June 14, 2005


The Madrassa Myth (PETER BERGEN and SWATI PANDEY, 6/14/05, NY Times)

While madrassas may breed fundamentalists who have learned to recite the Koran in Arabic by rote, such schools do not teach the technical or linguistic skills necessary to be an effective terrorist. Indeed, there is little or no evidence that madrassas produce terrorists capable of attacking the West. And as a matter of national security, the United States doesn't need to worry about Muslim fundamentalists with whom we may disagree, but about terrorists who want to attack us.

We examined the educational backgrounds of 75 terrorists behind some of the most significant recent terrorist attacks against Westerners. We found that a majority of them are college-educated, often in technical subjects like engineering. In the four attacks for which the most complete information about the perpetrators' educational levels is available - the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the 9/11 attacks, and the Bali bombings in 2002 - 53 percent of the terrorists had either attended college or had received a college degree. As a point of reference, only 52 percent of Americans have been to college. The terrorists in our study thus appear, on average, to be as well educated as many Americans.

The 1993 World Trade Center attack involved 12 men, all of whom had a college education. The 9/11 pilots, as well as the secondary planners identified by the 9/11 commission, all attended Western universities, a prestigious and elite endeavor for anyone from the Middle East. Indeed, the lead 9/11 pilot, Mohamed Atta, had a degree from a German university in, of all things, urban preservation, while the operational planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, studied engineering in North Carolina. We also found that two-thirds of the 25 hijackers and planners involved in 9/11 had attended college.

Of the 75 terrorists we investigated, only nine had attended madrassas, and all of those played a role in one attack - the Bali bombing. Even in this instance, however, five college-educated "masterminds" - including two university lecturers - helped to shape the Bali plot.

Like the view that poverty drives terrorism - a notion that countless studies have debunked - the idea that madrassas are incubating the next generation of terrorists offers the soothing illusion that desperate, ignorant automatons are attacking us rather than college graduates, as is often the case.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2005 8:39 AM

". . . the idea that madrassas are incubating the next generation of terrorists offers the soothing illusion that desperate, ignorant automatons are attacking us rather than college graduates, as is often the case."

Gotta love your sense of humor, Orrin, and NYTs eagerness to be its butt.

Posted by: Ed Bush at June 14, 2005 9:06 AM

Right. The problem is Saudi ideology and German education.

Posted by: b at June 14, 2005 10:36 AM

More garbage. Can any serious person believe that the ideology taught in Saudi madrassas has nothing to do with terrorism?

The madrassas are not intended to teach terror tactics, but to inculcate impressionable young minds with the requisite hate for outsiders, and sense of entitlement to conquest necessary to make them want to become terrorists.

"The Madrassa Myth", indeed. What a preposterous story.

Posted by: Ben Lange at June 14, 2005 10:57 AM

Where, other than a madrassa, can a would-be terrorist encounter little or no challenge to his violent anti-Americanism and Anti-Western ideology. How about in American and European Universities?

Posted by: Kevin Bowman at June 14, 2005 12:37 PM

The Times Editorial Board meeting?

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2005 12:43 PM

"Like the view that poverty drives terrorism - a notion that countless studies have debunked ..."

My mouth fell open when I read this. I am pretty sure this is the first time ever a mainstream media source has said such a thing! The "poverty breeds terrorism" mantra has been a liberal talking point since 9/11.

Posted by: Kay in CA at June 14, 2005 12:51 PM

It is not clear that we are actually certain of the true identities of all the 911 hijackers.

Posted by: carter at June 14, 2005 2:13 PM


After 9/11, Mark Steyn ran a hysterical column rounding up all the "breeding" metaphors that various commentators had used (i.e, "poverty breeds instability," "desperation breeds resentment," etc.).

Even Yoda, not known for his felicity with the English language, just said fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, etc....thus sparing us the usual rigamarole.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 14, 2005 2:41 PM

I came away from this piece believing even stronger than before in "home schooling."

Posted by: Neo at June 14, 2005 2:43 PM

The obvious problem with this piece is that its authors forget a few critical things.

Posted by: Patrick O'Hannigan at June 14, 2005 4:18 PM

Once again the Saudis are able to find whores in the 'think-tank' industry to parrot their line. Quel surprise!

Posted by: bart at June 14, 2005 4:40 PM

Bergen is hardly a think tank guy. He even interviewed Osama.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2005 5:21 PM

Idiocy. The madrassas are elementary/middle schools. They teach a very limited curriculum. Koran and enough Arabic to memorize it. There is no contradiction between attending a madrasa and going to a western university.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 14, 2005 5:23 PM

Patrick Bergen is a fellow at the New America Foundation. Sounds like a think tank whore to me.

Where did he interview Osama? Was it over pastis at the Hotel des Princes in Monaco or feijoada at the Copacabana Palace in Rio?

Posted by: bart at June 14, 2005 5:56 PM

A cave.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2005 6:49 PM

A cave or a cave des vins, or wine cellar as we say in French. Moulin de Mougins, a Michelin 3-star near Cannes, has quite a good one, that even a Saudi princeling might find satisfactory for his gustatory needs.

The notion that Osama is someplace without air conditioning, a really well-stocked minibar and easy access to call girls, let alone a cave in the Hindu Kush, is just laughable.

Posted by: bart at June 14, 2005 6:57 PM

Osama's dead. Bergen interviewed him when we still allowed him free run of Afghanistan.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2005 7:29 PM

And Saddam had to have been spirited away to some sympathetic Arab capital where he lives secretly in a palace. Found him in a hole.

Posted by: RC at June 14, 2005 11:37 PM

Last thing, I read of Bergen's was a Nation piece,(you just know this can't get any better, but as
they said in the commercial, there's more) trying
to find some value in that wacky Brit Curtis's
film; the Power of Nightmares, where argues there
is no terror threat, and Bush is exploiting the

Posted by: narciso at June 15, 2005 12:01 AM


Posted by: oj at June 15, 2005 12:06 AM