Thursday, September 14, 2006

You don't say?

Harvard University and RAND recently teamed up to study the correlation between suicide bombing and education. They've concluded that "just like for regular workers, experience and education improve productivity", where productivity is defined as succeeding in blowing up the target.

Especially worrisome is the apparent rise of terrorists whose origins seem far from fanatical. ... These terrorists are not desperately poor uneducated people from the Middle East. A surprisingly large share of them have college and even graduate degrees. Increasingly, they seem to be from Britain, like the shoe bomber Richard C. Reid and most of the suspects in the London Underground bombings and the liquid explosives plot. This has left the public wondering, Why are some educated people from Western countries so prone to fanaticism?

The relation between terrorism and education is a question which the Times article never gets around to answering. It then goes directly to reporting Harvard/RAND study findings that educated terrorists are deadlier than uneducated terrorists, which one would have guessed.

They gathered data on Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel from 2000 to 2005 and found that for terrorists, just like for regular workers, experience and education improve productivity. Suicide bombers who are older — in their late 20’s and early 30’s — and better educated are less likely to be caught on their missions and are more likely to kill large numbers of people at bigger, more difficult targets than younger and more poorly educated bombers. ... Experience and education also affect the chances of being caught. Every additional year of age reduces the chance by 12 percent. Having more than a high school education cuts the chance by more than half. There are many examples where young or uneducated terrorists made stupid mistakes that foiled them. 

But if the NYT punts, blogger and Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw does not. He wrote on what little was known on the correlation between educational attainment and terror and noted that while education (or the lack of it) had no discernible impact on a person's decision to become a terrorist, it had a measurable effect on his efficiency once he embarked on a career of murder. He concluded, "So education seems to have negative externalities for this population: It does not reduce participation in terrorist activity, but it increases the efficacy of the terrorists." But academic Robert Pape suggests there is a direct correlation between educational attainment and the decision to become a suicide bomber. In his book Dying to Win, Pape argues that:

“In general, suicide attackers are rarely socially isolated, clinically insane, or economically destitute individuals, but are most often educated, socially integrated, and highly capable people who could be expected to have a good future” (200). Pape discusses problems of data-gathering (201-02). He establishes 462 individuals in his “universe” of suicide terrorists available for analytical purposes (203). Hezbollah suicide bombers in the period 1982-1986 were 71% Christian, 21% Communist/Socialist, 8% Islamist (204-07). In general, suicide terrorists are in their early 20s (207-08). Females are fewer in Islamist groups:

Although I wouldn't want to make too much of Pape's observation, the evidence he cites suggests that a Western educational system,  in which a demography of "71% Christian, 21% Communist/Socialist, 8% Islamist" would be found might actually be a more dangerous breeding ground for terrorism than a madrassa. It would at any rate explain the NYT's question: "Why are some educated people from Western countries so prone to fanaticism?" Sometimes one is too close to the question to see the answer.

My bonnie looked into the gas tank
The heart of its contents to see;
I lighted a match to assist her,
oh bring back my bonnie to me


Blogger rickl said...

Christian Hezbollah suicide bombers? I'm confused.

9/14/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger felix said...

Another feature of the jihad attacks is their conspiratorial nature and the relatively large number of attackers mobilized for each attack. On 911, 7/11, Bombay, Madrid, for example, there were multiple explosions timed to go off at the same time. This is truly and obviously a war, not a few lone derranged bombers.

9/14/2006 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


It is a curious demography, and I don't have access to Pape's book right now, only the Wikipedia citation. But it's not entirely implausible. I was reading Zarqawi's bio last night and the man did not start out religious. He was crook and a sex offender to start with. Arafat was at one time something of a Marxist. Carlos the Jackal converted to Islam, but was presumably something else before that. The current al-Qaeda spokesman, Adam Gadahn, is the grandson of Jewish surgeon, once on the board of the anti-defmation league. But it's something to check on. Maybe some poster can help.

9/14/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger 3Case said...

"...Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
till he rules everything..."
-Springsteen; Badlands

They are rich men with problems being king and delusions of ruling everything. Bourgeois losers.

9/14/2006 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger Asher Abrams said...

Harvard University and RAND recently teamed up to study the correlation between suicide bombing and education. They've concluded that "just like for regular workers, experience and education improve productivity", where productivity is defined as succeeding in blowing up the target.

