Half of the educated terrorists are engineers
In a study published this year, European sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog researched more than 400 known violent jihadists since the 1970s, including the 25 men involved with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Nearly half were known to have received some level of higher education, and of those, 44 percent were engineers - including eight of the 9/11 plotters and hijackers. Engineering was by far the most popular field; the percentage of terrorists who had pursued it was more than twice as high as the second-place field, Islamic Studies. "The bottom line is that while the probability of a Muslim engineer becoming a violent Islamist is minuscule, it is still between three and four times that for other graduates," Gambetta wrote in an article in the New Scientist that summarized the pair's findings, which were published in August in the European Journal of Sociology.
Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are always on the look out for recruits who can make bombs and engineers fit this criteria pretty well. Their study found that engineers serve the terrorist organizations they join in many capacities than making or deploying explosives. A significant number held higher-level posts that didn't directly involve their engineering training at all.
The authors conclude that the phenomenon is explained by a combination of mindset and professional circumstance. Citing studies finding that engineers as a group are more politically conservative than other professions, Gambetta and Hertog write that engineers by nature are more likely to be drawn to the kind of rigid, hierarchical worldviews that radical Islam provides: Their governing mentality "inclines them to take more extreme conservative and religious positions everywhere."
Engineering community in U.S. however declines any connections. "There's got to be some big difference between what goes on in the U.S. and what goes on in other countries," said Larry Jacobson, the Executive Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers, which counts about 45,000 members across the country. Jacobson agrees with the notion that engineers are a politically conservative bunch, but not the type of conservative that tips over into radicalism. American engineers, he said, "just don't take risks. ... The hard-wiring of engineers makes them very cautious." Defending the profession's contribution to national security, Jacobson also noted that engineers across a range of specialties "become the government's first defense against terrorism."
Jacobson does give credit to Al-Qaeda for its logic and HR strategy. "If I was to recruit terrorists, engineers would be the first guys I'd want," he said.
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