Education as a measure for de-radicalization: A notion or a reality?

On 11th September 1893, Swami Vivekananda in his famous speech at Chicago criticized fanaticism by saying "Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now”. Exact 108 years later, on the same day, the USA and the world witnessed one of the deadliest terrorist attacks when the hijacked passenger airplanes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon respectively.
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The suicide attackers (fidayeen) were later identified belonging to a Jihadi organization known as the Al-Qaeda. Nineteen hijackers were responsible for killing close to 3,000 people and injuring thousands others. One of the things common (apart from a radicalized Jihadi mindset) between the founder of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and the 19 fidayeens, was education. Osama and nearly two-thirds of the 9/11 attackers were well educated. This brings us to a larger question. Does education help in de-radicalizing the minds of Muslims and does it make them tolerant?
Consider this. The recent World Bank study based on leaked Islamic State (Daesh) records found out that there is no link between poverty or educational levels and radicalization. This study found that 69% of recruits reported at least a secondary level education while 15% left school before high school and less than 2% were illiterate [1]. The slain ISIS leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi had graduate degrees in Islamic theology. Despite their education, a person like Bin Laden, Baghdadi or for that matter Ayman al-Zawahiri (who was a surgeon) committed grave and heinous terrorist attacks around the globe.

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In the recent times, the tactics of warfare have changed. The terrorist organizations have found new ways to radicalize Muslim youth to join their ranks. In 2018, Jamat-ud-Dawa, the mother organization of Lashkar-e-Taiba issued an advertisement in the local newspapers in Pakistan seeking volunteers to carry out Cyber Jihad [2]. These volunteers were called Cyber Mujahids. It is evident from this news that an illiterate person, having no knowledge of computer and internet won’t volunteer for this cause.
In 2019, coordinated suicide bombings were carried out on an Easter Sunday in three churches and three hotels. The findings revealed that most of the bombers were well-educated and came from economically strong families [3]. One of them went to the UK and then to Australia for a law degree. Two bombers, who were brothers, were sons of wealthy spice trader. In 2016, the terrorists involved in the Holey Artisan Bakery attacks in Dhaka were wealthy me from Bangladesh’s elite having attended top private schools and universities in Bangladesh and abroad [4].
Alan Krueger, Former Chairman of Obama’s White House Council of Economic Advisers in his study collected data on the characteristics of key terrorist groups such as Hezbollah militants, Muslim terrorists who lived and operated in the U.S. between 1993 and 2008, and deceased martyrs from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) from 1987 to 2002. This and several other studies have investigated the relationship between education and terrorism. The researchers refuted the conventional claim that lower levels of education or illiteracy forced Muslims youths to join terrorist ranks [5].
The case in India is no different. Recently, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Abdul Rahman, an ophthalmologist working at medical college in Bengaluru for developing an application for helping the injured ISIS terrorists in the conflict-zone.
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India is fighting a prolonged war against Islamic terror in the Kashmir valley for the last few decades. A glaring example of how education is absolutely not related to terrorism and/or a Jihadi mindset was seen after the Pulwama suicide attack in February 2019 which killed more than 40 CRPF personnel. Immediately after the attacks celebratory messages and photos appeared on the social media expressing happiness over the deadly terror attack [6].
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The state of Kerala has a literacy rate of 100%. Despite this fact, a latest UN report has warned that there is significant number of ISIS terrorists in Kerala and Karnataka [7].
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There have been numerous examples of educated youth joining terrorist organizations in the Kashmir valley. The likes of Burhan Wani, Zakir Musa, Riyaz Naikoo, are some of the many terrorists who were educated or whose family members were educated. The indoctrination of young minds in Kashmir is two-layered. First layer is where school teachers belonging to organizations like the Jamaat-e-Islami inculcate the thought of fighting for Islam in the young minds. Second layer is where the Mirwaiz and the Maulanas who issue sermons from the mosques who have a history of inciting violence through these sermons.
Yakub Memon, responsible for the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts was a Chartered Accountant by profession. Afzal Guru, who was responsible for the Parliament attack in 2001, was also an educated person.

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Thus, it is evident that education does not affect the likelihood of a Muslim person becoming a Jihadi. Education plays a vital role in a person’s life and should be granted to all. But education cannot be said to be the remedial measure for de-radicalization of the youth so that he/she does not join the terrorist ranks. Perhaps the problem of radicalization needs a better and a different diagnosis in order to arrive at the effective remedy of de-radicalization.
Written By: Devesh Bagul
The writer is Commerce graduate and currently in the final year of CA