Thursday, February 7, 2008

Engineers Of Jihad (Oxford)

Beware engineers bearing heavy weapons or so Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog would have us believe. Apparently, according to their recent research paper, "Engineers of Jihad" (download full text here), engineers are massively over-represented in violent Islamic movements. In what is a fascinating and comprehensive (90 pages with multiple charts and graphs) look at the involvement of engineers in violent Islamic movements, they come to the conclusion that it is a combination of an "engineering mindset" coupled with the social conditions engineers must endure in Islamic countries that draws so many engineers to radical Islamic movements.

Highlights from the full text include (Note: In addition to only providing excerpts from the full text, I have also edited lightly (such as removing endnotes and using ellipses to denote contractions). As always, the boldface is mine):

  • "Many Islamic radicals are not economically dispossessed, are often better educated than their peers, and quite a few went to university. Even more surprising, many of them are engineers – a profession that we would not naturally associate with a religiously inspired movement."
  • 'Several scholars have mentioned in passing the link between radical Islam and science and engineering ... Almost nothing is known, however, about the link between different types of education and radicalization generally. Yet, there are solid theoretical grounds, and some evidence that we discuss below, to expect that certain political and ideological orientations could be either promoted or selected by the discipline one chooses to study."
  • "We were able to find the subject of study for 178 of the 196 cases who were engaged in higher education at some point (Figure 2). Unsurprisingly, we found that the second most numerous group was composed of 34 individuals who pursued Islamic studies. Yet, the group that comes first by far are indeed the engineers: 78 out of 178 individuals had studied this subject."
  • "Among the 42 of the 78 cases for whom we could find out the precise discipline, three types of engineering predominate: electrical and civil engineering, and computer-related studies."
  • "We estimate that the average share of engineers among the total male working population in the countries of our sample, weighted by the number of cases per country, is about 3.5 per cent. If we leave out Singapore, a country with an extraordinarily high number of engineers, the share is 2.1 per cent. By contrast, even if we include all missing values in the denominator, engineers are still about 19 per cent of our total sample (78/404).This means that the share of radical Islamic engineers is no less than nine times greater than the share we could expect if the proneness of engineers to radicalize was the same as that of the male adult population."
  • "The average share of engineers among total male students of twelve relevant countries, weighted by the number of cases with higher education per nationality in our sample, is 18.0 per cent, while the ratio of engineers over those with known higher education in our sample is 43.8 per cent, that is over two and a half times greater (significant at p<.001)."
  • "We can thus conclude that among violent Islamic radicals engineers are two to four times more likely to be found than the null hypothesis would predict."
  • "We managed to collect data on a variety of non-violent movements in eight of the Islamic countries in our sample. They show a striking difference from our samples of violent groups: in non-violent Islamic activism engineers, although strongly present, appear to be far less dominant."
  • "Finally, to establish the extent to which this phenomenon is unique to the Islamic world, we need to find out to what extent engineers are present among other kind of extremists. If engineers are prone to extremism we should find them overrepresented in other extremists groups too ... We failed to find engineers among left-wing extremists: with the exception of a handful among anarchists, there is hardly any trace of them ... By contrast, among right-wing extremists, engineers if not over-represented seem at least present."
  • "The vast majority of engineers in Islamic countries did not join violent movements, and our account does not aim to explain why certain engineers rather than others became radicalized. The experiential trajectories of the individuals as well as their links with the ‘right’ networks must intervene to single out the tiny subset of individuals who ended up in violent movements. Our goal is more modest: in what follows we will try to explain only why engineers became more radicalized than people with other degrees."
  • "We will first argue that two hypotheses – random appearance of engineers as first movers followed by diffusion through their network and the selection of engineers because of their technical skills – while plausible in theory do not survive close scrutiny."
  • "We could thus hypothesise that personal dispositions and style of thinking among engineers 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 ... The mindset hypothesis predicts that we should find engineers to have (i) more extreme ideological tendencies than people in other disciplines, and (ii) a greater predilection towards joining radical political groups in general ...The results are startling (Table 15). The proportion of engineers who declare themselves to be on the right of the political spectrum is greater than in any other disciplinary group: 57.6 per cent of them are either conservative or strongly conservative, as compared to 51.1 of economists, 42.5 of doctors and 33.5 per cent 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.