But how is "experience" defined?

9/14/2006 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger J said...

"These terrorists are not desperately poor uneducated people from the Middle East"

Have terrorists ever been poor uneducated people? Guys like Che Guevara and OBL didn't grow up in trailer parks. Every time I've seen a writeup on the past of some suicide bomber in Israel, they seem to be educated, upper middle class or wealthy, and generally middle eastern versions of the same assholes who staffed organizations like the SLA, Weather Underground, or Bader Meinhof Gang. There are exceptions to the rule of course, but I'm a little concerned that outfits like RAND and researchers from Harvard are surprised at this.

9/14/2006 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger Dewage said...

You would expect smarter people to be more successful at setting and obtaining goals. It's common in the U.S. military as well as jihad, you have to pass a test before becoming a Ranger, for example.

You would also expect smarter people to be more politically aware and 'altruistic', they being better able to recognize an act necessary "for the commone good."

And, unfortunately, all you have to do is look around to see smarter people appearing more nihilistic.

There might not be much money in being a poor, stupid, baby-factory slaving away for "the man", but they do seem to sleep better at night...

9/14/2006 08:58:00 PM  
Blogger Final Historian said...

Christian Suicide bombers? Hmmnn....

Seems to me that Hizb'allah might be trying to create its own Janissary Corps...

9/14/2006 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Free West said...

Indeed, it's not surprising that terrorists and their instigators are from rich and (supposedly) educated segments of their societies.
Well, this is to a large extent a RELIGIOUS WAR. Religion is a huge motivating factor. The religous motive transcends social class. So it would be wise to consider the religious perspective.
Well, a strong argument can be made that Islam is a heresy, a flawed neo-pagan parody of the Judeo-Christian concepts, and rigid and unable to reform, at that.
It would be well to read Hilaire Belloc "The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed" and St. John of Damascus "The Heresy of the Ishmaelites."
Hilaire Belloc, writing in the 1920s and 30s, was eighty years ahead of his time !!!
The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammad

St. John of Damascus was a contemporary eyewitness of early Muslim history and quite a curmudgeon.

The Heresy of the Ishmaelites

9/14/2006 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

71% Christian suicide bombers and only 8% Muslim. Ain't buying it. 71% Muslim and 8% Christian, maybe. Christians have this thing about suicide. It's a one way ticket to hell. No virgins and other spiritual rewards await the Christian who takes his life. Not buying Pope's number for a second.

9/14/2006 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Looks like an indictment of our educational establishment which seeks to indoctrinate rather than educate.

Our schools, public and private, instead of instilling pride in our American freedoms, are alienating students with leftwing claptrap proven to be disastrous in every area of the world from Africa, Asia, Latin America to eastern Europe, where it's been foisted on long suffering populations.

We better wake up in the U.S. and retake control of our schools from the uber-lunatic left teachers unions and give control back to local communities.

9/15/2006 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger pst314 said...

A Christian demographic???

Better to take a critical look at all those leftist professors teaching the evils of Western culture and free markets, and the goodness of left-wing revolutionaries.

Speaking of which, remember that the French universities, where Stalinism was popular, produced a goodly number of violent Arab radicals.

9/15/2006 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...


What you describe are the conditions for the growth of any cult. What America needs is the same backbone that shut down the communists in 1919-20 and 1948-54 during Red Scare I and II. "Are you now or have you ever been a CAIR sympathizer?"

9/15/2006 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Personally I'd criminalize Al Qaeda and related organizations and automatically try anyone found connected to them with conspiracy to murder. Certainly, they can play tricks with the names, but rely on the reasonable judgment of juries to figure out whether they're Salafist Islamic terrorists.

9/15/2006 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Go for the death penalty and look forward to seeing the little rats amongst us try and defend terrorists to the American people.

9/15/2006 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Harrywr2 said...

"Why are some educated people from Western countries so prone to fanaticism?"

It is not just Western Countries.

Part of the Human Condition is 'Struggle'

Uneducated/underemployed people struggle to eat and pay the rent.

Educated either struggle to move up the "capitalist pig" food chain or attach themselves to some cause.

Osama himself is a 100+ million dollar trust fund baby.

Poor little rich kids with no purpose, so they create one.

9/16/2006 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

Experience? How do you recruit an experienced suicide bomber?

9/16/2006 09:25:00 PM  

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