolf.

    It’s resistance to evil that people must build. Ironically,, religion is usually a “programme” to resist evil. But how do you resist the evil ideas that mutate out of religion? Was Machiavelli correct when he indicated the Church was the cause of evils in the Italy of his time? Perhaps that explains his effort to disconnect, ideologically, the strands of rule from the hands of unearthly rule or its representatives.

    There was an item recently about a Pakistani cleric who’s written a _scholarly_ fatwa against terrorism running to 600 pages. What about the viruses already implanted in young minds? How are they to be reached? They need to be given a solution, a framework, a narrative that reconciles the friction in their minds (e.g clash of civilizations).

    I think mankind is inherently attracted to evil, whatever its manifestation may be. Ultimately, religion has failed to solve the problem, and has /become/ the problem in today’s highly networked environment.

  13. Ahsan says:

    P.S I’m a young, Pakistani, educated male. And no, my daddy ain’t rich :)

  14. kurt9 says:


    Education is certainly desirable, not to reduce terrorism, but just to promote economic growth in an of itself. Female education especially correlates with reduced birthrates in every society in the world. Certainly the world is better with a developed Chine (one that I can travel and do business in) than the impoverished Maoist China of 40 years ago.

  15. spandrell says:

    His house wasn’t foreclosed, he moved his family to Pakistan and stopped paying the house. His move into Jihad was previous to the foreclosure. So its not that he tried to assimilate but the bankers forced him into Jihad.

  16. tdaxp says:

    To continue the example, it is doubtful that the Cultural Revolution could have occurred without help from the foreign-educated elite that expelled the KMT in the 1940s… or that China could be saved from such Emperor Worship without the same elite in the 1980s…

    Education as a basic right? I doubt it. Life, liberty, and property are basic rights. Education can safeguard these rights, or detract from them, depending on the circumstances.

  17. wintermute000 says:

    You guys have the cart soooo before the horse.

    a.) He wasn’t educated in the US. He did higher education in the US – a specific, vocational course to boot – which above posters have pointed out is more akin to job training. Basic tenets and cultural values were imprinted in him a long time ago.

    b.) Its not the poverty that directly attracts the terrorist, its the injustice they see in the poverty. You really think Muslims would be all p-ssed off with everyone else if they were kicking behinds and taking names with world class economies and achievements? Unfortunately and for a myriad of complex reasons the enlightenment passed by the Islamic world and they retained the nexus of religious and political world view, stifling development. Now in the 21st century most predominantly Islamic countries are lagging far behind (except for the ones that have lots of oil, even there the wealth is inequitably distributed). So of course they are looking for someone / something to blame. I daresay that if they were properly educated in a non religious environment/context they would be able to take a long hard look at the failures of most Islamic regimes in the modern era without automatically blaming everything on the West. Cases in point: SE Asian nations, all took an almighty hiding during the colonial era, do you see them lying down and moaning about it now, no, they are laughing at the US’s balance of payments.

  18. Marcus Wolf says:

    Education should be a basic right. Property shouldn’t be. Property should be a consequence of your education.
    Kurt9, we are agreeing without being clear about it. I think that education helps in the reduction of terrorism, but that is through the economic growth that education brings.

    I think education should promote equality, liberty and life. I think any education which say promotes that woman are inferior, whether it through the teachings of any religion, should be stamped out. Does that I mean I am advocating that we become the worlds policeman and inflict on the rest of the world our beliefs that all people are equal? Why not, why can’t we be idealist and save the world from the misguided views of some religions or states. For instance, why not ban the importation of Chinese goods, for all their human rights atrocities. Or say, we wont import oil from a state which gender inequality. Impractical, yes, but we would adapt.

  19. Ahsan says:

    Education ~ Educated?

    In what sense are we using the word? I define Education as cultural, vocational, ethical, libreral (well, it depends on your course!) programming.

    In many (most?) countries, religion is part of the course! Imagine that, a poor system of knowledge delivery (education) delivering a diabolical topic!

  20. Bob Harrison says:

    My thoughts:
    Education is good if it leads to economic empowerment. It usually, however, leads to the embrace of subversive anti-establishment ideas. Teaching someone how to design an electrical system who will then go to get a job designing electrical systems is good. Teaching someone about the Evil Imperialist West is pointless and only creates violent radicals, be they Marxists or Islamists.
    Abdulmuttalab and his ilk are no different than the children of rich Americans who embrace Marxism or other radical ideologies to fill the void in their lives left by lack of basic material struggle present in the lives of the other 90% of humanity. As the child of rich Americans I credit people like Robert Kaplan (and of course for preventing me from going down that decadent and misguided path.
    Basically I want to get rid of all the English/LitCrit departments in American universities and redirect the resources to worthwhile fields of study.

