TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen on the “Education Effect”

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(Peter Bergen is a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation).
Any serious study of the facts has found that the more relatively educated people are the more likely they are to engage in terrorism, and the more money people have, relative to their peers, the more likely they are to engage in terrorism, defined as violence against civilians by non-state actors.
And so, projects to increase levels of education and income around the world are likely, on average, to create more terrorists, which is not an argument against education or poverty alleviation, but simply one of the rare cases where social “science” can make something of an accurate prediction about future outcomes.
— Peter Bergen
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.

Comments

8 comments on “TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen on the “Education Effect”

  1. Arun says:

    Education -> increased awareness of injustice
    Lack of political outlet to work against injustice -> terrorism.

    Reply

  2. questions says:

    Sorry for the double post!

    Reply

  3. questions says:

    Education creates expectation. If the economy can’t satisfy the expectations of its educated class, then the utter uselessness of the years of schooling can create deep resentment. Couple the resentment with instigators and anything could become a target. The instigators want power, the bombers want efficacy in the world, and likely any situation can become the excuse for violence. When the target isn’t clear (should the Saudis go after their parents? their professors? their rulers), the instigators give direction and thus control the shots.
    Without a clear target, the instigators can play up the cultural issues that have been noted (sexual humiliation, religious difference, purity) and can thus direct the bombers to any target they choose.
    Though US policy makes the US a pretty easy target, I’m not 100% convinced that merely exiting the ME would do any good. Instigators are very powerful and people are very open to being pushed. Osama bin Laden and other clerics can milk this for the ages should they choose.
    Occupied Palestine is a different story. There, relative deprivation and political grievance function, near as I can tell, very differently from how the Saudis operate. The two recent bulldozer driver attackers likely acted more independently than did the 15 Saudi 9/11 bombers. And a lot of the individual stone throwers are probably self-motivated. Rocket launchers take more coordination, but again, there’s a clear target and public support for attacking.
    Plenty of educated Americans are deeply thoughtful, underemployed, disgusted with the world situation, but are not, for now, blowing things up. When it was fashionable to explode, people did. (PETA is not universally loved, the people who torch SUVs are not celebrated, Timothy McVeigh was not worshipped, and Ted Kasczynski was turned in by his own brother….) So the supportive social context and the clarity of the mission are missing in the US for the most part. The result is diffuse occasional attacks on a variety of targets, none of which is likely to be predictable.
    Though it might be nice to find a “unifed field theory” of (suicide) bombing, it’s quite possible that there is a whole constelltion of issues that CAN yield terror, but doesn’t necessarily.
    So I’m still stuck on the issue of policy prescriptions. We could do everything we’ve been instructed to and still have no peace to show for it. Grievance is a funny thing and instigators know this.

    Reply

  4. questions says:

    Education creates expectation. If the economy can’t satisfy the expectations of its educated class, then the utter uselessness of the years of schooling can create deep resentment. Couple the resentment with instigators and anything could become a target. The instigators want power, the bombers want efficacy in the world, and likely any situation can become the excuse for violence. When the target isn’t clear (should the Saudis go after their parents? their professors? their rulers), the instigators give direction and thus control the shots.
    Without a clear target, the instigators can play up the cultural issues that have been noted (sexual humiliation, religious difference, purity) and can thus direct the bombers to any target they choose.
    Though US policy makes the US a pretty easy target, I’m not 100% convinced that merely exiting the ME would do any good. Instigators are very powerful and people are very open to being pushed. Osama bin Laden and other clerics can milk this for the ages should they choose.
    Occupied Palestine is a different story. There, relative deprivation and political grievance function, near as I can tell, very differently from how the Saudis operate. The two recent bulldozer driver attackers likely acted more independently than did the 15 Saudi 9/11 bombers. And a lot of the individual stone throwers are probably self-motivated. Rocket launchers take more coordination, but again, there’s a clear target and public support for attacking.
    Plenty of educated Americans are deeply thoughtful, underemployed, disgusted with the world situation, but are not, for now, blowing things up. When it was fashionable to explode, people did. (PETA is not universally loved, the people who torch SUVs are not celebrated, Timothy McVeigh was not worshipped, and Ted Kasczynski was turned in by his own brother….) So the supportive social context and the clarity of the mission are missing in the US for the most part. The result is diffuse occasional attacks on a variety of targets, none of which is likely to be predictable.
    Though it might be nice to find a “unifed field theory” of (suicide) bombing, it’s quite possible that there is a whole constelltion of issues that CAN yield terror, but doesn’t necessarily.
    So I’m still stuck on the issue of policy prescriptions. We could do everything we’ve been instructed to and still have no peace to show for it. Grievance is a funny thing and instigators know this.

