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Startling new light on jihadis

Startling new light on jihadis

Author: B. S. Raghavan
Publication: The Hindu Business Line
Date: July 9, 2008
URL: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2008/07/09/stories/2008070951310800.htm

The passion with which academia and think-tanks in Western countries in recent years have been labouring to construct the profile of an average jihadi terrorist can only be called phenomenal.

They have been extremely painstaking in unearthing minute facets of the jihadi's personal, familial, societal, educational and cultural backgrounds and studying the trends and patterns emerging from the data collected.

The Department of Sociology of the Oxford University has put on its Website ( http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk ) a 90-page-long paper, Engineers of Jihad, by Professors Diego Gambetta of Nuffield College and Steffen Hertog of University of Durham, throwing startling new light on the mindset and motivation of jihadis, establishing a terrorism-engineering link. The duo has assembled exhaustive material to substantiate their findings, the more salient of which are:

Many Islamic radicals are not economically dispossessed, are often better educated than their peers, and quite a few went to university. Many of them are engineers - profession not generally associated with a religiously inspired movement, least of all terrorism.

Among members of violent Islamist groups, those who studied for 'elite degrees' - engineering, medicine, and science - represent 56.7 per cent. If economics and business administration are added, the percentage jumps to 63.4 per cent.

The proportion of engineers in the sample surveyed who declare themselves to be conservative or strongly so is 57.6 per cent, compared to 51.1 of economists, 42.5 of doctors and 33.5 of scientists, 21.4 per cent of those in the humanities, and 18.6 per cent of the social scientists, the least right-wing of all disciplinary groups. The four disciplines at the top of the conservatism scale - engineering, economics, medicine, and science - are the same as those at the top of the main jihadist sample.

Again, nearly half the engineers in the sample are both conservative and religious, followed by economists and, at quite some distance, by doctors and scientists.

Engineers are four times more religious and conservative than social scientists (11.0 per cent), and three times more so than people in the arts and humanities (14.3 per cent). The subjects at the top of the religious-conservative scale are, once again, exactly the same as in the jihadist sample. Personal dispositions and mode of thinking among engineers possibly differ from those of students in other subjects in ways that could make them more prone to become involved in violent forms of radicalisation, not just as willing recruits but as prime movers.

They tend to be attracted by the 'intellectually clean, unambiguous and all-encompassing' solutions that both the laws of engineering and radical Islam provide.
Prodigious effort

The rationale for all the prodigious effort by Western researchers is that terrorism cannot be effectively fought without getting a clue into the antecedents and orientation of the terrorist. Even intelligence agencies of Western countries have cottoned on to the idea.

The Sunday Times, (July 10, 2005) published news of a British intelligence analysis revealing that extremists predominantly looked for recruits in "schools and colleges where young people may be very inquisitive but less challenging and more susceptible to extremist reasoning/arguments" and that they were most interested in persons with "technical and professional qualifications, particularly engineering and IT degrees."

It would seem that the German authorities, after 9/11, actually built up a database pertaining to more than 8 million individuals and carried out a thorough probe with reference to relevant parameters such as place of birth (those originating from any of the 26 Muslim countries underwent the most rigorous scrutiny), gender, age, religion and educational attainments.

It also included the basis of their entry or residence, taking account of factors such as their skills (holding a pilot licence) or knowledge in respect of carrying out a terrorist attack and their familiarity with places that could constitute possible terrorist targets by virtue of having jobs in airports, railways, nuclear power plants, chemical plants, research laboratories and language institutes.

The German intelligence eventually shortlisted 1,689 suspects whom it methodically investigated to rule out their involvement in any terrorist plot and keep them under surveillamce.

It would be reassuring for the public to know whether there has been any comparable exercise undertaken by Indian academics and intelligence.

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