  21. wintermute000 says:

    Bob if we do that then what are we doing here gabbing on about strategic studies? Its a bit narrow minded to restrict education to only fields that have direct economic / employment benefits. We might as well throw out three quarters of human cultural advancement, including key enlightenment philosophies such as, ooh I dunno, capitalism, division of church and state, liberalism (non US sense of word – Locke, John Stuart Mill et al), classical music, etc.

    Funny how the most extreme leftists or rightists often come from privileged backgrounds – the lack of basic material struggle s is two sided sword. I’ve heard silver spooners say things like ‘oh the workers in my dad’s factory take a smoke break every couple of hours, so obviously they’re being lazy and not working hard enough’. This is why I really believe that everyone should be forced to work a sh-t kicking job for a year like a form of economic ‘military service’.

    disclaimer: political science degree by education
    network engineer by trade

    so I can see both sides of the fence ;)

    And finally Bob, don’t get too worked up about those parasitic lib arts graduates, they pay a high cost for their dandyism (why do you think I eventually gave up ‘the dream’ to painfully climbed up the corporate IT ladder)

  22. spandrell says:

    Marcus Wolf is a deluded zealot.
    Good luck stamping out all humanity’s “misguided views”. Methinks we outgrew the inquisition and all that stuff.

  23. kurt9 says:

    I don’t think education will do anything about international terrorism, but it certainly will reduce the retail domestic violence that is common to places like Sub-Saharan Africa.

  24. Ted Gault says:

    Do you know why a lot of these terrorists are middle or upper class? It is not just about education. I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that they have the luxury of a lot of free time to devote to revolutionary ideas. Isn’t that how it is for a lot of revolutionaries throughout history? Another strong characteristic of terrorists is a strong sense of isolation. They develop their hard line ideas partly as a reaction to feeling left out of their adopted societies in Europe and the United States. If you look closely at these terrorists, you’ll also notice that many of them have a feeling of being trapped and not able to advance any farther in society. The difference here is that they scapegoat these feelings on the West.

    And I have to laugh at all of the ideologues who rail against higher education. You must be feeling a little threatened to be so concerned about where other people decide to spend part of their lives. Fox News, a news source that claims more than any other to be unbiased, is far far more indoctrinating than most universities.

  25. Markus Wolf says:

    “deluded zealot”, no don’t think so. It is so easy, childish and lazy to give people labels. Spandell – if I say Obama is wrong you will probably call me a racist.
    Come on spandrell, have a viewpoint, say what you believe about the above story instead of being pedantic about the foreclosure and calling me names. What do you believe in – or are you one of those unimaginative drones who just adopt the majorities viewpoint without truly believing in anything? If so, sir, I truly pity you.

    All I am asking is why can’t I have a government which acts in my moral interest, rather than always putting the economic interest first – I can’t take my material possessions when I die. I’m not launching a crusade, rather I am asking that if my politicians and my fellow citizens preach we follow the core beliefs of equality, liberty et al…. so why do we then continue to trade with those who don’t and thus directly support them. Why not do what we say?

    Bob, I admire that you have made a conscious choice to have political beliefs, but there is nothing wrong in having views which support communism/Marxism or any other isms, it is your right. It is the chaos and thus the debate which results from all the different political viewpoints which make democracy great. Eng Lit, we need it, we have to encourage a free thinking society, and so what if those people end up as hippies or worse IT managers :-)

  26. spandrell says:

    pedantic? It changes the whole narrative. One could blame the whole episode on his going desperate after losing his house. But he didn’t, it was his becoming a jihadist which caused the whole thing.

    And you want the government to follow your moral interest? Because you’re taking your moral superiority when you die?
    We’re supposed to take that seriously? How’s that not being a zealot?

  27. Curzon says:

    Did anyone else hear that the apparent cause of the terrorist act was a recent South Park episode, and that the bombing was targeting Viacom, the parent of Comedy Central?

  28. Eddie P says:

    The largest terrorist in the world today is the United States.
    This is surely beyond debate.
    Perhaps the author of this post might want to direct his zeal for education
    towards the people of the United States ?