    Reply

  5. Carroll says:

    Thinking further…I do agree that education does have the ability to create terrorism in the sense that educated people are more aware and inquiring. (And here I guess we really need to define exactly what education is also).
    However I also think that poverty can also play a part. If poverty is severe enough it creates discontent with whatever status quo.
    Whereas populations that are mostly comfortable are rarely concerned about issues that don’t or haven’t affected them. But the more educated or more aware are thinking about issues other than their own personal condition.

    Reply

  6. Carroll says:

    If terrorism is violence against civilians by Non State actors.
    What is violence against civilians by State Actors? Seems we need a term for that also.
    Maybe we need to also define violence….does it mean only killing civilians by bomb or gun…or can it also mean repression, denial of rights or denying means to keep yourself alive? If someone burned my house down or killed my dog I would consider that terrorism (violence).
    I think everyone already understands terrorism (violence)by NGOs…the Mafia did it for money, the KKK did it out of racial prejudice, some do it for revenge, offended honor, an ideology, whatever they consider an injustice, some like rooftop or car trunk snipers or workers who go postal do it for their grudge against the world, the government or a institution for whatever mistreatment,etc..
    It’s not hard to understand why it happens, we all understand already. If today’s NGO terrorist can’t get directly to the real source of their greivences they will hit the civilian targets they can get to to make their statement.

    Reply

  7. Mr.Murder says:

    Contrapositive to your assertion is the track record of sanctions vs. rogue states where we made emphasis on regime change.
    The resulting economic slowdowns and recession factors played into creating further unrest and counter operative support on a scale basis.
    You contrast this to that of others from the same social setting with different incomes. Contrast to to people from the same setting with the same economic circumstance.
    The numbers probably return to a predictable range.
    Where’s the American equivalent? The loss of traction for AIM when Casino money came into play?
    Open Casinos in Gaza and Palestine, wage bets not war.
    The reason recruits that implement terror cells come from one upwardly mobile sector is that it is the one group that can travel and assimilate to levels that they avoid scrutiny for the most part.
    The poverty reduction plans don’t create terror, those motivations were already at play.
    Is Tom Clancy a scientist? Why did he make fairly accurate predictions? Social science is dealing in general terms as well, not specifics.
    Though it was clear certain items should have deemed actionable. You didn’t need rocket scientist to know that, or even an expert on yellowcake….

    Reply

  8. JohnH says:

    Bergen’s statement is ironic, true, and incomplete. Yes, a few people who get educated in a few increasingly wealthy societies seem to become terrorists. But is that the cause? Or is it that a wealthy elite has become disproportionately powerful and alienated from the interests of significant parts of population, some of whom have become educated? Does terrorism ever occur in societies where wealth is broadly spread and ethnic minorities are effectively represented in the government? I think not.
    Once again, commentators refuse to look at social injustice as a problem. Why do they refuse to talk about its relationship to terrorism? Is it because such a discussion would be inconvenient to US political and economic interests?
    Let’s not forget the last words of the Pledge of Allegiance, which I suspect were not selected randomly: “with liberty AND JUSTICE for all.”

    Reply

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