"There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them."
— George Orwell
Jeffrey Goldberg links to an interesting piece today by Delia Lloyd:
"What most people say is that people who turn to terror are the underclass, excluded, social detritus of the globalized economy," says Anthony Glees, a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence at the University of Buckingham. "But a significant number of people convicted of terror offenses or killed in the commission of those offenses are university students or graduates."
In fact, the Centre for Social Cohesion -- a non-partisan think-tank that studies issues related to community cohesion in the U.K. -- puts that number at slightly over one-quarter for this country. According to a forthcoming report by the center, 26.2 percent of those involved in Islamist related terrorism convictions and attacks between 1999 and 2009 in the U.K. were educated at or above university-degree level. As Glees -- who identified extremist organizations on as many as 30 British university campuses in his 2005 book, "When Students Turn to Terror" -- put it, "Not every radical is a violent extremist. But every violent extremist has been a radical."
Interestingly, two sociologists who looked into the situation determined that Engineers are over-represented among terrorists:
More recently, however, two sociologists -- Diego Gambetta and Stefan Hertog -- discovered that what really matters isn't so much the level of education of would-be terrorists but what they study. According to their research, engineers are four times more likely to pursue violent extremism than their peers in finance, medicine or the sciences. In the West, at least, these scholars found that jihadist organizations actually attract fewer educated individuals, drawing more heavily from the working and middle classes. But there are proportionately even more engineers among their ranks than there are in similar organizations in the Middle East.
In his comments, Jeffrey asks a salient question:
While they're at it, I'm wondering if Gambetta and Hertog can explain why so many Palestinian physicians (even pediatricians) take the leadership of terror organizations.
[He includes a rather chilling exchange from an interview he had with Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Pediatrician who became head of Hamas after the assassination of Ahmed Yassin. Rantisi was later removed from the scene by an Israeli missile in April 17, 2004. The leadership of Hamas during periods of active attacks against Israel is an insecure professional path.]
Although all such outcomes are over-determined, there are some fundamental reasons why Engineers and Physicians end up over-represented among ideologues who are so readily willing to murder those they see as their enemies. In a post from 2007 I specifically considered the genesis of Doctors of Death:
Several trends intersect to produce Doctors of Death. The intellectual underpinnings go back to the Nazis, whose ideology forms part of the ideology of the Islamists, adapted to their interpretation of Islam. For certain types of Doctors who have an overabundance of intellect and an insufficiency of humanity, Physician training can be easily corrupted by ideology.
Physicians during their training must reconcile several seemingly contradictory impulses. In order to cure illnesses it is almost always necessary to first inflict greater pain. Early on, we learn that pain is a signal, it points to the source of the problem. Patients who enter an emergency room in terrible distress ideally should not be treated with pain killers until the Physician has a very good idea what the underlying problem is; the alternative, treating the pain alone without an etiology, risks masking the illness and leading to disaster. While pain medication should never be needlessly withheld, it is often necessary for the Doctor to allow for such pain in the service of the patient's greater well being. Worse, many times manipulations and tests must be done that actually make the pain a great deal worse before a diagnosis can be found and definitive treatment established. The only way for most Physicians to overcome their natural empathy is to objectify the patient in order to maintain an appropriate and helpful distance. Only by turning the patient into an object, for example, can the surgeon allow himself to cut into a human being, causing immediate terrible damage and pain, with the ultimate aim of curing or ameliorating. As our technology improves, the need for pain to direct treatment decreases, but pain will always be a part of Medical practice and, of necessity, so will objectification.
The Nazis took such objectification several steps further. They skillfully created an ideology, based on identity politics, that considered the population as a whole as an organic entity, akin to a person. The body politic was reified. Once such a conceptualization had been made, the step toward seeing certain sub-populations as being akin to infectious agents or tumors, causing illness and distress in the body politic, became inevitable. Medical Doctors then were tasked with curing the body politic by excising the offending sub-populations. The gas chamber followed.
Islam as practiced by the purveyors of Wahhabism, goes yet another step. Here the objectification of the sub-population is religiously sanctioned. Islamic states overtly treat non-Muslims as sub-humans, with limited rights, whose very existence is a stain on Islam, though Islam gains stature by not only tolerating such lesser beings but actually hold themselves out as moral and peace loving by protecting the "inferior" races and religions ("Muslim man's burden", perhaps.)
The confluence of the Nazi inspired objectification of entire populations with its attendant genocidal rationalization with the Islamic religiously sanctioned genocidal rationalizations, creates a powerful toxic mixture which can easily overcome the rationality of a Muslim Physician. Add in the tendency of the Muslim world to eschew any responsibility for their own suffering and the need to project all their hatred and failure onto others, and the Physician, in complete agreement with Mengele, Habash, Rantisi, and Zawahiri, takes it upon himself to "cure" his community by murdering the objectified other. Murder and suicide then become evidence of his loving devotion to the well-being of his people and all the while he keeps himself unaware of the sadistic hate that fuels his "treatment."
The nature of engineering is such that there is a self selection of people who have less than the usual quota of "people skills." The Engineer is then trained to understand problems in the most objective and objectified ways. For someone steeped in the ideology of radical Islam (or raised in a religiously rigorous Islamic household) it is a small step to perceive the problems of the Ummah as stemming from deformations of an ideal system caused by the presence of foreign objects, ie sand in the gears. The necessity of removal of the offending dirt would naturally follow.
In the 14 Signs of Large group Regression discussed by the American Psychoanalytic Association panel at the 2005 winter meetings, number 3 on the list was:
3. Severe splitting. This can occur as a polarity between "us" and "them" or within society.
Fundamentalist Islam specifically divides the world into the World of Islam and the World of War, members of the Ummah and infidels.
Number 10 on the list was:
10. Dehumanization. Exemplified by the Nazis, this is a two-step process. Step one is identifying undesirable humans; step two is turning them into nonhumans, as in the Hutus' degradation of the Tutsis, referred to as cafrads, or insects. Interestingly, the Tutsis were also called the "Jews" of Rwanda.
The combination of a Regressive religion which fosters splitting and dehumanization with specific intellectual pursuits which foster objectification of other human beings can, in unfortunate cases, create a toxic mixture which enables the emergence of the well educated terrorist murderer.
Ideologues have always valued the masses more than the individual human beings who occasionally have to be purged for the "good of all." Islam does it as well as any other ideology we have seen.