Thursday, November 15, 2007

Engineers - natural born terrorists

Most National Post editorials are well thought out, sensible pieces. But occasionally a clunker gets by the editorial board.

Being an engineer, yesterday’s editorial entitled "Engineering terror" made me perk up. Drawing from the results of a study by a pair of Oxford sociologists who noted that a high percentage of the violent Muslim jihadis had been trained as engineers it went on to make some very loopy generalizations: to suggest that there is a "mindset" inherent to engineers that may make them attractive candidates for Islamist recruitment.

...[engineers] are known to have the most pronounced tendency to vote conservatively

...anyone who's had engineers as friends knows they can be prone to sneering at "soft" academic disciplines. may be the most religion-like of scholarly fields...

Well, I suppose someone had better get busy modifying the iron ring ceremony to include an admonition to kill the infidels.

Anyway, it was inevitable that rebuttals would be forthcoming. And sure enough there were two excellent letters printed today (here and here).

D. Hoffer of Winnipeg:

There is a more logical explanation. Muslim extremists recruit methodically and evaluate their recruits meticulously. The dumb ones get to wear a suicide belt and blow up a restaurant. The bright ones are more useful...

Flies don't cause manure and engineering schools aren't incubators for terrorism recruits. Engineering schools are, however, a useful way for terrorists to learn how to be massively destructive.

Ian B. McLeod, Oakville, Ont:

...this ... sullies the name of all engineers and is truly unbelievable coming from a world renown national newspaper.

The engineering profession has done more good on this planet than all other vocations combined. ... ... ... ... Without engineers, the planet would quickly grind to a halt. The same cannot be said for editorialists.

...that all engineers are conservative (I doubt you will find one in Engineers Without Boarders), and that as a group we are highly religious is grossly false.

... the social scientists that came up with this cockamamie theory ... need a refresher course in engineering cause and effect.

The entire premise of the social scientists theory is backwards. ... I guess it takes an engineer to point out the intuitively obvious.

I would have thought that the National Post editorial board would have figured that out on there own, seeing that you collectively spent all those years studying such nuanced causation in your enlightened social science classes.

Bravo! Messrs Hoffer and McLeod.


May said...

Obviously some of those individuals who are already terrorists (in waiting) decide to become engineers for obvious reasons... NOT the other way around. NP is being ridiculus.

M. Grégoire said...

Two points:
1. There are probably a disproportionate number of serious Islamic radicals who are university graduates. University education these days tends to destroy our former assumptions about the world, without necessarily replacing them with anything better. So those who have studied at university are more likely to reject the traditional beliefs and practices of their parents; in some cases, they turn to extremist forms of Islam as a basis of their identity, just as children of middle class families suddenly become Marxists.

2. Universities in the Muslim world, like those in Communism societies, probably produce a higher proportion of engineers than do universities in the West. Governments and individuals see a need to build and develop their countries; and governments think engineers are less likely to be interested in political reform than students of the humanities, and so are safer to enroll.

I haven't seen the editorial, but in light of the points above it does not seem prima facie absurd that there should be a relatively high number of engineers among Islamic extremists. After all, Yassir Arafat, Osama Bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad all received training as civil engineers. And those who have studied engineering will probably be more successful than the illiterate or arts-student extremist.

Our discomfort at having such individuals among our colleagues should not prevent us from investigating the facts dispassionately.

JR said...

m. grégoire,

No, it's not absurd at all that there may be a large number of engineers among the jihadists. It seems to be a fact. What's absurd is the notion expressed in the study and the editorial that people who seek to become engineers are somehow predisposed to be violent extremists. As the two letter writers said, this is pure bullcrap. If anything, it's the other way around.

Zetal said...

I guess they're making the connection that conservative equals fundamental equals radial-fundamental equals terrorist.

Sure, engineering has the power to bring the world to its knees, but that doesn't mean that's why engineers become them, and that's what they become. I don't think anything is going to persuade me to turn into a terrorist over the rest of my college education.