    • "Their mindset may explain why we find engineers among right-wing extremists and virtually none among left-wing ones, but why should it help us to explain their attraction to Islamism? A plausible answer is that the Islamists’ Weltanschauung shares several features with the worldviews found in the extreme right. One such feature is a corporatist and mechanistic view of the ideal society. Reinhard Schulze has detected a “cybernetic view of society” in modern Islamism (1990: 22), which aims at preserving integrity in the social order. Extremist Islamist literature rejects Western pluralism and argues for a unified, ordered society ruled by a strong Islamic leader, in which an authoritative division of labour is created between men and women, Muslims and non- Muslims, political leaders and their flock. The fear of social chaos is a leitmotif of Islamist thought (Hoffman 1995: 218f.)."
    • "Furthermore, the characteristics which Lipset and Raab (1971) consider as defining of right-wing extremism map out near-perfectly on those of Islamic extremism."
    • "Whether American, Canadian or Islamic, and whether due to selection or field socialisation, a disproportionate share of engineers seems to have a mindset that inclines them to entertain the quintessential right-wing features of “monism” – ‘why argue when there is one best solution’ – and of “simplism” – ‘if only people were rational, remedies would be simple’."
  • "The Carnegie survey reveals an even more surprising fact, hitherto unnoticed, that strengthens the suspicion that the engineers’ mindset plays a part in their proneness not only to radicalise to the right of the political spectrum but do so with a religious slant: engineers turn out to be by far the most religious group of all academics – 66.5 per cent, followed again by 61.7 in economics, 49.9 in sciences, 48.8 per cent of social scientists, 46.3 of doctors and 44.1 per cent of lawyers, the most sceptical of the lot."
  • "Friedrich von Hayek, in 1952, made a strong case for the peculiarity of the engineering mentality, which in his view is the result of an education which does not train them to understand individuals and their world as the outcome of a social process in which spontaneous behaviours and interactions play a significant part."
  • "Two of our empirical findings indicate that even if it could be proven beyond dispute the mindset hypothesis cannot be the whole story. First, while the overrepresentation of engineers occurs in all areas of the world regardless of social conditions, the presence of graduates of all types among radicals varies: while in MENA countries we have over 50 per cent of them, in both the Western-based and some of the South East Asian groups their presence is much smaller ... Next, consider the strong presence of engineers among left-wing extremists in 1970s Turkey and Iran, and their moderate presence in the Palestinian Fatah, contrary to their glaring absence everywhere else in this type of groups. This again suggests that conditions in some Islamic countries must have mattered quite strongly to push some engineers, even against their putative right wing inclinations, to radicalise in what was at the time the main form of anti-establishment opposition."
    • "Researching MENA educational systems we encountered time and again a prominent feature of engineering: together with medicine and natural sciences, it is the most prestigious subject and has high entry requirements."
    • "Individuals with above-average skills selected on merit are, one would expect, particularly exposed to the frustration and the sense of injustice that comes from finding their professional future hampered by lack of opportunities. This happened on a large scale as a result of economic development failures. MENA countries have largely failed to develop advanced industries or technological capacities."
    • "The effect of the lack of opportunities was intensified by the corrupt, state-driven job allocation. Without personal connections, it became almost impossible to find employment commensurate with one’s education."
    • "It appears that engineers and OEDs found themselves perfectly and painfully placed at a high-voltage point of intersection in which high ambitions and high frustration collided. They felt fooled by the development rhetoric of their regimes and felt they deserved more than they could get. They were not just frustrated on a self-interested level, but felt unable to discharge a collective responsibility in modernizing Islamic countries, to live up professionally to their role as “vanguards” of society in which regimes had cast them."
  • "If frustration with dismal professional opportunities indeed contributed to their radicalization, we should find less radical engineers where conditions were more favourable. This is exactly what the exception of Saudi Arabia seems to demonstrate."
  • "Next, those who studied in the West, itself a sign of an even greater ambition and willingness to sacrifice than studying in Islamic countries, had reasons to feel even more deprived: there are at least 25 engineers in our sample who studied abroad, a ratio that strongly suggests that they are vastly over-represented among radical engineers."
  • "Consider the effects on the odds of being religious and conservative relative to the odds of being anything else: with respect to the base category of an academically successful non-engineer just being non-successful makes these odds 1.3 times greater. Being a successful engineer makes the same odds 4.8 times greater, but being an unsuccessful engineer makes them a staggering 7.7 times greater."
  • "We cannot be certain that this finding identifies a casual effect, but a plausible interpretation is that engineers are more troubled by professional frustrations than individuals in other subjects, and, as a result, more likely to react to times of crisis by embracing extreme conservative-religious views."
  • "We now have the elements of a potentially explosive concoction. However, this would have remained inert had two conditions not lit the fuse. One was the harsh repression on the part of the authoritarian Islamic governments, which by all accounts played a crucial part in inducing radicalisation generally regardless of the engineering phenomenon...Secondly, the Islamist opposition, the only credible anti-establishment political movements in MENA countries since the 1980s, was able to frame the discontent."

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